nurse leading meeting

Graduate Nursing Leadership and Management: Skills for the Advanced Practitioner

If you are working in the medical profession, it’s likely you’re already aware of the growing role of nurses in hospitals. Sometimes unfairly characterized as mere assistants to doctors, nurses do much more than that. Indeed, in our current medical system, nurses are entrusted with many advanced responsibilities, from administering treatments and medications to performing critical management duties in caregiving across medical systems.

Nurses who take on leadership roles can be instrumental in the effectiveness of hospitals, using their on-the-ground experience and administrative know-how to improve patient outcomes and optimize clinical procedures. They are powerfully contributing to the transformation of medical care for the better.

If you are a working registered nurse (RN) who is motivated to take on additional responsibilities and rise in your professional ranks, you can acquire the skills you need through graduate nursing programs. These programs are designed for RNs who already hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and wish to level up to a leadership position.

A Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is likely to make you eligible for higher-ranking roles in a medical setting, with a salary to match.

To learn more about graduate nursing degree programs as well as the skills and key considerations of nurses in leadership positions, read on.

The Role of Graduate Nursing Leaders

Nursing leaders are responsible for managing, supervising, and coordinating care within medical settings. This is no small job. Indeed, effective nursing leadership requires an extensive knowledge of the day-to-day responsibilities of nurses, the needs of doctors, and the overall goings-on at the hospital or clinic where they practice.

While RNs who hold bachelor’s degrees are primarily focused on person-to-person care, leaders who hold graduate nursing degrees take a bird’s eye view, evaluating caregiving protocols and adjusting them when necessary.

Some of the tasks performed by nursing leaders include the following:

  • Developing and evaluating implementation strategies
  • Coordinating duties among nursing teams
  • Acting as liaisons between doctors and nurses
  • Participating in research on specialized topics
  • Facilitating collaboration, including delegation of roles and mediating in cases of conflicts

Many RNs who choose to get a graduate degree in nursing do so after acquiring years of experience in the field. Being able to draw from one’s own firsthand observations can enable one to develop the strongest possible leadership skills in nursing. After all, you will likely recall from your own experience as an RN what was most – and least – helpful for you in order to do your job effectively. This will make you an efficient manager and a knowledgeable advocate who can truly bring about change.

If you already have worked as an RN, nursing graduate programs will help you harness your expertise to become a reliable and impactful leader.

Essential Leadership Skills for Advanced Practitioners

Beyond the hard skills built up through years of working as an RN, nursing management requires numerous soft skills (in essence, personality traits or emotional dispositions) that can be make-or-break in performing your job successfully.

Some of the most important qualities an advanced nursing practitioner must hold are the following:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills. After all, you will become the point-person for your team to understand their core responsibilities as well as how they will all work together. You will likely also act as a liaison with others, from doctors and medical administrators to patients themselves.
  • Emotional intelligence and self-awareness. It’s no secret that nursing is a difficult job. Understanding the stresses of the profession will help you become a more thoughtful and considerate leader, as well as help you regulate your own stress levels in a role that can be quite challenging.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Beyond the clinical expertise of an RN, nurses in leadership roles are expected to improve the procedural functions that keep a hospital or clinic organized and effective. This requires great insight and intelligence, switching between modes to perform a variety of duties.
  • Influencing and negotiation skills. As a leader, you will be at the center of numerous interests and goals, which will not always be aligned. It will fall on you to orchestrate different medical professionals to achieve a shared goal, which will sometimes require mediation, negotiation, and the ability to motivate people.

A graduate nursing degree program will help you harness and develop these qualities so that you can be the most impactful leader possible.

nurse reading clipboard

Leadership Theories and Models for Advanced Practitioners

Becoming a leader in a field as complex as medicine is not something that is learned by instinct alone. Rather, it requires training and expertise, giving you the insight and forethought needed to approach the huge variety of situations that arise for advanced practitioners.

Graduate nursing programs are designed to provide frameworks that can be used to orient and enrich your approach to leadership and decision-making in healthcare.

Rather than settling on one of these as a comprehensive strategy, most professionals draw from all of these leadership styles across their decisions.

Below are the most popular methodologies likely to appear in a graduate nursing degree program.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership in nursing is a goal-oriented approach aimed at bringing about positive change within an organization, starting with the individuals who are employed by it. This approach aims to motivate and inspire a nursing team to go above and beyond their competencies to achieve more within their capacities. If you are drawn to become an advanced practitioner because you would like to participate in meaningful change within the medical profession, this is the most salient framework for you to learn.

Situational leadership

If you are already working as an RN, you know that the job involves a host of ever-changing circumstances requiring quick thinking and effective deployment of strategies in real time. As a manager, this is known as situational leadership – an adaptive, personalized approach to leadership that takes different perspectives into account and relies upon different methods depending on circumstances. While it can be challenging to achieve consistency while embracing this kind of flexibility, many in the medical profession argue that it is essential to nursing management.

Servant leadership

Another approach taught in graduate nursing programs, servant leadership is an approach to healthcare management that prioritizes serving others above all other needs. This can also be called patient-centered care. In medical settings where operations tend to run smoothly and nursing teams feel well-supported, this can be an appropriate set of priorities, eschewing concerns with personal gain or more abstract causes to highlight the foremost function of nurses: to provide care to patients.

Authentic leadership

If you have unique convictions that compel you to pursue a graduate nursing degree, you will likely be drawn to an authentic leadership model. This is an approach that relies upon your consistency in values and goals, as well as your ability to communicate those to others, acting as a role model and standard bearer. This can be a great framework to inform ethical leadership in nursing.

informal meeting

Management Principles for Advanced Practitioners

Advanced practitioners in nursing can have a range of responsibilities and goals. Some jobs incorporate all of these functions, while others emphasize one or two over the others. Nurse development leadership programs are likely to prepare you to handle all of them, as you will almost certainly be expected to take on a range of duties over the course of your career.

Strategic planning and goal setting

If you would like to create change as an advanced practitioner, you’re likely to take interest in the strategic planning side of the job. This involves working with individuals in other departments to identify shared goals while exploring how each team can play their part in advancing these common objectives. For those drawn to transformational leadership in nursing, this is likely to be the work that interests you most.

Financial management and resource allocation

A significant shift in priorities from the roles of a regular RN, dealing with financial management is an important function of advanced practitioners. While it may feel wholly unfamiliar to you, this is something that graduate nursing programs will provide grounding and training in so that you are able to competently allocate resources within your department, as well as advocating for additional resources when needed.

Quality improvement and patient safety

One of the most rewarding aspects of becoming an advanced practitioner is contributing to change that demonstrably improves patient outcomes. This is where you can draw from your on-the-ground experience as an RN, reflecting on challenges you faced and thinking through what could change to provide better care to patients.

Change management and innovation

The field of medicine is rapidly evolving, meaning it will always involve adaptations and innovations. As an RN, this can be an incredibly exciting part of the job, especially as new technologies and delivery methods are developed.

As a leader, creating change requires ingenuity, adaptability, and attention to detail, as you will be tasked with spearheading transitions that may be challenging for those on your team.

However, this is work that many advanced practitioners find both rewarding and stimulating.

Leading Interprofessional Teams in Graduate Nursing

As an advanced practitioner, you are likely to take responsibility not only for your own nursing team but also act as a liaison between your own cohort and other departments within your hospital or clinic. This is where some of the “soft skills” outlined above, as well as your formal knowledge of the medical profession, will help you excel as a leader. Your graduate nursing degree will also help you build these skills to become a more effective leader.

Some of the top nurse manager competencies related to interprofessional work include the following:

  • Collaborative practice and team building. In building a united front between departments, you will help instill a collaborative spirit that will help you achieve shared objectives to improve overall care and support a medical provider’s overall functions.
  • Effective communication and conflict resolution. Here you will deploy your communication skills not only to reach those working below you, but also to reach across disciplinary perspectives. It is crucially important to make sure everyone feels fully heard and appreciated, so advancing your own understanding of doctors’ and administrators’ needs will help you create unity across departments.
  • Maximizing the strengths of diverse healthcare professionals. Though they work in the same spaces, different medical professionals have different aptitudes. As a leader, you can harness these to improve overall outcomes as well as raising morale. After all, employees who are doing work that they love are the most likely to go above and beyond in their roles.
  • Creating a positive work culture and promoting employee engagement. As a leader, you will be a role model for all of those around you. Meeting your often challenging job with enthusiasm and determination will be a signal to others of how they should approach their work, and will result in higher levels of commitment to your team’s objectives.

How Nursing Leaders are Changing Medicine through Evidence-Based Practices

In addition to providing frameworks that will make you a more effective leader, graduate nursing programs will help you build your skills as a researcher. This can be of great use to your impact as an advanced practitioner, especially if you are hoping to revise and reinvigorate your clinic’s functions.

Many advanced practitioner registered nurses play critical roles in bringing evidence-based practices to hospitals.

By staying informed about the latest research findings, advanced practitioners can identify and evaluate evidence-based interventions and treatment modalities that can benefit patients. They can then collaborate with healthcare teams to implement these practices and advocate for their adoption within the hospital.

This is no easy feat. Advocating for evidence-based practices requires the scientific acumen needed to understand scientific research and see accurately how a given practice could be employed within their own hospital. The rewards for this work, however, are vast, improving delivery methods in ways that support nurses in their work and provide superior care to patients.

Ethical Leadership and Advocacy in Graduate Nursing

Taking on a leadership role in a medical setting is serious work, requiring careful ethical considerations. Fortunately, graduate nursing programs are likely to help build your understanding of these factors so that you aren’t going in blind.

Some of the major topics advanced nurse practitioners must take into account are the following:

  • Patient autonomy. This means advocating for patients’ rights and ensuring that patients will be given all the information they need to make informed decisions about their healthcare.
  • This is a central tenet of the medical profession. As a supervisor, it is on you to set responsible standards and enforce policies when needed.
  • Beneficence and non-maleficence. This term out of Bioethics refers firstly to actively promoting patients’ well-being (beneficence) while also working to reduce harm (non-maleficence). It is another central principle of the medical profession.
  • Cultural sensitivity. Working with a diverse population of patients – as well as a potentially diverse group of fellow nurses – will require open-mindedness and informedness about a variety of cultural standards that may inform people’s decisions.
  • Professional integrity. As a leader, you will become the standard bearer for enacting the code of ethics at your workplace. This means you will have to continuously enact professional integrity, in turn creating a culture in which this is what is expected of everyone.

reviewing orders

Leadership Development and Continuing Education

In order to pursue a graduate nursing degree, you must already hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). From there, you have numerous options to choose how to pursue this advanced standing. Below are a few of the best opportunities.

Graduate nursing leadership programs and certifications

There are many fantastic graduate nursing degree programs available around the country, in both in-person and online models. These can be part-time or full-time, with the latter option typically taking between two and three years to complete. Some of these programs may even allow you to continue working as an RN while earning the degree that will boost your ranking down the line.

Our Guide to APRN Programs will give you comprehensive information about programs of all types, with information about concentrations offered, program durations, tuition costs, and more. You can also take a look at our List of Advanced Nursing Schools by State.

Mentoring and coaching opportunities for advanced practitioners

Advanced practitioners can also seek out mentorship opportunities that will allow them to see with their own eyes the specific concerns of nurses in leadership roles. Some of these might be offered by the medical institution where you work, while others must be sought out outside of your workplace. Nevertheless, these can be invaluable in shaping your understanding of leadership and put you in touch with your own specific career goals.

Taking the Next Steps to Pursue a Leadership Position in Nursing

If you are a working registered nurse who is confident that you would like to pursue a leadership role, it’s time to begin looking into graduate nursing programs.

To learn more about the specific career paths available for advanced practitioners, take a look at our career guide here.

For general information about advanced roles in nursing, visit our homepage here.


Do I need to already work as an RN in order to pursue an advanced degree?

Yes. It is worth gaining some experience in the field as well, as it will inform your key objectives as a leader and help you understand the ins and outs of this often complex job.

What is the salary of an advanced practitioner registered nurse?

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically measure the wages of advanced practitioners, it reports that registered nurses on average earn a median annual wage of $77,600. For those in the ninetieth percentile – which is likely composed primarily of advanced practitioners – the median annual wage is $120,250.

Can I get my MSN online?

Yes. Take a look at our school guides to see the many excellent options for online MSNs out there and determine which one is best for you.

Wiley University Services maintains this website. We are an advertising-supported publisher and are compensated in exchange for placement of sponsored education offerings or by you clicking on certain links posted on our site. This compensation may impact how, where and in what order products appear within listing categories. We aim to keep this site current and to correct errors brought to our attention. Education does not guarantee outcomes including but not limited to employment or future earnings potential. View Advertiser Disclosure
Wiley University Services

©2024 All Rights Reserved.