Home Health Medicine Leaders in Nursing: 6 Qualities Nurse Executives Need

Leaders in Nursing: 6 Qualities Nurse Executives Need

Nurse executives are senior members of the healthcare workforce and work to improve facilities, processes, and morale.

Registered nurses can pursue a career in leadership to become an executive. If you’re looking to advance your career and make a real difference in how healthcare is dispensed and accessed, you’ll need the following skills to get started.

What is a nurse executive?

Executives are one of the most senior roles in the nursing workforce. They play a crucial role in the management of their healthcare organization and work with staff across all levels. Nurse executives can often bag the role of director of nursing in their organization, too. They are responsible for improving the working environment for the workforce, as well as the processes and treatments given to patients. All of this works alongside achieving the organization’s mission for successful, accessible, and efficient treatments for staff.

In order to do all of this, nurse executives must work closely with nurses to implement the best patient care practices possible. You’ll also play a part in resource management, budgeting, and training scheduling.

What skills do I need for nurse leadership?

There are several soft and hard skills you’ll need to qualify for a role in nurse leadership, and you’ll need the credentials to go with it. Registered nurses interested in the career can start by taking online DNP nurse executive programs to get the basics, but you’ll also need to develop other skills along the way:


One of the most important qualities for any leader – both in healthcare and other industries – is integrity. Integrity involves qualities such as honesty and transparency and using ethics to make the right decisions for the business and the people. Those who find themselves pursuing a career in nurse leadership for power or control should look outside the healthcare sector for other roles. Nurse executives need to have the best of intentions and total empathy in order to provide the best outcomes for both nurses and their patients.

Ability to work under pressure

The health industry is in a constant state of change, and staff need to be able to quickly adapt to new challenges. As a nurse executive, you’ll be at the forefront of change and will need to help staff continue working in difficult situations and provide them with the training they need to get the job done.

As such, you’ll need to be able to stay level-headed and composed while working under pressure. During the DNP and other courses, you’ll learn critical thinking tactics and practice these in real-life settings to prepare you for the career.

A bird’s-eye-view perspective

As a nurse leader, you’ll need a broad awareness of everything that goes on in the organization – from the training to record management, staff constraints, and budgets. Those who are able to take a bird’s-eye-view approach will have a better chance of ensuring all processes within the organization work together to meet common goals.


An integral part of the role is to motivate and inspire the nursing workforce. Empowerment is all about using staff to their strengths and encouraging other team members to take part in the decision-making process. Nurse executives need to hold staff accountable but also show appreciation for their work; all of this goes hand in hand with creating a healthy and positive workplace.

Communication skills

As a voice for the whole nursing workforce – both within the organization and on the global stage – you’ll need excellent communication skills. Nurse executives will work with members of staff in both higher and lower positions, and knowing how to portray your point to the right people will be the key to success. Without good communication, you’ll struggle to make the changes you want to see.


In a world of non-stop change and potential crises at every corner, nurse executives need to be flexible in their approach. Leaders will work with caregivers as well as stakeholders regarding patient safety and care outcomes – meaning you’ll need to be flexible and able to take on a multitude of job roles.

As well as these top qualities, nurse leaders should work to develop emotional intelligence and a keen interest in learning and think about how they can provide mentorship to those around them. The role of a nurse executive gives individuals the chance to make a massive difference, but there are many challenges to overcome along the way.

How do I qualify to be a nurse executive?

Those that want to become nurse executives have a long road ahead of them, but the work is incredibly rewarding, and you’ll meet plenty of interesting people while studying.

Nurses who have already studied and become registered nurses are one step ahead. For those that are just starting out on the nursing career route, you’ll first need a bachelor of science in nursing, and you can then become a registered nurse by taking the NCLEX-RN.

With your new registration, you’ll then have the opportunity to join the workforce as an RN. This will be integral for your work as an executive in later life, as you will have first-hand experience of working within the system.

While working, you can choose to study a master’s or DNP in executive nurse leadership online. This can be managed around your shift patterns to help you develop your career while still making a living.

Finally, you can become certified in executive nursing practice with advanced certification.

Advanced certification

As nurse executives are middle management, they need to have an advanced certification of some kind. Some degrees and DNPs will provide training with the courses to prepare students for the additional certification exams they’ll need to complete.

Generally speaking, the more credentials a nurse executive has, the more employment opportunities available to them. For NEs, the CNEP (certified in executive nursing practice) and CNML (certified in nurse management and leadership) are available through the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE). Alternatively, nurse executive and nurse executive-advanced exams can be completed through the American Nurses Credential Center (ANCC).

Hopefully, this guide has given you lots to think about. Good luck with your new career adventure!