A nurse practitioner holds the hand of a patient in a hospital bed.

Nurse Leadership Qualities for Your Future Career

Nursing: Healthcare Systems Leadership

While several different types of nursing degrees are available, successful completion of a Master of Science in Nursing program can better equip registered nurses to take on advanced leadership roles in hospitals, on college campuses, and within other medical facilities. The different types of nursing jobs that are available to graduates with a Master of Science in Nursing are diverse, as this degree opens the door to advanced positions that grant qualified individuals the opportunity to manage teams of interdisciplinary nurses or lead clinical research efforts in the nursing fields of their choosing. By independently learning more about leadership opportunities for educated nurses, practicing nurses can develop nurse leadership qualities and build a realistic perspective of how postsecondary education can help them advance in their careers.

10 Nurse Leadership Careers

The health care industry is currently undergoing a seismic shift in care delivery. From adapting to rapidly changing technology to facing a shortage in nurses, leadership positions are vital in addressing these pressing issues. These health care challenges present leaders with the opportunity to shape and inspire the next generation of health care professionals, as well as make a lasting impact on health care delivery and procedures. Nursing students and professionals interested in demonstrating their nurse leadership qualities in the workplace can consider pursuing the careers in the following sections.

1. Clinical Research Specialist

Clinical research is the process of developing new evidence-based health care interventions by carefully administering and evaluating new treatments that are performed on volunteer patients. Clinical research nurses are responsible for providing high-quality care to the patients in these research programs; the care involves safely coordinating clinical procedures, recording data regarding the treatment process, reviewing that data for consistency and accuracy, and providing follow-up support to patients as necessary.

Generally, these specialists lead clinical nurse researchers working within dedicated facilities, such as the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, or within the research departments of university-funded medical centers. Nurses in this role collect valuable medical data during clinical studies, from basic clinical assessments to characterizations of unknown disease etiologies, based on collaborations with large teams of medical professionals.

Regardless of their employers’ specific objectives and their individual roles within teams, practicing clinical research specialists must encourage the nurses who report to them to adhere to specific research guidelines while promoting positive health outcomes for their patients.

Clinical research specialists earn a median annual salary of around $54,900, with the highest 10% earning more than $91,000, according to the compensation site PayScale.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Contribute Research         

To balance the demands of this career role, clinical research specialists must have an in-depth understanding of nursing care and research processes, as well as possess the management, organizational, and leadership skills that are fundamental to supporting an interdisciplinary team of medical researchers. If a registered nurse has a basic understanding of these skills, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing may qualify the individual for a clinical research position. Nevertheless, senior roles, such as clinical nurse specialist, are reserved for nurses with a Master of Science in Nursing and at least five years of experience in clinical research.

2. Chief Nurse Executive

Health care institutions, like other large professional organizations, require the executive leadership of highly experienced professionals to optimize productivity. In this sense, chief nurse executives are responsible for maximizing the efficiency of a medical facility’s nursing staff. Success in this role demands balancing the needs of patients and employees to effectively manage population health.

Educated nurse executives can also leverage modern advancements in big data processing technology to expediently collect and process unprecedented volumes of clinical data. This data, once properly analyzed by a chief nurse executive, can be used to determine the effectiveness of individual treatments, as well as to strategize how changes can be made to health care processes to achieve greater health outcomes.

Nurses with three to five years of experience in nurse management positions and a master’s degree-level nursing education may be qualified for the chief nurse executive position. According to PayScale, chief nurse executives earn a median annual salary of around $125,000. Salaries typically range from $114,000 to $185,000.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Provide Mentorship

Chief nurse executives must also be role models who provide advice and mentorship to future nurse leaders. Facilitating this process is the development of an organization-wide culture of collaborative innovation, which promotes new, more creative care strategies. By acting as an example for the nurses in their departments, chief nurse executives can ensure that future generations carry forward an ideal set of patient-centered clinical standards and practices. In doing so, they improve the quality of care that the nurses they manage offer, stimulating growth within their respective health care institutions. 

3. Nursing Supervisor

The nursing supervisor observes and instructs the nursing staff, providing formal guidance focused on improving the quality of care that the staff can provide. Primarily, the supervisor is responsible for directly supporting team members via constructive feedback, facilitation of educational opportunities and discussions of workplace performance. Developing practical communication skills — such as cohesive writing, speech and presentation skills — is central to success in this role, as the nursing supervisor will frequently interact with patients and their families, the hospital’s administrative staff, teams of nurses, and doctors.

Furthermore, by observing their teams, supervisors can use their knowledge of each employee’s capabilities to coordinate clinical operations and optimize workforce distribution. According to PayScale, nursing supervisors earn a median annual salary of around $75,600.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Establish Positive Workplaces      

Due to the importance of their work, hospitals require nurse supervisors to have a graduate-level degree in nursing or hospital administration, and employers will expect candidates to have received advanced nursing certifications as well. As they continue to grow their nurse leadership qualities, nursing supervisors will become more adept at establishing positive workplace environments, improving the flow of hospital operations, and advocating for the proper distribution of employees and resources to produce better health outcomes.

4. Surgical Nurse Manager

The surgical nurse manager is responsible for providing administrative oversight to surgical units within their respective facilities. This necessitates that the surgical nurse managers use their precise organizational skills to direct daily workflows. It also requires them to leverage their clinical expertise and leadership skills to train employees when needed. Additionally, they must engage their competency for advanced nursing practice, by organizing care services and interpreting/enforcing hospital policies.

To prove that they can handle the role’s demanding nature, surgical nurse managers must have at least two years of management or supervisory experience. Advanced certifications, such as an advanced cardiac life support certification, may also help candidates stand out in the hiring process. Traditionally, the education requirement is only a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

But earning a Master of Science in Nursing will place individuals into the top tier of candidates for surgical nurse manager positions within the most distinguished health care facilities — allowing them to earn far better benefits, salaries, and career advancement opportunities.

PayScale notes that surgical nurse managers earn a median annual salary of around $93,600.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Monitor Patients and Evaluate Staff

Those interested in this career choice should note that surgical nurse managers are often positioned in challenging health care environments, like intensive care units. Therefore, they should be confident in their ability to monitor patient volumes and regularly evaluate staff performance to develop insights that can be used to facilitate positive change in the surgical environment without sacrificing patient safety. The surgical nurse manager also advises on the financial and legal aspects of surgical procedures, through duties such as developing/administering cost-effective budgets for surgical departments and using conflict resolution skills to investigate and resolve any complaints or concerns that patients or staff members may voice.

5. Government Chief Nursing Officer

Governments need to create policies that accurately represent the reality of the current health care environment. In the process of developing these policies, the role of the chief nursing officer (CNO) is that of a civil servant — one who brings nursing expertise and public administration skills to the table. An effective CNO provides the government with a variety of services that can be used to inform health care policies. These services include policy analysis, clinical research translation, nursing project management, and leadership throughout the nursing community.

To be considered for the CNO position, registered nurses should have sufficient formal education following the completion of a Master of Science in Nursing. Due to the wide range of responsibilities attributed to this position, their experience in nursing must be extensive as well, with a minimum expectation of at least 10 years in the field.

While accumulating experience in a Master of Nursing program, nurses should consider earning advanced nursing certifications and completing administrative training whenever possible. By doing so, they gain complementary knowledge that bolsters their ability to improve nursing practice and health systems on a local, national, and global scale.

According to PayScale, CNOs earn a median annual salary of around $129,600.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Incorporate Diverse Perspectives        

Arguably the greatest value CNOs provide is their ability to incorporate the nursing community’s diverse perspectives into the development of health care reforms within large-scale medical systems. As such, the expert advice that CNOs offer often influences the decisions of health care executives who may not have extensive clinical experience.

6. Director of Student Health Services

Providing comprehensive primary care on university campuses grants reliable care to students who otherwise may not have it. Directors of student health services are responsible for leading their departments by using their proficiency in health care administration to manage health care providers and direct the patient care process. This involves organizing campus health care initiatives, promoting wellness in the student community, and advocating for the improvement of care being provided on campus.

To qualify for this position, a minimum of five years of clinical experience and three years of administrative experience is recommended. While a Master of Science in Nursing degree may open the door to this position, a doctorate greatly enhances a candidate’s chances of being selected.

According to PayScale, directors of student health services earn a median annual salary of around $77,200.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Work Autonomously

Overall, successful leadership in nursing requires the ability to work autonomously within facilities to keep nursing protocol effective and up to date; this can entail leading an interdisciplinary team of nursing professionals to develop their individual professional capabilities. A Master of Science in Nursing program is designed to help experienced nursing professionals develop executive leadership skills to complement their practical skills, thereby increasing their value to potential employers.

7. Certified Nurse Legal Consultant

Legal nurse consultants analyze testimony and facts to draw conclusions about the nature and cause of injuries across a wide variety of practice and care settings, acting as a liaison between the legal and health care fields. A legal nurse consultant often leads a qualified team to help facilitate the initial phase of research, with additional duties and responsibilities including identifying, contacting, and interviewing clients; analyzing patient medical records; researching medical literature; drafting medical-legal documents; evaluating injury causations; displaying nurse leadership qualities; and educating attorneys and other professionals on relevant medical issues.

According to PayScale, the median annual salary for nurse legal consultants is around $78,000.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Understand Legal Medical Information          

Certified nurse legal consultants serve as expert witnesses as they locate and prepare evidence for trials. They also assist with preparation and support of medical information during trials and depositions. They often practice in law firms, government agencies, forensic environments, consulting firms, insurance companies, independent practices, and health maintenance organizations, among other settings.

8. Nurse Information Specialist

As technology has changed, so has the nursing field. Nursing information specialists are a relatively new addition to the industry, as the role has become necessary to assist health care providers in transitioning to electronic health records. Federal mandates dictate how these new record formats must be gathered and stored, so nurses who have an interest in technology and data analytics may want to consider transitioning to this specialty.

Nursing information specialists are responsible for organizing and performing initial and ongoing training, as well as competency validation and maintenance for all information systems.

According to PayScale, nursing information specialists command a median annual salary of around $85,000.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Educate Nurses About Information Systems          

As active members of the nursing staff, information specialists educate other nurses on how to use clinical informatics systems and provide point-of-care decision support in everyday nursing practice. They use evidence-based clinical practices to develop the infrastructure of company information systems to best support staff in troubleshooting, upgrading, and training. To effectively lead in this position, nursing information specialists must have strong observation skills, demonstrate an attention to detail, and possess the ability to patiently train others.

9. Risk Manager

The main responsibilities of a corporate compliance officer and risk manager in nursing and health care pertain to preventing illegal, unethical, or improper conduct. A nursing risk manager generally answers to the facility’s CEO and governing board, monitoring and then reporting the medical facility’s compliance results and ethics efforts. The nursing risk manager also advises senior management on how to better comply with laws and regulations.

A risk manager responds to alleged violations of regulations and policies and develops a system for rectifying those violations. A nursing risk manager or corporate compliance officer is a leadership position in nursing that encompasses myriad duties and earns a median annual salary of around $77,000, according to PayScale.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Demonstrate Leadership

Risk managers demonstrate leadership by taking the initiative to develop, initiate, maintain, and revise company policy to ensure legal and ethical compliance. They collaborate with other departments to identify potential compliance weaknesses, implement corrective actions, and organize compliance training for new and current employees.

10. Nurse Educator

Nurse educators are faculty members at colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools, and hospital-based education programs who demonstrate a variety of nurse leadership qualities. These individuals ensure that the future nurses they teach are prepared to enter the constantly changing health care environment. Nurse educators design and implement programs that comply with federal and state regulations regarding nursing instruction.

Besides creating and teaching the courses, nurse educators also analyze the effectiveness of these educational programs and update and revise them as necessary, for both pre-licensing and continuing education requirements.

According to PayScale, nurse educators earn a median annual salary of around $76,300.

Nurse Leadership Quality: Exhibit Communication Skills           

Nurse educators must have excellent communications skills when providing instruction in classrooms and must be adept at organizing and preparing reports, setting priorities, and resolving conflicts. Nurse educators supervise students who are learning basic nursing tasks, but they also work in clinical settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, where they’re responsible for overseeing nurses and nursing students who are putting their skills to use in real-life clinical situations.

Nurse educators also often work in academia, performing research and presenting their findings at conferences. They may operate as peer reviewers, write grant proposals, or work in direct patient care settings.

Learn How to Advance in Nursing Education

The 10 advanced nursing specialties detailed in this article require additional specialized education, which students can receive in Norwich University’s 18-month Master of Science in Nursing program — accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Norwich’s nursing program was designed to meet the needs of employers looking to expand their nursing specialist staffing levels by providing nursing students with the necessary training, information, and experience through a mix of online courses and hands-on experience.

A Norwich graduate degree can help nurses further their roles in nursing education, health care systems leadership, or nursing informatics, and successful graduates have myriad options in a variety of health care organizations. Norwich’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume positions in nursing informatics, health care systems leadership, or nursing education. The Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner program gives students the opportunity to choose from one of three tracks to advance their careers: Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

The program aims to develop students who could take a role in shaping health policy, in educating other nurses and health care professionals, and in providing advanced care to their patients. Learn more about how a Master of Science in Nursing program can help you develop nurse leadership qualities that you can incorporate in your future career.


Recommended Readings

A Career Overview of the Nursing Informatics Specialist
5 Nursing Theories for Nurse Educators
The Future of Nursing


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Clinical Research Jobs, ICON
Nursing at the NIH Clinical Center, NIH Clinical Center
Average Clinical Research Specialist Salary, PayScale 
Average Chief Nurse Executive Salary, PayScale
Is Becoming a Chief Nursing Officer Right for You?, ThriveAP
Chief Nursing Officers — Who Are They and What Do They Do?, Wiley Online Library
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Average Nursing Supervisor Hourly Pay, PayScale
Average Nurse Manager, Operating Room Salary, PayScale
Average Chief Nursing Officer Salary, PayScale
Average Director of Health Services Salary, PayScale
Nursing Leadership: Management & Leadership Styles, American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination
What Is an LNC?, American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants
Legal Nurse Consultant Salaries, Glassdoor
Average Legal Nurse Consultant Hourly Pay, PayScale 
Average Nursing Informatics Specialist Salary, PayScale 
Average Healthcare Risk Management Manager Salary, PayScale 
Homepage, American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Nurse Educator Vs. Nurse Management Position, Houston Chronicle
Average Nurse Educator Salary, PayScale

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