Essential Skillset Needed to Lead as an Excellent Clinical Nurse

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Nursing is a highly skilled job requiring a mixture of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are those that are related to specific technical knowledge, such as assessing a group of symptoms and making a diagnosis and knowing how to efficiently apply bandages on broken bones.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are less-defined skills that are more akin to innate characteristics, but can still be built upon if they need strengthening. Perhaps the most important soft skills in the nursing profession are the empathy and compassion needed to connect with patients and provide them with top quality care. As a nursing leader, you will require additional managerial skills that you might find more fitting in a business environment in order to become a great team leader.

To help you prepare for this exciting step in your nursing career, here is the essential skillset you need to become an excellent clinical nurse leader.

What is a Clinical Nurse Leader?

The clinical nurse leader is a relatively new role in healthcare, and as such, you may not know exactly what this role entails. Clinical nurse leaders are highly skilled nurses who collaborate with and lead the healthcare team in a facility to improve the safety and quality of patient outcomes. Though not a managerial role, clinical nurse leaders work at the bedside to continually improve healthcare processes and systems to ultimately lead to improved patient outcomes.

This is a great role if you want to help make real systemic changes while still working with patients to provide them with the best quality care possible from all angles.

Daily responsibilities might include care coordination, quality improvement, and implementation of evidence-based best practices. To become a clinical nurse leader, you will have to complete a master’s degree in nursing; entry level nurse practitioner programs are great career changers who want to transition into a rewarding career in nursing. Your degree will enable you to develop the essential skills you need to become an exceptional clinical nurse leader.

Conflict Resolution

As a clinical nurse leader, it is almost inevitable that you will be called upon as the figure in authority to help resolve disputes. There might be a disagreement between colleagues that is starting to affect team morale and the overall effectiveness of patient care, for instance. Or, a patient might become emotionally overwrought and unhappy about their care plan.

In any conflict resolution scenario, the key is to remain calm, recognize danger signs, and use de-escalation strategies. There are training course available specifically designed for conflict resolution in the healthcare sector if you feel that your skillset could do with a boost.

Communication Skills

Effective communication is a very important quality for any nurse to have. You will explain complicated medical information regarding treatments and care plans to patients from a range of backgrounds, so you will have to adapt your communication style to the individual. For instance, children are unlikely to understand complicated language and are more likely to become distressed and frustrated, so should be reassured in simple language.

Remember that non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal: a reassuring smile can really help to calm a patient, even if they have not fully grasped what has been said. As a nurse leader, you will also be required to clearly communicate patient care plans and strategies to the healthcare team, ensuring that every person knows exactly what is expected of them. For clarity of understanding of complex information, try to use clear and simple language that everyone will understand.

Emotional Intelligence

Healthcare facilities are very often emotionally charged environments. It is important that as a clinical nurse leader to practice emotional intelligence and resilience, for the reassurance of patients and their families, and also other staff members who look to you as a leader. Emotional intelligence comes in many forms.

It might mean, for instance, reading a patient’s behavior and body language to anticipate what they need in terms of emotional support. Or, it might be providing a calm and kind presence to families who have just received sad news about a loved one. Emotional intelligence also means looking out for your colleagues’ mental health and offering support when needed. This might mean, for example, checking up on colleagues involved in a recent emotionally charged situation, and advising colleagues who appear to be near burnout point.


As a clinical nurse leader, you will be required to make decisions, both large and small, on a daily basis. This might include, for instance, setting policies for the nursing team to follow and having the final say on a patient treatment program. However, with some decisions having a very real impact on patient outcomes, it is undeniably a daunting responsibility.

However, training and guidance is available to help you to quickly make effective decisions. Key points to remember when making decisions is to rely on and trust your extensive experience and nursing expertise, taking into account a patient’s physical condition and health notes.

Compassion and Empathy

Finally, perhaps the most important skill for any nurse to have is the ability to feel compassion and empathy for patients. Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling; compassion takes this shared feeling and tries to figure out ways to alleviate any suffering. Together, compassion and empathy make for highly caring nurses and other healthcare professionals who will go above and beyond to provide excellent patient care.

Simply put, if you do not have the ability to be compassionate and empathetic towards others, you should not become a nurse; patients and their families deserve to be looked after by healthcare professionals who understand their needs and provide the best support.

To conclude, an excellent clinical nurse leader uses their mixture of leadership skills and essential clinical experience to provide patients with a high level of care, and to inform their leadership and become a role model for their team.

Thanks to Irina

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