staff nursesLeadership is commonly attributed to and expected of people who are in nursing management and administrative positions. While it is true that effective managers must be effective leaders, leadership is not the sole domain of managers. As a matter of fact, staff nurses must develop leadership skills in order to be effective as well.

Knowledge of clinical practice and patient care skills is necessary but not sufficient to deliver effective patient care today. Nurses' practice is complex within organizations; the ability to navigate the complexity is required to assure patients receive safe and quality care. Skills such as facilitating, mentoring, communicating, and negotiating are a few examples of the non-clinical skills needed. In other words, leadership skills are required.

Because having leadership skills is so important, I will present a mini-series on leadership. Each piece will focus on a different element of leadership. In this first piece, I’ll identify the key components of management vs. leadership and hope you will see the relevance of developing and strengthening your leadership skills, no matter what your current position may be.


Management, as a discipline, has been studied for over 100 years. By all accounts, it is considered to be a dynamic approach to running operations. Luther Gulick (1937) identified seven activities of management that remain true today. They are:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Staffing
  • Directing
  • Controlling
  • Coordinating
  • Reporting
  • Budgeting

These activities, except, perhaps, budgeting, are not the exclusive domain of managers. Nurses take on these activities every day in the context of their work assignment. However, engaging in an activity does not guarantee success. In most cases, the successful accomplishment of these particular activities requires the cooperation of others. It requires leadership.


Leadership is a phenomenon of great interest to a number of disciplines and is widely studied, and has many definitions. The common theme that runs through many of them is that leadership is a process of persuasion by an individual that influences others to take action towards the goals of the leader. A nurse leader takes on many roles to meet her goals. Marquis and Huston (2003) generated a partial list of the many roles a leader takes on:

  • nurse managersDecision maker
  • Communicator
  • Evaluator
  • Facilitator
  • Risk taker
  • Mentor
  • Energizer
  • Coach
  • Counselor
  • Teacher
  • Critical thinker
  • Buffer
  • Advocate
  • Influencer
  • Creative problem solver
  • Change agent
  • Diplomat
  • Role model

None of these roles are exclusive to nurse managers. As a matter of fact, nurses take on these roles everyday for the benefit of their patients and colleagues.

Studying leadership and developing leadership skills has never been more important than today. The healthcare environment is undergoing rapid and significant change. The staff nurse who has effective leadership skills will be well positioned to assure that her patients benefit from those changes rather than suffer because of them.


Gulick, L. & Urwick, L. eds. (1937). Notes on the theory of the organization. Papers on the science of administration. New York: Institute of Public Administration.

Marquis, B.L. & Huston, C.J. (2003). Leadership roles and management functions in nursing (4th ed). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

We would like to hear from you. What are your experiences employing your own leadership skills? Please share your experiences, questions or strategies with your fellow readers by leaving a comment below.