How Do I Become a Nurse Leader?

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A DNP nurse in a meeting with nurses and healthcare administrators

Registered nurses (RNs) earn advanced degrees to improve their clinical skills and learn more about the career they love. Earning a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree also broadens professional horizons, giving RNs a chance to climb the career ladder.

Nurses who earn DNP degrees learn about becoming nurse leaders and being effective nurse managers. Nurse leadership is something a growing number of medical facilities want to advance the future of healthcare.

Lamont Yoder, R.N., chief executive officer of Banner Health and former treasurer of the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), said advanced-practice nurses bring the skills needed to be healthcare leaders as the industry moves from volume-based to value-based.

“Having nursing acumen and leadership experience at coordinating multidisciplinary teams and care models positions RN CEOs well to lead the value-based and population health models required for the future success of integrated delivery systems,” Yoder told Hospitals & Health Networks (H&HN), an American Hospital Association (AHA) publication.

Indeed, nurse leaders, particularly those who have earned DNP degrees, are essential to the continued forward movement of healthcare. At the same time, many RNs need guidance and advice to take those first steps.

Becoming a Nurse Leader

To become a nurse leader, RNs should follow some steps and tips from professionals, including:

Adopt the top three skills

Lippincott Solutions, part of Wolters Kluwer Health, pinpointed three essential skills for being an effective nurse manager:


Excellent leadership skills include critical thinking, organization, the ability to function under stress and the motivation to evolve professionally.


Good leaders show respect for patients and coworkers, offer support and maintain a positive attitude.


Good leaders focus on ethics, which should play a significant role in professional decision-making. Ethics should also be considered in personal activities, including posts on social media.

Volunteer for leadership positions

While volunteering may not come with a pay boost, it will pay dividends in terms of facetime, recognition and experience. Volunteering for leadership positions also bolsters skills and boosts a resume.


The best leaders are continually building their network of professional and personal associates to exchange ideas and find new approaches, Lippincott Solutions said in “Climbing the Nurse Leader’s Career Ladder.”

“Networking in your own community is crucial, but don’t overlook the opportunity to gain information from the industry by networking outside of it. You can build a network and make friends by attending workshops, conferences, or participating in webinars with colleagues and people with similar interests,” the article noted.

Learn about yourself

Through introspection and emotional awareness, leaders can learn more about their strengths and weaknesses. Self-analysis allows nurses to determine how their emotions impact others, the California-based Eisenhower Health said in “5 Tips for Expanding Your Nursing Leadership Potential.”

“Effective leaders, however, recognize their hot buttons. They examine their emotions — and how those feelings may affect other people — before making decisions or communicating with others,” Eisenhower Health said.

Find a mentor

Find nurse leaders who display exemplary leadership and observe their actions. Take note of how excellent leaders manage relationships, empower others and resolve conflicts. Talk to other leaders to find out how they handle stressful situations. A mentor can convey real-world wisdom and constructive criticism that can’t be found in nursing textbooks.

Be accountable

The Sigma publication Reflections on Nursing Leadership defined accountability as “doing what you are supposed to do because someone else expects it of you; it springs from the extrinsic motivation of reward and punishment.” Accountability means taking ownership of personal decision and actions and not blaming others for mistakes, which builds trust.

Advance educational goals

Nurses who commit to an advanced education reap rewards that can lead to success. With each new degree or certification, new opportunities blossom.

Earning a DNP Degree and Becoming a Nurse Leader

As the pinnacle of clinical education in nursing, a DNP degree provides nurses with the skills they need to become influential leaders in healthcare. In a landmark 2005 report, “Advancing the Nation’s Health Needs,” the National Academy of Sciences called on the nursing profession to develop a clinical doctoral degree. Since then, the DNP has grown in popularity to keep pace with the increased complexity of patient care and increasing concerns about patient safety, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) said.

“The changing demands of this nation’s complex healthcare environment require the highest level of scientific knowledge and practice expertise to assure quality patient outcomes,” the AACN said.

At the same time, not all DNP degrees are created equal. Duquesne University’s online DNP program allows RNs to focus on one of three areas of study: Transcultural Nursing, Forensic Nursing or Nursing Education. Graduates impact the healthcare world on local, state and national levels.

About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program

Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares RNs to use evidence-based practices to become leaders in advanced clinical care. The university’s nursing program has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in nursing education, most recently as a “Best Online Graduate Nursing Program” by U.S. News & World Report. For more information, contact Duquesne University now.



Nurse CEOs Gaining Favor: H&HN

Climbing the Nurse Leader’s Career Ladder: Lippincott Solutions

5 Tips for Expanding Your Nursing Leadership Potential: Eisenhower Health

From accountability to ownership: Reflections on Nursing Leadership

Advancing the Nation’s Health Needs: National Academy of Sciences

DNP Fact Sheet: American Association of Colleges of Nursing