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11 top qualities of a nurse executive

Nurse executives are the most senior nurses in an organization. They work on the administrative side of things, ensuring that all facilities and teams are running smoothly. If you’re a clinical nurse who is looking to advance their career as a nurse executive, you might need to further develop your leadership qualities while you prepare for this demanding but exciting role.

What Is the Role of a Nurse Executive?

Nurse executives are integral to organizations and making them run smoothly. Their duties include:

  • Hiring, training, and managing staff
  • Delivering continuing education courses
  • Resolving issues within the organization
  • Managing patient care
  • Creating and managing budgets
  • Developing patient care procedures
  • Communicating with various team members
  • Developing new procedures in patient care

Top Qualities of Nurse Executives

Below is our list of the top 11 traits of successful nurse executives. Students who are preparing for leadership by earning their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) will have the chance to practice some of these qualities in their degree program. Other qualities are best learned on the job—or just by being a good student of life.

  1. Integrity. Set an intention to meet all aspects of your role with honesty, transparency, and ethical decision making. Return to that intention whenever you feel challenged.
  2. Ability to make decisions under pressure. As a nurse executive, you will need to stay composed under pressure and take decisive action when it’s called for. You already have these skills as a clinical nurse, but how do they transfer to organizational management? In your MSN or DNP degree program, you will engage in role-plays and scenarios to further develop your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
  3. Perspective. Nurse leaders need to have a bird’s-eye view of the organization and a broad awareness of how its components work together—from patient care to hiring, training, scheduling, staff management, budgets, insurance reimbursements, records management, and more.
  4. Emotional intelligence. In situations of conflict, try to modulate your responses so that you are not emotionally overreactive. Use empathy skills to understand where others are coming from. Maintain an attitude of respect for staff and patients, always valuing their worth and suspending judgment. Try not to take disagreements personally. Your new role will take all the diplomacy and negotiation skills you can muster.
  5. Communication skills. Be clear about what you are asking for. If you have feedback for staff, it’s best to give it in private and in a constructive (rather than critical or condescending) way. Communicate in person when possible, not just through email.
  6. Ability to empower and motivate staff. Try to tune into each staff member’s particular strengths and delegate responsibilities accordingly. Invest team members with the power to make decisions appropriate to their role. Hold staff accountable for their actions without micromanaging; welcome their input, create opportunities for advancement, and reward good work. All of this will help to create a healthy, positive workplace culture where staff feel fulfilled.
  7. Mentorship ability. Part of a nurse leader’s role is to mentor managers and staff, and to identify when further training is needed. Be accessible to your mentees, and remember that you can learn from the experience as well.
  8. Flexibility. Develop your resiliency and adaptability in the face of changing circumstances. Recognize when systems need change to improve organizational efficiency, patient safety, and care outcomes—and take action to effect those changes as appropriate.
  9. Good sense of humor. Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine, even in a medical setting. A well-timed humorous remark can break the tension of a stressful situation and help everyone cope.
  10. Humility. Know that it’s a privilege to be entrusted with a leadership role and to work in a profession that helps people.
  11. Love of learning. Nursing is a field with an endless amount to learn—about effective practice, about patient care, and about being an effective leader. Remember that you work to expand your experience—not only to continue doing what you already know.

Cultivating these key qualities will set you up for success when searching for a position as a Nurse Executive. USAHS provides the educational tools to get you there with our hands-on, real-life practice approach, which supplements a well-rounded understanding of these roles.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.

*The FNP track includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.

**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.


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