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Leadership insights


The American Nurses Association (ANA) Leadership Institute is designed to enhance leadership knowledge and professional skills to prepare nurses for career advancement. At ANA, we believe enhancing leadership acumen in the nursing profession will reap benefits to society and contribute significantly to improving health outcomes for patients.

To find out how ANA’s Leadership Institute is making an impact, we interviewed Michelle Dunwoody, BSN, MS, WHNP-C, chief nurse officer of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, who oversees 1,300 nurses in more than 100 correctional facilities nationwide. Through the Institute’s “Leadership Acumen” series, Dunwoody, a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, invested in the professional development of 106 nurse managers. She shares her thoughts about leadership needs in the nursing profession.

In your opinion, are leaders born or bred?

Some leaders are born and some are bred. Born leaders exhibit leadership qualities at a very early age. However, born leaders can and should continue to learn and continually sharpen their skills, especially as the ideals and theories on leadership evolve.

Also, I believe that individuals can learn to exhibit leadership qualities. Many people consider very outgoing individuals to be leaders, and often they are. However, shy or less outgoing individuals can be great leaders as well. Often, a shy leader has learned and honed his or her leadership skills over time.

What skills are required for emerging nurse leaders to advance in their careers?

Motivation, drive, desire, resourcefulness, openness, resiliency, and a willingness to learn are some of the key skills required for emerging nurse leaders. Opportunity must also exist, but when there are no or limited opportunities, a resourceful nurse leader creates opportunities.

What unique aspects of leadership are required of nurses working in a correctional environment?

Resiliency, flexibility, and resourcefulness are paramount for nurse leaders to handle uniquely challenging situations in a correctional environment. For example, correctional nurses work within the paradigm that all staff are correctional officers first, and therefore the security of the institution and community take first priority. Also, correctional nurses may need to administer medication or treatment in a lockdown situation. So that nurse has to be flexible and resourceful to get the medical needs of a patient addressed while working within the constraints of a correctional setting.

What are the top three reasons you selected ANA Leadership Institute’s “Leadership Acumen” series for your nurse leaders?

ANA is well known as the association representing the needs of nursing nationwide, and sets the standards that all professional nurses abide by. First, to learn directly from ANA is important to supporting the organizational ideals and standards that in turn support us as nurses. Second, because the topics are relevant to today’s work environment and will give a well-rounded educational experience. Third, the training format: In budget-conscious times, funding travel for training conferences is difficult. Because we are nationwide and work various schedules, having a format where nurses can view the webinars individually at their convenience was important.

Your investment in key leaders on your team demonstrates wise leadership. What do you hope your staff gleans from their experience?

I’d like them to understand that succession planning is very important to sustaining excellence and impacts staff retention. I also want them to learn or obtain additional tools for their leadership “toolbox” regarding how they lead individually and how best to lead others. Some of the nurses selected for the training are seasoned and some are emerging leaders; however, learning about leadership should never stop. The effect of positive and strong leaders trickles down to the care that the staff nurses provide to their patients. It is a win-win situation.

The ANA Leadership Institute offers a series of programs on leadership to advance nursing professionals. For more information, visit

Donna Grande is a senior director at ANA.

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