Leadership in Nursing

Leadership in Nursing

What is Leadership in Nursing and WHY is it so important?

I get asked this question all the time, “what EXACTLY do you mean by nurse leadership?”

The concept of “Leadership” in and of itself can be vague and poorly understood.  Often times leadership and management are used interchangeably, and while that can be the case for some nurse leaders, the International Network of Nurse Leaders focuses on all nurses and their leadership potential, regardless of whether they have a management title or not.

Therefore, we define nurse leadership as the art & science of critical thinking, action over stagnation and advocacy not only for our patients, but also for ourselves. Nurse leaders are visionary and energetic, eager to step up and inspire other nurses to help create a movement of change in the nursing profession.

The Canadian Nurses Association defines Nursing Leadership the following ways (see their position statement here):

Nursing leadership is…

  • …about nurses who understand that the development of nursing leaders must begin at the outset of every nursing education program and continue throughout the career of every nurse. Educators, from academics to clinical nurse educators to personal mentors and those in between, instill the expectation that nurses can be and must be leaders. Leadership in this context is about helping nurses lift their practice so they see nursing not solely as a series of acts of scientific caring that can change individual lives but also as a lifelong commitment to political action for system change. Leadership begins when students are imbued with the meaning of ethical nursing practice and continues throughout one’s career as nurses make the links from individuals to populations, and from the local to the global context.
  • …about the competent and engaged practice of nurses, who provide exemplary care,2 think critically and independently, inform their practice with evidence, delegate and take charge appropriately, advocate for patients and communities, insist on practising to their full and legal scope and push the boundaries of practice to innovative new levels.
  • …about nurses who create and use research, who ask the kinds of questions and seek the kinds of answers that can shape healthy public policy. Leadership in this domain is about combining science with a deep understanding of population health needs, nursing practice and nursing education to envision new futures and drive the nursing discipline strongly forward. It is about mentoring junior researchers, and it is about linking closely with practice and policy leaders to help shape larger public policy outcomes.
  • …about nurses who develop, analyze and interpret policy, and who speak with knowledge of human health, health and regulatory systems and health economics to usefully and credibly inform the development of regulatory frameworks and healthy public policy.
  • …about innovative and visionary administrators from the first level to the most senior nurse executives – leaders who understand and hold themselves accountable for creating vibrant, exciting practice settings in which nurses can deliver safe, accessible, timely and high-quality care for the Canadians they serve.” (Position statement available here)


Leadership in nursing needs to be a shared responsibility among all nurses, at every stage of their career. We believe that this type of collective action is needed in order to not only transform and sustain our nursing profession, but healthcare in general.

Putting an emphasis on your leadership skills as a nurse will help support an environment of high-quality, professional practice in which nurses voices are heard, respected and valued. We know this is not a reality where some of you are practicing – that is why it is crucial for us to come together and start making changes, today. Together, we CAN make a difference.

Nurse leadership does not just “happen”. It requires a community of support, tools and resources to continually develop and enhance leadership skills and a network of other nurse leaders to mentor and support all generations of nurses. This is why the International Network of Nurse Leaders was formed; to give nurses that community, those tools, that support.

Together we can build our leadership capacity, learn from one another, and develop innovative and visionary strategies to build the future of nursing and healthcare.

There has been a steady decline of nurses in formal leadership positions since the mid 1990’s and an increase in non-nursing leaders in areas primarily responsible for nursing care (CNA position statement). It seems this change has lead to nursing shortages, unsafe nurse:patient staffing ratios, and plummeting staff morale. We are being called to take back our profession. We are not “just a nurse”. We CAN BEa profession of highly capable, empathetic, highly effective leaders.

Changing the current landscape of not only the nursing profession, but also healthcare in general, will require nurses stepping up as effective leaders. In collaboration with other healthcare professionals and policy makers, nurse leaders can lead the change to create a stronger, more effective healthcare system at a global level.

If you are interested in the leadership in nursing conversation or would like to learn more about how you can develop your skills as an effective nurse leader, we encourage you to check out our International Network of Nurse Leaders membership program.

From the Bedside to the Boardroom

From the Bedside to the Boardroom

From the Bedside to the Boardroom

My journey from floor nurse to the founder & CEO of the International Network of Nurse Leaders

I wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember. My 4-year-old birthday cake was a “nurse” cake and my sister and I spent countless hours playing labour and delivery nurse I left my small town at 18 years old to pursue my Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Calgary and have now spent almost 13 years in the most fulfilling, crazy, and diverse career I could have imagined for myself.

One of the great things about the nursing profession are the unlimited career paths you can take and still be a nurse. I started out, as most do, as a general medical-surgical nurse, working in small town hospitals; which really meant I was a med-surg, geriatrics, L&D and emergency nurse … all with less than 2 years experience under my belt.

About 2 years into my career I found my nirvana—a small town hospital where I could specialize as a Labour & Delivery nurse. From there, my skills grew leaps and bounds and I decided to take on the next challenge of being an L&D travel nurse. I packed my bags and headed for my first assignment in Sitka, Alaska! Following a few short assignments in Alberta and BC, I headed for Exeter, New Hampshire.

It was in Exeter, NH where I was introduced to the concept of nurse-midwives.  I was immediately enticed as I had always thought it was kind of sad that, after all the work and time you spent with the labouring mom, you either were off shift when the baby was finally born OR the doctor showed up for the “glory catch” and you were left with the clean-up. (I am being facetious here; I know physicians do more than just show up to catch the babies so don’t get too riled up). It seemed like, after all my childhood years, playing delivery nurse (and actually delivery the baby), that this was the next logical step in my nursing career. And so I headed down the path of nurse-midwifery and began my Masters of Science in Nursing as the next step in my career.

As it turns out, while I am grateful for the time I spent as a nurse-midwife, it wasn’t the path I was destined to take for very long. Following a short stint as a midwife in Alberta, I dove back into my nursing and rural roots and began work with rural Primary Care Networks focusing on prenatal and women’s health.

Working within Primary Care Networks allowed me to expand my nursing scope once again, as I moved from managing a prenatal clinic and team to another PCN where I am now managing a team of 15 healthcare professionals, focusing on chronic disease.

It was here that I realized my 2 passions. Leadership and Nursing. Throughout my life I have been involved in leadership opportunities through 4-H and various committees and associations but it had never crossed my mind that I could do “leadership” as a job.

I am proud to be a nurse. It is a part of who I am, and my fellow nurses are family. Nurses are bonded together in a way that most professions will never understand; we truly are a family.

As I took on a leadership role and dove into my own learning and growth, I realized how little support nurses in general are given in regards to leadership development. We, as nurses, make up the largest percentage of healthcare workers, yet our voices are not equally represented or heard at the proverbial table. Front-line nurses are rarely involved or asked for their opinion in regards to policy, budget or mandates that will directly affect their work and patient care.

Nurses have the potential to be incredible powerful leaders. Every nurse has the opportunity to be a leader, every day. And I believe that nurses, when working together for a greater purpose, have the power to change the world. From the bedside to the boardroom, we need nurses to find their voices and speak up for the changes that we know are so desperately needed in healthcare today.

I believe that is how we solve our healthcare crisis. Involve the nurses … at every level. I started the International Network of Nurse Leaders in an effort to help nurses increase their confidence, develop their leadership skills and come together in a united purpose to fight for our profession, our patients, and ourselves.

And so begins my next path in my nursing journey, nurse leadership. I look forward to connecting with nurses on a global scale and championing them as they find the courage to make changes in their own practice, their units, their organizations, and eventually, the world.

~ Amy Deagle

Founder & CEO International Network of Nurse Leaders