From transformational to democratic, every nurse leader adopts a different leadership style. Regardless, they all find common ground when it comes to soft skills.
Nurse leaders exhibit an extensive list of soft skills to build resilience in the nurses they lead. And according to Forbes, these skills have become essential in the workplace.
Soft skills are interpersonal competencies that dictate how someone interacts with others, particularly in the workplace — things like communication, teamwork, stress-management, etc.
Nurse leaders play an important role in cultivating resilience and supporting the emotional health and well-being of nursing staff. And while hard skills, including clinical knowledge and expertise, are crucial in any leadership role, soft skills help leaders interact with others, collaborate, and develop relationships versus knowledge alone.
By using their soft skills, nurse leaders can strengthen their teams and create positive, engaging work environments. Let’s take a look at soft skills that can have the most impact on nurse-nurse leader relationships.
Emotional intelligence is a pivotal component in effective nurse leadership. This trait allows nurse leaders to better understand and manage their own emotions as well as nurses’ emotions. Emotional intelligence also helps people respond to challenges and stressors in a more constructive and effective manner.
This soft skill also helps nurse leaders demonstrate empathy, which is important when connecting with staff. This can also lay a strong foundation to cultivating resilience.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. An empathetic nurse leader recognizes the difficulties and stresses that nurses are facing and finds meaningful ways to support and motivate them.
For example, a bedside nurse nearing of the end of their shift tells their nurse leader they are feeling drained, but they have a few more tasks to complete, and their last patient has been challenging.
In this scenario, an emotionally intelligent leader would empathize with the nurse’s challenges and offer practical solutions, such as asking a colleague for support, taking a moment of respite, or a debriefing after their shift.
A study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence reported that supervisors who had higher levels of emotional intelligence had better working relationships with their staff. This resulted in employees feeling happier, more fulfilled, and stronger in their roles. When equipped with leadership skills such as emotional intelligence, nurse leaders can build stronger relationships and create a more supportive work environment.
Active listening involves more than just hearing what colleagues are saying. By engaging in active listening, nurse leaders are:
- Paying attention: This means maintaining eye contact and giving full attention to the other person speaking. When nurse leaders give their undivided attention, it shows they’re invested in the conversation and value what their nurses have to say.
- Using verbal and nonverbal cues: Whether a head nod or the use of affirming phrases, such as “I understand,” or “I agree,” acknowledging responses as well as body language during a conversation show engagement and receptiveness.
- Paraphrasing: It can be helpful to summarize what nurses are saying. If they are providing feedback on a new piece of technology or expressing safety concerns about the way a clinical procedure is done, listing back what they communicated demonstrates mutual understanding but also allows nurse leaders to actively process the information.
- Reflecting feelings: Active listening also involves reflecting on the emotions of nurse colleagues. For instance, if a staff nurse is expressing frustration with their workload, responding with statements, such as “It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed,” or “It’s understandable you’re feeling this way,” will validate their emotions and show empathy.
Research has shown that when nurse leadership practices skills like active listening, it can have direct and indirect benefits on the work environment, including improving employee well-being, increasing engagement, and reducing turnover. Taking the time to actively hear nurses’ needs, concerns, and wants can reinforce resilience in staff.
In nurse leadership, facilitating empowerment means encouraging nurses to take charge and have the confidence to make decisions like delegating tasks or adjusting a care plan within their scope of practice. This can help increase their confidence and give them a deeper sense of purpose.
While it’s not always possible to have nurses make every decision, finding ways to meet them in the middle can be a start. Examples of how nurse leaders can facilitate empowerment:
- Provide opportunities for professional development. Whether it’s attending a workshop, completing a training program, or being matched with a mentor, giving nurses opportunities that can enhance their skills and knowledge can inspire them to take on new challenges and advance their careers.
- Encourage autonomy. Autonomy refers to a nurse’s ability to make decisions and act independently based on their own judgment and expertise. Encouraging autonomy is a way to endorse nurses’ independence in their practice. One example is giving nurses the room and support to exhibit their decision-making skills, such as allowing them to independently create a care plan or manage their patient care. It’s important to remember, however, that nurses must have the proper support and resources they need, like coaching and evidence-based practice guidelines, to be able to make more informed, safe decisions.
- Foster collaboration. Collaborating with colleagues can mean sharing ideas and working together to solve problems — the main objective being to achieve the same goal, whether that is to help a patient or streamline a workflow.
Studies show job satisfaction is tied to nurses feeling empowered by their managers and in their roles. To be an inspiring nurse leader, it’s important to not only build trust and resilience in nurses but improve outcomes for patients and organizations.
Among all nurse leadership skills, honesty is perhaps one of the most essential components with patients, staff, and organizations. And cultivating resilience can be facilitated by being open and transparent, showing vulnerability, owning mistakes, and communicating genuinely.
Honest leadership also means being adaptable and willing to adjust to new situations and perspectives. And when put into practice, this can lead to improvements in the work environment and with staff. In fact, a study on ethical leadership found that nurses responded more positively to leaders who demonstrated characteristics, such as honesty, that showed their commitment to ethics. In addition, the mental well-being of nurse respondents improved, and they were more willing to participate in “extra-role behaviors” (going out of their way to be more emotionally supportive to colleagues and patients).
Nurse leadership requires a moral obligation to the organization, the patients, and to their nurses. When nurses lead with transparency, open-mindedness, and honesty, nurse leaders can transform work relationships and instill resilience in those they lead.
Nurse leadership involves developing relationships with staff based on shared admiration and trust. And with mutual admiration comes the need for recognition and encouragement. Many studies highlight that nurses need and want to feel recognized and encouraged for their work. But what can nurse leaders do to encourage their staff?
A great first step is asking staff what types of encouragement they find most meaningful. Whether it’s a handwritten note, a shoutout during the morning huddle, or an inspiring one-on-one conversation, tailoring recognition to what nurses want most is one way to make them feel seen and appreciated.
Being an encouraging leader also means being an authentic leader. When rewarding, recognizing, and uplifting nurses, it’s important to be sincere. In fact, one study reported that resilience in nurses was higher among nurses who felt more connected to and appreciated by management.
Nurses play an integral role in health care, from managing and supporting patients to advocating for safety and transparency in the workplace. And each day the demands of their workloads can take a mental and physical toll, so find moments to highlight their accomplishments, dedication, compassion, and hard work.
The role of a nurse leader is pivotal in that their reach extends to every aspect and person in their organization, especially nursing staff. And through the power of soft skills, those in nurse leadership can guide and motivate their colleagues to not only to become more knowledgeable but to cultivate resilience in themselves and others.
Learn more about soft skills in nurse leadership through these courses:
Emotional Intelligence Helps Nurses Work Smart
(0.50 contact hour)
Emotional intelligence (EI) is a relatively new concept in nursing, introduced by Daniel Goleman in 1995. Research studies indicate that EI is an important part of successful nursing practice. Applying EI concepts to nursing has the potential to support professional nursing practice and to improve patient outcomes.
Staying Cool Under Fire: How Well Do You Communicate?
(1 contact hour)
Working in the healthcare field requires outstanding communication skills. Communication, the transfer of understanding from one person to another, is the basis of the nurse-patient relationship. Skillful communication is essential for clinical practice and team building and for maintaining a satisfying work climate.