The importance of recognizing nurse leaders

Staff shortages and healthcare workers’ declining emotional health and well-being following COVID-19 are threats to healthcare safety for all.

While the focus has been on frontline nurses, the American Organization for Nursing Leadership’s (AONL) recent studies identify a negative trend that healthcare administrators neglect at their own peril: Nurse managers and directors are struggling under the weight of COVID-19’s effects both at a personal level and on behalf of their staffs, with little recognition. The studies show high levels of emotional stress and burnout and dramatically increased levels of resignations and intent to leave the profession.   

Nurse leaders coordinate nursing staff—the largest segment of the healthcare workforce and the one that spends the most one-on-one time with patients. As a result, nurse managers and directors have an enormous impact on the achievement of organizational goals. Effective nurse leaders: 

  • Promote safety and help achieve quality and financial goals 
  • Establish, support, and generate evidence-based nursing practice 
  • Improve quality in administration—from patient care to systems facilitation


Who are nurse leaders? 

Nurse managers, directors of nursing, chief nursing officers, and chief nurse executives are leaders who affect many frontline caregivers and guide and participate in change operations and policies. However, the American Nurses Association (ANA) stresses that every nurse is a leader and encourages all nurses to develop and demonstrate effective leadership skills. Importantly, there are opportunities to begin teaching leadership skills early on in nurses’ careers. 

Effective leadership requires numerous essential and diverse skills, and the most important ones vary depending on the situation and challenges at hand. For example, nurse leaders must adapt to constantly changing processes—such as regulatory and reimbursement requirements and evidence-based standards—in healthcare. Agility allows a nurse leader to implement rapid changes that benefit the organization without sacrificing momentum or losing sight of the overall goal.

Must-know organizations

Numerous high-profile organizations support and advocate for nurse leaders in today’s healthcare climate where recognition of them is lacking. Importantly, they’re sounding alarm bells about changes to nurse leaders’ primary challenges and researching and publishing critical data concerning nurse leader well-being.

  1. The AONL is the national professional organization of over 10,000 nurse leaders and “the voice of nursing leadership.” Its mission is to shape healthcare through innovative and expert nursing leadership and promote professional development for nurse leaders through education, advocacy, and community. As noted, AONL recently completed a three-part longitudinal COVID-19 study of nursing leaders.

  2. The DAISY Foundation expresses gratitude to nurses with programs that recognize them for the extraordinary skillful, compassionate care they provide. An acronym for Diseases Attacking the Immune SYstem, the DAISY Foundation was formed in November 1999 by the family of J. Patrick Barnes who died at age 33 of complications of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura. In addition to the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses, which has been bestowed on more than 167,000 nurses, DAISY honors nurse managers, assistant managers, directors, charge nurses, educators, CNOs, preceptors, informatics nurses, patient flow nurses, and others with its leadership award.

  3. The ANA has a mission to lead the profession to shape the future of nursing and healthcare, and it states that effective nurse leaders “motivate and inspire others to work together to achieve shared goals, including the delivery of high-quality, safe, and evidence-based patient care. [They] provide vision, perspective, accountability, and expertise to support quality patient care and a safe, healthy work environment.”
  4. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) promotes healthy work environments that support and foster excellence in patient care wherever nurses practice. Its Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments (HWE) is a response to evidence that unhealthy work environments contribute to medical errors, ineffective care delivery, and conflict and stress among staff. AACN’s research shows that healthy work environments are more likely to have nurse leaders who fully embrace six HWE standards.

Establishing and maintaining a healthy work environment requires strong nursing leadership. Under prevalent models of servant leadership, shared governance, and staff empowerment, it’s common for nurse leaders to be less visible and go unrecognized for successfully implementing and leading shared decision-making models of care. We must value nurse leaders’ worth; support them through meaningful recognition programs, such as DAISY; show serious concern for the quality of their work-life balance; and empower them throughout their respective organizations. 

Learn about symplr’s role in supporting nurse leaders and the entire healthcare workforce.


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