Oklahoma City University Online Nursing Blog
7 of the top skills today's nurse leaders need to know

7 of the top skills today's nurse leaders need to know

top view of nurse working with stethoscope and laptop

The field of nursing has expanded not only to meet the needs of a growing geriatric population but also to accommodate changes in the U.S. health care system. Advances in technology, in particular the advent of electronic health records (EHRs), have created opportunities for more nurses to step into higher-paying administrative and managerial positions.

There are now approximately 11,000 nurse leaders practicing in the United States.1 Wondering what it takes to assume a leadership role in the profession? We’ll unpack what a nurse leader does and what business skills can help you advance in this competitive and lucrative arena.

Roles for nurse leaders

As the name implies, nurse leaders occupy a supervisory or managerial role; often, they are responsible for the performance of an entire unit or care facility. Some even function as vice presidents or CEOs of an organization. However, more humble career paths fall within this broad description as well. Here are just some of the roles you can step into as a nurse leader.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)

As a CAO, you are responsible for managing the financial health of the entire organization and creating procedures that ensure compliance and efficiency. CAOs report directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company. The median pay for this high-level managerial position is $371,900.2

Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)

CNOs lead the team of nurses at any given health care facility. They wear many hats, including finance management, the development of protocols, staff scheduling, and making sure that new technologies are integrated smoothly into existing systems. The median salary for CNOs nationwide is $247,280.3


Coordinators manage special projects at the health care facility where they work. They may be in charge of developing educational programs or serve as the lead preceptor, providing mentorship and on-hands instruction to a team of nurses. The average salary for a nurse coordinator is $99,734, according to GlassDoor.4

Director of Nursing (DON)

Directors of nursing are in charge of a team of nurses, including hiring staff, managing their schedules and delegating responsibilities, coordinating treatment plans with other health care providers, and serving as a liaison between doctors and nurses. Depending on the size and needs of the organization for which they work, a DON may work purely in an HR capacity. The median annual salary for a nurse supervisor is $92,766.5

The Skills and Knowledge Nursing Leaders Need

To assume a managerial role, nurse leaders need to have specialized knowledge that falls outside the traditional skills nurses learn in training degree programs. Much of this knowledge falls under the category of soft business skills — leadership, communication, and team building. However, nurse leaders who aspire to become CAOs or CNOs also need hard business skills, such as operations, logistics, and accounting.


When you're a nurse leader, you often find yourself in charge of a hospital unit or care facility. You may be asked to handle payroll or to set and meet budgetary compliance goals, reporting directly to the CFO of your organization. This calls for knowledge of finance, especially accounting and statistics.


Nurse leaders don't execute orders; they give them. To do so effectively, nurses in top-level administrative roles must be familiar with strategic planning initiatives for the entire organization. Nurse leaders may also be called upon to plan and implement strategies for OSHA compliance and emergency preparedness. Knowing how to see the big picture and make plans that are both efficient and cost-effective requires advanced knowledge of strategic business planning.

Human Resources

Nurse supervisors and directors of nursing are in charge of making hires that further the strategic goals of the health care organization that employs them. They need to know a variety of soft business skills, such as mediation, recruiting, and networking. They may also be tasked with setting professional development and compliance goals.


Nurse leaders in managerial roles are tasked with planning and implementing operations in their unit or organization. They may do a little of everything — monitor patient care, review data, and collaborate with other administrators to improve standards of care. Just as nurse leaders require strategic skills, they also need to be able to coordinate and prioritize these tasks, which requires advanced knowledge of business operations.


Nurse leaders are role models for the staff working under them. They must learn to lead fairly and effectively to motivate nurses on the unit. Good teamwork skills are essential. Nurse managers must know how to delegate responsibilities, troubleshoot complaints, and anticipate problems so they do not hurt operations.

Communication and Networking

Just as one needs leadership skills to lead effectively, so do nurse managers who must learn to communicate effectively not only with the staff working under them but also with physicians and other top-level administrators. They need to promote open dialog and a supportive team atmosphere. Nurse managers working in a human resource capacity must also establish relationships with local community colleges and other institutions of higher education to be able to recruit top candidates.

Critical Thinking

Nursing programs that promote a holistic approach to learning teach nurse leaders how to think critically when seeking to improve operations at their health care facility. Critical thinking is the ability to see the big picture when making decisions; without this important skill, you risk forwarding solutions with siloed information.

Take your nursing career to the next level

You know you have what it takes to be a nurse leader. All you need are the skills and qualifications to get there. At Oklahoma City University's Kramer School of Nursing, we offer online degree programs specifically designed to give you the 21st-century skills you need to level up. Interested in learning more? Contact us today for more information about the programs and curricula we offer.

  1. Retrieved on October 12, 2022, from aonl.org/about/overview
  2. Retrieved on October 12, 2022, from salary.com/research/salary/alternate/cao-salary
  3. Retrieved on October 12, 2022, from salary.com/research/salary/alternate/chief-nursing-officer-cno-salary
  4. Retrieved on October 13, 2022, from glassdoor.com/Salaries/clinical-nurse-coordinator-salary-SRCH_KO0,26.htm
  5. Retrieved on October 13, 2022, from indeed.com/career/nursing-supervisor/salaries

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