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Leadership skills

How to demonstrate leadership skills within your career

This page talks about the different types of skills or behaviours you can adopt in order to become a leader, and gives examples of how you're probably already a leader without even realising it.

Even though primarily aimed at nurses, it can easily apply to all healthcare professionals.

What is a leader?

Upon hearing the word "leader," you might automatically think of someone who manages a large team, or someone at the top who calls all the shots. 

Although the term can have different meanings for different people, it's interesting to see that the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) defines it as "the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviours, to achieve a common goal."

Leadership in the healthcare industry

Reviews and research have shown the importance of leadership within healthcare, linking it to patient mortality, quality of patient care and patient satisfaction, and better staff wellbeing and morale.

Following the increasing recognition that all employees need to be leaders at some level, healthcare organisations are now shifting a relentless focus onto improving and investing in strong and effective leadership within the services they provide. 

Leaders at all levels

All employees can be leaders, from directors, to middle managers, from first-line supervisors to front-line staff. 

You could be a leader for example by raising concerns about staffing levels, by acting as a role model, or by taking forward an idea about how to improve patient care. 

Leadership skills during recruitment

When recruiting, employers may want to see evidence and examples of your leadership skills within your CV, job application, assessments and/or interview.

Alternatively you may be applying for a post where leadership plays a key or important part. In this case you may be asked not only about your leadership skills, but about your leadership vision or leadership ethos.

Possible interview questions around leadership skills could include:

  • Give an example of a time where you acted as a role model
  • Describe a time where you had to bring someone round to an idea you had 
  • Describe a time when you had to take charge of a situation
  • What does good leadership mean to you?
  • What type of leader are you?
  • Tell us about a time where you acted as an advocate for a patient
  • Describe a time when you had to challenge a senior colleague
  • How do you keep the morale of your team going in difficult times?


  • Are you good at making decisions and planning?
  • Do you often find yourself taking charge or leading in situations?
  • Do you enjoy supporting and motivating colleagues?
  • Do you consider yourself a good role model?
  • Do you mind having less direct contact with patients?

RCN Leadership forum

It's free to join the RCN Nurses in Management and Leadership forum. Help shape the future of nurse leaders or get support from your peers in the dedicated Facebook group.

Think about a time when you have...

  • Advocated for a patient so that their wishes were heard
  • Voiced issues important to nursing/patient care or for your team/organisation
  • Took charge or led during a clinical shift, project or audit
  • Supported, coached or mentored others
  • Took responsibility for your own learning and development
  • Acted as an Activist for healthcare causes
  • Spoke out about improving services, improving resources or saving money
  • Promoted equality and diversity, the 6Cs, or organisational values
  • Acted as a role model
  • Delegated or provided clear direction to others
  • Empowered a patient to take charge or control of their health
  • Took responsibility for reflecting and learning from your practice
  • Challenged others who weren't following procedures or adhering to values
  • Appropriately reported concerns regarding staffing or skill mix
  • Acted to resolve issues that may have impacted on care or safety
  • Prepared, supported and supervised those to whom care has been delegated
  • Supported or motivated your team or colleagues
  • Assisted with or helped with change management
  • Influenced others to come on board with an idea you had
Forum Library Subject Guide

RCN Library Subject Guide: Leadership

The RCN library's subject guide has links and resources on leadership.

RCN Leadership

A suite of bespoke programmes to help you lead positive and effective change. For individuals beginning their leadership career, to experienced leaders wishing to refine specific skills.

The NHS Healthcare Leadership model

In the NHS, the healthcare leadership model is made up of nine different leadership dimensions, which can help you explore the ways in which you might already be acting as a leader, or inspire you to develop and grow your leadership skills.  Here are some examples from the model that may resonate with you, or inspire you further:

  • Valuing the ethos of a service
  • Thinking about how to improve services and patient care
  • Behaving in a way that reflects the principles and values of the NHS
  • Acting as a role model and inspiring others to do the same

  • Understanding the unique qualities and needs of a team
  • Understanding your own behaviour and how this impacts on your team
  • Carrying out acts of kindness for your team
  • Helping to foster a positive and supportive atmosphere that enables everyone to do their jobs effectively

  • Investigating or seeking out feedback from service users, colleagues or others and using it to make improvements
  • Using information, feedback or data to generate new ideas and make effective plans for improvement or change
  • Always thinking about ways to do your job more effectively or ways to improve services

  • Understanding how your area of work relates and connects with other individuals/teams
  • Providing effective handover and taking responsibility for continuity of service provision
  • Making links or liaising with other teams and organisations
  • Being flexible when working with people/teams who have different standards or approaches to you

  • Communicating a compelling, credible and vivid picture of what everyone is working towards (e.g. vision or goals) in a way that makes it feels achievable and exciting
  • Inspiring hope and helping others to see how their work fits in
  • Being visible and available to your team
  • Communicating honestly, clearly and appropriately

  • Recognising and actively appreciating each person’s unique perspectives and experience
  • Listening attentively to your team and valuing their suggestions
  • Asking for contributions from your team to raise their engagement
  • Promoting team work and feelings of pride
  • Asking your team for feedback

  • Taking responsibility for your own performance
  • Agreeing clear performance goals and quality indicators  
  • Supporting others to take responsibility for results

  • Taking responsibility for your own development
  • Exploring and understanding the strengths and development needs of your team
  • Understanding the importance and impact of people development, Acting as a role model for personal development
  • Providing long term mentorship or coaching

  • Listening to different views
  • Sharing issues and information to help others understand your thinking
  • Developing and presenting well-reasoned arguments
  • Engaging respectfully to convince or persuade others
  • Building relationships to recognise other people’s passions and concerns

  • The NHS has various leadership programmes, designed to help everyone in the NHS discover their full leadership potential.

    • The NHS Edward Jenner programme is a free eLearning resource open to all, aiming to support you to develop essential leadership skills. The programme is delivered online so you can complete it in your own time, at your own pace. It's suited to those looking to take their first steps into leadership, or wanting to find out more about leadership skills.
    • The Mary Seacole programme is aimed at those in their first leadership role, and it is possible to get employer funding, or self fund.
    • The Elizabeth Garrett programme is aimed at middle to senior leaders. There are bursaries available for BAME, disabled and LGBT+ applicants.


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    Nurses and Midwives

    Resources for nurses and midwives: improve your employability or explore options and ideas if you're at a career crossroads.

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    Nursing Support Workers

    Career resources for Healthcare Assistants, Assistant Practitioners, Nursing Associates and Support Workers.

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    Student and Newly Registered Nurses

    Resources to help you write your first nursing CV or job application, and tips on how to stand out at interview.