Your web browser is outdated and may be insecure

The RCN recommends using an updated browser such as Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome

four nurses

Leadership skills

How to demonstrate and develop leadership skills within your career

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

If you're being asked to demonstrate leadership skills during recruitment, the RCN Career Service offers a range of support for members, including online guidance and resources, a CV/Supporting Statement checking service, and interview coaching.

Alternatively, if you're considering or pursuing a career in leadership, RCN members can access free career coaching as part of their membership. 

What is a leader?

Upon hearing the word "leader," you might automatically think of someone who manages a team, or someone who makes big decisions.

Although the term can have different meanings for different people, 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 healthcare

Research and reviews have revealed the importance of good leadership in healthcare, linking it to patient mortality, quality of patient care and satisfaction, and improved staff wellbeing/morale.

Using the idea that all employees can be leaders at some level, healthcare organisations have been aiming to improve and invest in strong, effective leadership within the services they provide. 

Leaders at all levels

All employees can show good leadership in their own way, from directors to middle managers or 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 suggesting ideas on how to improve patient care. 

Demonstrating leadership skills during recruitment

When recruiting, many healthcare employers will 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 employers will be interested in your leadership skills, but also about your leadership vision, leadership ethos/philosophy/style, or leadership strategy. They may be interested to see not only how you lead, but also how you will develop leadership skills in others.

Possible interview questions around leadership skills could include:

  • Tell us about a time where you took the lead on an idea, task, or project.
  • Describe a time where you had to bring someone around to an idea you had.
  • How do you act like a role model?
  • Tell us about a time where you advocated for a patient.
  • 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?
  • How would you foster a culture of leadership within your team?
  • Give examples of how you "lead with care."

Think about a time when you...

  • 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 shift, project, task, or audit.
  • Supported, coached or mentored others.
  • Took responsibility for your own learning and development.
  • Acted as an activist for healthcare related causes.
  • Spoke out about improving services, resources, or costs. 
  • Promoted equality and diversity, the 6Cs, or your employer's organisational values.
  • Acted as a professional role model.
  • Provided clinical leadership e.g. supervised others or acted as a link nurse/contact.
  • Took responsibility for a task and saw it through to the end.
  • 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.
  • Supported or motivated your team or colleagues.
  • Assisted with or helped with change management strategy.
  • Influenced others to come on board with an idea you had.

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.

RCN Careers Service resources and support

The RCN Careers Service has online advice on navigating a career crossroads, or exploring roles in leadership.

If you're applying for jobs, members can get support with writing CVs, covering letters, or supporting statements, including samples, templates, and a checking service.

We also offer advice on interview skills, interview coaching, and career coaching. See our Career Coaching FAQ page for more info.

RCN resources 

See the Nursing Careers Resource for information on career pathways in leadership (and other roles), including entry requirements, useful skills, case studies, videos, and more.

It's free to join the RCN's Nurses in Management and Leadership forum. As well as having useful leadership resources, you could help shape the future of nurse leaders or share, discuss, connect or learn with your peers in the forum's dedicated private Facebook group. 

Discover key leadership information and resources including books, reports, and journal articles with the RCN library's leadership subject guide. You can also browse journals for leadership studies or articles, or enquire about loaning books and ebooks about leadership in healthcare.

NHS Leadership model self-assessment tool

The Healthcare Leadership Model Self-Assessment Tool is designed to help people understand their leadership behaviours and to highlight areas of strength and areas for development.

NHS Leadership Academy learning hub and courses

NHS leadership Academy has produced free, engaging "bitesize courses," on their Learning Hub, such as authentic leadership, motivation, compassionate leadership in crisis, and how to work with emotions and care for your team.

The Learning Hub also features an "inspiration library," podcasts, blogs and videos, and "learning spaces," hosting learning content for campaigns and initiatives specially designed for health care leaders and managers to connect, share and learn together.

NHS Leadership programmes

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 LGBTQ+ applicants.

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

  • 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.
    Careers nurse uniform closeup 250x100

    Nurses and Midwives

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

    Careers HCA green uniform closeup 250x100

    Nursing Support Workers

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

    Student officer uniform 250 x 100

    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.