arrow_up-blue blog branches consultations events facebook-icon facebook-icon2 factsheet forum-icon forum hands key link location lock mail measure menu_plus news pdf pdf2 phone policies publications related search share subjectguide twitter-icon word youtube-icon
four nurses

Leadership skills

How to demonstrate leadership skills within your career

Nurses naturally step into leadership roles within the earliest stages of their career, even on their first day as a student on placement. 

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, the quality of patient care and patient satisfaction, as well as 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.

For this reason you may notice that leadership will be quite a prominent topic during recruitment processes, with employers asking you to demonstrate or describe your leadership skills within your CV, job application, assessments and/or interview. Alternatively you may be applying for a new post where leadership will play an important part. In this case you may be asked not only which leadership skills you already possess, but about your leadership vision or leadership ethos.

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. 

Think about a time when you have...


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:

Inspiring shared purpose

  • 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

Leading with care

  • 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

Evaluating information

  • 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

Connecting the service

  • 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

Sharing the vision

  • 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

Engaging the team

  • 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

Holding to account

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

Developing capability

  • 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

Influencing for results

  • 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: Your Career

Use our resources to improve your employability or explore options and ideas if you're at a career crossroad.

Careers HCA green uniform closeup 250x100

HPs: Your Career

Career resources for Health Practitioners, including HCAs, Assistant Practitioners, Nursing Associates and Support Workers.

Student officer uniform 250 x 100

Students: Your Career

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