7 Keys to Effective Leadership in Your Nurse Practitioner Job

In my last post, I shared how working as a nurse practitioner carries with it managerial and leadership responsibilities. Whether the NP is prepared for, or enjoys this part of his or her role, these often unforeseen duties are an inevitable part of practice. Most nurse practitioner programs don’t equip NPs with the skills they need to jump into these aspects of their role so the painful process of on the job learning is in order.

I certainly made mistakes as I adapted to becoming a leader in my practice. Here are a few of the lessons I learned and key skills I picked up along the way.

1. Avoid Complaining and Engaging in Gossip 

It seems that hospital floor and clinic break rooms are rife with gossip. Whether there’s a juicy relationship between a physician and nurse at play or more trivial nit-picking at one another’s job performance, as a nurse practitioner you must not engage in these conversations. There’s a time and a place to make suggestions as to how your practice is run or give constrictive feedback, but engaging in complaining and gossip don’t serve you well. Moral implications aside, these habits simply don’t elevate you as a leader among your coworkers. Treading carefully in your conversations will boost your professional credibility.

2. Give Honest Feedback

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As one who beats around the bush and avoids conflict like C. diff, it is difficult for me to offer honest feedback to my coworkers, even those who I am responsible for teaching and overseeing. I’m more likely to give a “nice work” comment and redo the task at hand myself than to deliver a “you can do better” remark. No one benefits from dishonest or misleading feedback. Tell people what they need to hear, not what you think they might want to hear.

In general, people want to be good at what they do. So, help your coworkers out. Teach them when needed. Give coworkers straightforward feedback as to how you can best work together. Sugar coating the truth is detrimental. Honesty on your part as a leader will help your practice run smoothly.

3. Delegate Appropriately

Delegating can be difficult, especially when you’re new on the job. You may not yet know which nurses are the most experienced or which enjoy particular areas of medicine more than others. Once you’re aware of others’ abilities and preferences, delegate tasks accordingly to help the practice succeed. An awareness as to which employees will excel in various roles is key to helping patient flow move as smoothly as possible.

4. Pick Your Battles

When I first started working in the emergency department, there were a few nurses who seemed to be missing the ‘hustle’ gene. Personally paid on productivity and one who is always full of energy, the speed at which these nurses carried out their work drove me crazy. It prevented me from getting my job done as quickly as I would have liked and led to frustrating interactions as we worked together. I would ask them to prioritize placing IVs and nag about getting urine samples. My constant, hurried requests were not well received.

Finally, I realized, these nurses aren’t going to change. At least not much. They had been working in the emergency department for years, were nearing retirement, and probably felt a little burnt out. So, I went with it. When my patients were placed with these individuals I sacrificed the speed at which I worked for the improvement of our professional relationship. Now, we get along great.

5. It’s OK if You Don’t Know the Answer

As a nurse practitioner new graduate, it can be difficult to step into a leadership role. You may not be confident in your clinical skills so taking on managerial responsibilities seems daunting.

As a leader, it’s alright if you don’t have all the answers or if an experienced nurse is more knowledgeable than you despite your job title. Address your lack of knowledge with humility. You can still be an effective leader without all the answers.

6. Communicate Clearly

A lack of clear communication can leave your practice in shambles. It leads to job dissatisfaction not only for you personally, but also for other employees. Some issues are best resolved over email, others in person. Know the difference. Get your coworkers the information they need to do their job in a timely manner. Keep your written communication professional, an email is forever.

7. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously 

One mistake I made when I started working in the emergency department was taking my job too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, there are some serious situations in the ED and I approach them as such. But, I didn’t relax into my role. I was tense and stressed which tainted my communication with coworkers. Stress may be inevitable when you start a new position or are a new nurse practitioner. But, don’t forget to give yourself some perspective.

How do you approach your leadership and managerial responsibilities as a nurse practitioner?


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