The vital role executive nursing leaders have played during the COVID pandemic cannot be understated. Many nurse executives have emerged as among the most highly effective leaders, able to steadily and strategically navigate uncertain terrain.
These leaders have managed to balance myriad shifting demands – from supporting nurses on the frontlines to implementing evidence-based care – all the while maintaining calm and contributing to keeping their organization running as smoothly as possible. There’s much to be learned from their successes, especially for healthcare executives and executive recruitment leaders who are seeking to hire new nurse leaders for their organization.
Top 3 critical competencies to look for in nurse executives
While the critical competencies required in such strong nurse leaders are many, the following three have emerged to form the critical foundation for outstanding nurse leadership.
1. Prioritizing health and safety – both physical and mental
Successful nurse leaders, of course, have always kept the health and safety of their patients, providers, and staff at top of mind. But in the midst of the pandemic, it became clear that leaders with a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind patient and staff safety rose to the occasion. Additionally, these leaders focused not only on physical health and safety but also on emotional wellbeing.
Physical safety: Effective nurse executives are dedicated to promoting the safety of their nurses. Stamps et al. explored the responsibility nurse leaders have to advocate for nurses in this new era of health care: “The current COVID-19 outbreak is overwhelming health care systems, and nurses are at risk for infection, isolation, fatigue, and burnout. Nurse leader support is essential to creating a safe workplace in which nursing staff are protected, supported, educated, and empowered” (Nurse Leader). This means ensuring access to resources like PPE, testing, training, prevention protocols, anonymous safety violation reporting, designated COVID units, and telehealth.
Mental and emotional wellness: Successful nurse leaders also recognize it is essential to support nurses’ emotional and mental health. In “Safeguarding Nurses’ Well-being is Non-negotiable,” successful nurse leaders describe measures they have taken to support the mental health and wellness of their nurses. These supports included providing outlets to share stories, chair massages, free counseling, mindfulness resilience training, pet therapy, music, and anxiety management tools (Becker’s). Successful nursing leaders ensure access to programs like EAP, peer support groups, wellness committees, and the like.
2. Fostering collaboration and communication
Successful nursing executives are more than just effective collaborators and communicators. They are truly transparent with others and actively work to streamline the flow of information. Because they serve as liaisons between nurses and patients, staff, officials, and the community, they must be able to rapidly coordinate, sift through, evaluate, organize, delegate, and disseminate accurate, relevant information.
Collaboration: Top leaders know collaboration is key. In “The Clinical Nurse Leader and COVID-19: Leadership and quality at the point of care,” Hoffman et al. emphasize that nurse leaders must “collaborate with not only other members of the interprofessional team such as infectious disease pharmacists, physicians, and nursing leadership, but also with social work, clergy, and public health officials (Journal of Professional Nursing). This is why it is critical to ensure messaging is aligned and communication flows.
Communication: Leading nurse executives also go above and beyond to establish open lines of communication. Stamps et al. presented a case study highlighting how executive nursing leadership prioritized communication by proactively creating a COVID command center: “The purpose of the command center is to work collaboratively to make operational decisions, support patients and staff, and impart daily briefings to staff…a hotline was set up for those who had recently traveled to be cleared for return to work…and communication trees were developed for the chain to follow to inform leaders of potential COVID-19 patients” (Nurse Leader).
3. Adeptness at leveraging information and innovation
Strong nurse leaders are visionary. They are adept at learning from challenges and rapidly generating and implementing creative solutions. Further, they employ evidence-based strategies to inform decisions and adapt to future challenges using innovative solutions.
Information: Effective nurse leaders make informed, data-driven decisions. They use technology and metrics to help develop protocols and workflows. According to Hoffman et al., nurse leaders may use tools like root cause analysis, statistical process control charts, and cause-and-effect analyses to “identify breakdowns in safety protocols, quickly identify and implement interventions to improve screening and testing protocols, triage patients, or track and report data for COVID specific outcomes such as screening, characteristics of patients, and utilization of hospital resources.”
Innovation: Nurse leaders who are successful also value innovative ideas. In “The Innovation Road Map: A Guide for Nurse Leaders,” Cianelli et. al identify five characteristics healthcare leaders must “exhibit, foster, promote, and reward: divergent thinking, risk taking, failure tolerance, agility and flexibility, and autonomy and freedom” (Nursing World). These characteristics can serve as a jumping off point for leaders to create considerable and sustainable change and inspire a collective innovative mindset within their organization.
Moving forward, it is critical for health care leaders to have access to highly skilled nurse leaders. When screening candidates, look for those who demonstrate these top 3 competencies of prioritizing health and safety, fostering collaboration and communication, and valuing insight and innovation – for success in 2021 and beyond.
Let us help you find the strong nurse leaders you need. Connect with an executive search expert at Cejka Search.