5 Traits That Make a Great Clinical Leader

Professional Development Research & Resources
nurse teaches clinical leadership traits

In healthcare, the opportunities to advance your career are plentiful. The first step is to choose your clinical discipline, whether it be nursing, therapy, pharmacy, nutrition, case management or another specialty. After you’ve secured the required education and training, you may decide to set your sights on a leadership role. Being a great clinical leader certainly requires practical skills and experience, but don’t neglect your soft skills. These traits can really set you apart!

Be Emotionally Intelligent

Patient care is nuanced. Emotionally intelligent nurse leaders can discuss medical treatments and potential complications with patients and family members in a compassionate manner. Sometimes, tensions can rise when patients receive bad news or struggle to comprehend a diagnosis. Heightened emotional intelligence can help you read the feelings in the room, remain calm and provide the reassurance families are looking for in these moments.

Professionally, being emotionally mature can help you empathize with your colleagues, navigate the moods of your team and view tough situations from multiple perspectives. It can help you take objective criticism (which is par for the course when developing into a leader) without defaulting to a defensive stance. Peers and direct reports will respect your level-headedness and know they can come to you with difficult issues.

Deliver Quality Communication

Patients and their caregivers expect—and deserve—top-quality communication about their treatment plans, therapy regimens, medication management and more. No matter your specialty, it’s important not to shy away from the responsibility of keeping them informed.

In a supervisory role, staff will look to you for guidance at every turn. One of the best ways to build trust with staff is to provide efficient communication and be transparent in your messaging. Effective communication can take many forms. Below are a few examples.

  • Share what you know. Be honest about what you don’t know.
  • Be direct, rather than using vague language that leaves room for misinterpretation.
  • Make sure important updates come from you, not through the grapevine or rumor mill.
  • Remember that speaking isn’t the only communication skill. Make sure to listen and observe.
  • Create avenues for staff to speak directly with you; otherwise, you risk being perceived as inaccessible or not interested in feedback.

Be Forward-Thinking

Anticipating problems before they happen is a critical leadership skill. If you’re leading a team, you may bear the responsibility of mistakes that happen under your watch. Thinking ahead can help prevent a crisis before it happens. If you understand the risks associated with understaffing your nursing department, for example, you’re more likely to take the extra steps to ensure each shift is adequately staffed—and to have a back-up plan if something goes wrong.

This skill can also help you develop your team. You may be familiar with the quote, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Envision your department one year from now, five years from now, and so on. Have the foresight now to tap into the special talents of your direct reports and provide mentorship to help them advance. This will future-proof your department and help you get ahead of succession planning.

Model Integrity

Clinicians are trusted to make the best choices for the patients in their care. Good clinical leaders will always encourage staff to make the right choice, not the easiest or most convenient. A lack of ethics or honesty in a healthcare leadership setting can have harmful effects on people’s lives. Below are a few examples of integrity in action in the workplace.

  • Being accountable for your actions and owning your decisions.
  • Teaching trainees the importance of compliance with patient care standards.
  • Never cutting corners or justifying shortcuts.
  • Modeling behaviors that reinforce your personal values and the company’s values.
  • Encouraging a speak-up culture where staff can report concerns without retaliation.

Be Service-Oriented

At Encompass Health, our purpose is to serve patients through customized rehabilitation that exceeds expectations. Our clinicians are motivated to do their best because their work is intrinsically tied to returning patients to independence. Holistically, being service-oriented means never losing sight of why you do what you do, remembering what’s at stake and recognizing the lives you’re impacting.

In daily practice, a service-oriented nurse leader makes themselves available to patients, nurses and other members of the healthcare team. A service-oriented therapy leader is willing to put in the extra time to improve therapy practices and explore new technologies for the betterment of their patients. Modeling this patient-first mindset will inspire others and motivate your team to contribute their best work.

Next Up: Get Connected

Joining a professional organization can help you connect with other leaders in your specialty, gain a mentor, earn Continuing Education Credits and stay up to date on the latest healthcare trends. Below are a few options for consideration, based on your clinical discipline.

The content of this site is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions or treatments.