Leadership Styles in Nursing & Tips to Manage Them as a Nursing Student

Leadership Styles in Nursing & Tips to Manage Them as a Nursing Student

In the field of nursing, effective leadership is essential for providing high-quality patient care and creating a positive work environment. In a hospital or other healthcare setting, there are various leadership positions.


Leadership in nursing
Kate Johnson


May 14, 2024

In a hospital, the charge nurse, nurse manager, and nursing supervisor are all leadership positions. Even nurses who orient new hires or train students are considered leaders. As a nursing student and later as a newly graduated nurse, you’ll have to interact with all of these nursing leadership positions. 

Nursing leadership positions are important in healthcare settings since there needs to be coordination between units and the entire hospital. Nurses often only know what is going on with their specific patient assignments, so the leadership positions provide someone who doesn’t have to worry about the individualized care of patients while trying to coordinate larger issues. 

In addition to there being many leadership positions, there are also several leadership styles in nursing to be aware of. As a nursing student, you will come across each of these types of leadership in nursing throughout your journey and it will be critical to be able to navigate them so that you can have the best experience possible and begin to build your own leadership skills. 

In this article, I want to go over the most common leadership styles in nursing, a few strategies I use to navigate them, and some tips on how to build up your own leadership skills as a nursing student.

Types of Leadership in Nursing

There are seven main leadership styles that you’ll likely come across in nursing. Even if you don’t experience all of them during your nursing education, you are bound to encounter each of them throughout your nursing career.

Autocratic leadership nursing

Autocratic leadership in nursing refers to a leadership style where a nurse leader or manager makes decisions independently without the team’s input.

There is a clear hierarchy in autocratic leadership nursing as the leader holds their position of authority, providing specific instructions and closely monitoring the team’s work, expecting the team to adhere to this structure.

Democratic leadership nursing

Opposite to autocratic leadership, democratic leadership in nursing is a leadership style that emphasizes collaboration, shared decision-making, and active participation of team members.

Leaders adopting this leadership style encourage open communication, seek input and feedback from the team, and consider different perspectives before ultimately making the final decision based on the input. Democratic leaders delegate tasks and empower individuals to take ownership of their roles, fostering a sense of trust, respect, comfortability, ownership, and engagement among team members.

Laissez-faire leadership nursing

Laissez-faire leadership in nursing is a leadership style that takes a hands-off approach, where the leader provides very little guidance, direction, or intervention to the team.

Laissez-faire leadership values freedom and autonomy for team members in order to give them space to make decisions, use their judgment, and take ownership. Communication tends to be infrequent or initiated by team members rather than the leader.

Servant leadership nursing

Servant leadership in nursing is a leadership style that focuses on serving others, prioritizing the needs of the team, and fostering personal and professional growth.

Servant leaders in nursing exhibit high levels of empathy and compassion. They support an environment that values the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of patients and team members. They lead by example, upholding professional standards and ethical principles, and promoting an atmosphere of trust and integrity within the team.

Situational leadership nursing

Situational leadership in nursing is a leadership approach that recognizes the need for leaders to adapt their leadership style based on the specific situation and the readiness level of their team members.

Situational leaders in nursing understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Employing a variety of techniques and guidance levels, situational leadership adjusts its style based on the preparedness level of team members.

Transactional leadership nursing

Transactional leadership in nursing is a leadership style that focuses on maintaining structure, setting clear expectations, and rewarding or correcting performance based on established standards and goals.

These rewards can be tangible, such as bonuses or promotions, or intangible, such as praise. The leader holds a position of authority, and team members are expected to follow instructions and adhere to established rules. 

Transactional leadership may sound a lot like autocratic leadership, though the main difference is the rewards aspect. Autocratic leaders expect the team to follow instructions without external motivation factors like the rewards given by transactional leaders.

Transformational leadership nursing

Transformational leadership in nursing is a leadership style that focuses on inspiring and motivating team members to achieve their full potential, fostering personal growth, and promoting positive change.

Transformational leaders provide individualized support, mentorship, and coaching, taking into account the unique strengths, needs, and aspirations of each individual.


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Strategies for Managing Different Leadership Styles in Nursing as a Nursing Student

As a nursing student, it’s important to understand and adapt to different leadership styles in order to have the best experience in your nursing school journey. It also gives you a headstart on managing these types of leaders after graduation! Here are a few strategies I have put to use that might help you, too.

Understanding leadership styles

Luckily, if you have read this far, you are already putting my first strategy to use! Familiarizing yourself with various leadership styles commonly found in nursing, such as the ones we’ve talked about today, allows you to be able to identify them when you come across various leaders. Recognizing their preferred leadership style can help you adjust your interactions and expectations accordingly.

Enforcing boundaries

Unfortunately, you likely won’t be compatible with every leadership style, especially since some of them can be quite demanding and aggressive. This is where enforcing boundaries is going to come in handy. Just because someone has a particular leadership style, doesn’t mean they get to walk all over you, especially as a student. Carry yourself with grace and respect with the leaders you come across, but hold those you interact with to the same standard. This will build your own leadership skills, too, which we will touch more on later!

Continuous learning

Leadership is complex and every leader will approach each leadership style in their own way. Stay curious and committed to lifelong learning. Engage with new leaders you encounter by asking questions to better comprehend their approach to leadership styles with which you’re likely already familiar.

Seek out compatible mentors

Find mentors who you enjoy the leadership style of. This can help give you the confidence to interact with other leadership styles. Experienced nurse leaders can also offer insights, support, and advice based on their own previous experiences. Again, this is a strategy that can help you build your own leadership skills.

How To Become a Better Leader as a Nursing Student

Speaking of building your own leadership skills… Investing in your leadership skills as a nursing student is a valuable investment in your future nursing career, so let’s talk more about how to become a more effective leader. After all, eventually, you may be asked to take on a leadership role whether it be as a charge nurse, orienting students or new nurses, or nurse manager.


Take time to reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, values, and goals as a leader. Understand your own leadership style, and identify areas for improvement. Self-awareness is crucial for personal and professional growth.

Set goals for yourself

Establish specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for your leadership development. These goals can focus on enhancing communication skills, teamwork abilities, decision-making capabilities, or any other areas you want to improve.

Seek out opportunities

Actively seek out opportunities to develop your leadership skills. Look for leadership roles within your nursing school, such as becoming a class representative, joining student organizations, or volunteering for projects that require leadership responsibilities. It can even be as simple as making an effort to observe the leaders around you. You should also seek out educational opportunities to build your leadership skills. Consider taking a course or attending a leadership conference.

Develop your communication

Effective communication is at the core of good leadership. Work on your active listening skills, assertiveness, and clarity in expressing your thoughts and ideas. Learn to adapt your communication style to different individuals and situations. This will help you work with a wide variety of personalities, a true key to leadership.

Be patient

Remember, leadership development is an ongoing process. Be patient with yourself, embrace opportunities for growth, and learn from every experience. By focusing on your leadership skills as a nursing student, you can lay a strong foundation for becoming an effective leader in your future nursing career.

Key Takeaways

Ultimately, every type of leadership in nursing has its own unique characteristics. Some can be great and others, not so much. Luckily, there are a few strategies to be able to manage them as a nursing student, several of which can help you build your own leadership skills at the same time. Keep these leadership styles, strategies, and tips in mind as you continue through nursing school. They sure have helped me and I hope they will help you, too!

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