nurse leaders with specific behavioral competencies will stay in their roles longerNurses are the backbone of hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other medical facilities. They are trusted caregivers who offer reassurance, administer medication, and handle all manner of care with kindness and a level head. Nurse leaders do the same and more, and retaining nurse leaders is key for healthcare organizations. When hiring nurse leaders for retention, you need to look for the additional traits that help them excel — and many of these characteristics have little to do with nursing itself.

The Most Desirable Characteristics in Nurse Leaders

The complex and demanding nature of being a nurse requires job candidates to not only be technically skilled, but also to provide a positive care experience through compassion and communication, with a demonstrated commitment to the organization.

While these characteristics are essential for nurse leaders too, people in leadership positions must also be prepared to motivate staff, hold employees accountable, manage data and scheduling, honor and enforce policies, and retain their nursing staff.

“Having a good work ethic and being able to multitask have been shown to be essential for effective job performance, as well as staying in the job long-term,” says Dr. Frederick Morgeson, HealthcareSource Scientific Advisor, adding that nurse leaders must also be achievement-oriented (ambitious and willing to put in considerable time and effort in pursuit of career goals and aspirations), self-confident (have a strong belief in their capabilities), and conscientious (hardworking, thorough, and responsible).

When anyone’s behavioral competencies are incompatible with their position, turnover is more likely. This is especially damaging when considering nurse leaders. The departure of employees in leadership roles can reverberate throughout a medical building or team, affect the level of care provided, and plant doubts in other nurses that could lead to greater turnover.

Using the Nurse Hiring Process to Pinpoint Important Traits

While a nurse might possess the right job experience to hold a leadership position, you also want to be sure they have the characteristics that make them more likely to stay in that role once hired or promoted. “When I look at the factors that are related to job performance and the factors related to retention, there is a lot of overlap,” says Morgeson.

When it comes to nurse leaders, checking all the boxes for desirable characteristics and competencies is more likely to produce better performance and better retention. “You would want to avoid people who do not see their job as one centrally oriented around helping others, who do not enjoy being around others, and who are not intrinsically interested in the career,” says Morgeson. “If a person is not active and does not enjoy a fast work pace and continual change, then they are less likely to stay.”

A nurse’s demonstrated dedication to their current job can show that they have promise as a nurse leader. And, while potential nurse leaders can absolutely be developed through on-the-job training, they must also embody traits that allow them to see the bigger picture, understand how all the cogs work together, and show that they are willing to go above and beyond their role for the good of the organization, their personal team, and the patients they care for.

Looking for these characteristics during the hiring process, making candidates aware of the potential job’s demands, and discussing the likelihood of a candidate’s success with their references all work together to paint a larger picture of who they might be in a leadership role.

Identifying the Right Nurse Leaders Through Behavioral Assessments, and More

A few face-to-face interviews are not enough to determine if a nurse leader is the right candidate for your available position. You can use multiple tools, like scientifically backed behavioral assessments, to gather confidence about whether the candidate is suited for a nurse leadership position. “I would recommend assessing job-related competencies through a variety of means, including formal assessments, evaluating multiple facets of a candidate’s experience, and a highly structured interview process,” says Morgeson.

It’s also not just the answers and impression that you glean from leadership candidates themselves that show their potential, but the information provided by their former employers and colleagues. Using confidential reference assessments allows hiring managers to vet candidates through others’ impressions of, and experiences working with, the potential hire to help determine who is more likely to be a successful nurse leader and whether they’ll stick around your organization once hired.

Behavioral science and healthcare-specific surveys make it possible to gather insightful feedback about candidates and make the reference-checking process an incredibly valuable and integral part of the hiring lifecycle, not just another bridge to cross.

The confidentiality of reference assessments encourages honest responses while also offering a benchmark against which to compare and evaluate all potential candidates. Every tool that can help streamline the hiring process, retain nurse leaders, and minimize the need for replacement hiring is worthwhile for any healthcare organization.

Read more resources from The 2018 Nurse Leadership Toolkit:

About Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss is a freelance writer and web content specialist. Her bread and butter is crafting web pages and blog posts for professional clients, but her feature articles have also appeared in Forbes, Marie Claire, Avvo, and other print and online publications. She lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband and two children and is often surrounded by Legos, dark chocolate, and library books. Learn more about Elizabeth at