Nursing Leadership: 8 Jobs to Consider

Leadership roles give nurses more responsibilities and higher earning potential. Learn more about 8 in-demand nursing leadership jobs.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 12, 2022

Reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW

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Nursing Leadership: 8 Jobs to Consider
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Nurses in leadership positions manage teams of healthcare providers, set patient care policies, and educate nurses. These nursing leadership roles offer competitive salaries and advancement opportunities.

But how do nurses move into leadership roles? RNs can take multiple paths to land jobs like nursing coordinator, shift supervisor, nurse educator, or clinical nurse manager. Top roles like director of nursing or chief nursing officer typically require years of investment. Our guide outlines eight nursing leadership jobs and steps to becoming a nurse leader.

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Ready to start your journey?

How to Become a Nurse Leader

Nurses follow many paths to leadership positions. Some gain clinical experience and move into supervisory positions like nurse team leader. These positions offer management experience that nurses can leverage to take on greater responsibilities. Other nurses pursue specialized training in leadership, including a master's in nursing.

Steps to Become a Nurse Leader

8 Careers in Nursing Leadership

Chief Nursing Officer

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $134,420
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 32%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

The chief nursing officer acts as the top nurse in a healthcare organization. They direct nursing activities at the highest levels, including implementing safety policies and creating long-term patient care goals. Chief nursing officers also coordinate with healthcare leaders to improve nursing care.

As nursing leaders, chief nursing officers oversee staffing needs and manage the hiring and budget process. They purchase equipment and oversee training needs.

One of the top positions in nursing, chief nursing officers typically bring many years of clinical experience and an RN license. They often hold a master's degree in nursing or healthcare administration. Employers may also look for professional certifications like the nurse executive credential.

Healthcare Administrator

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $101,340
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 32%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Healthcare administrators plan and oversee health services. Depending on their role, they manage units, departments, or facilities. For example, a healthcare administrator with a background in nursing might manage the nurses at a physician's office.

As part of their leadership responsibilities, healthcare administrators monitor compliance with healthcare regulations. They also evaluate patient care and implement plans to improve patient outcomes. Healthcare administrators recruit nurses and oversee their training. They also create schedules, prepare budgets, and oversee the facility's available services.

Many healthcare administrators hold a master's degree in healthcare management. Nurses must possess an RN license and a background in clinical practice.

Director of Nursing

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $93,950
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 32%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

The director of nursing oversees a nursing unit and acts as its manager. They set long-term goals, assess performance, and create plans for the unit. Nursing directors also supervise teams of nurses and conduct evaluations.

As one of their primary leadership responsibilities, nursing directors set clinical procedures and manage the unit's staffing needs. They monitor patient care and assign tasks to nurses. Nursing directors also connect their nurses with training opportunities.

A DNP is preferred for nurses pursuing director of nursing roles. These professionals should have a clinical background and hold a registered nursing license. Nursing directors also bring experience in managing nurses.

Clinical Nurse Manager

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $84,890
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 32%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Clinical nurse managers coordinate nursing care, typically in a hospital setting. They create schedules for nurses, implement policies to improve patient outcomes and coordinate with other clinical managers. As part of their leadership responsibilities, clinical nurse managers resolve disputes between nurses and manage issues in the workplace.

Careers as clinical nurse managers typically require a bachelor's degree and an RN license. These nurses also bring extensive experience in clinical nursing. Many hospitals prefer to hire nurses with a master's degree or management experience.

Director of Patient Care Services

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $103,410
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 32%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

The director of patient care services oversees patient outcomes and the quality of patient care in a hospital. They evaluate patient care across departments to recommend improvements. Patient care directors also run programs to highlight patient care and quality healthcare delivery. In addition, they meet with department directors to discuss the patient experience.

Patient care directors hold at least a bachelor's degree and multiple years of experience. Many also hold a master's degree in nursing or healthcare administration. They can also pursue certification in healthcare management.

Nursing Coordinator

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $77,710
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Nursing coordinators, also known as nurse care coordinators, create treatment plans for patients and connect patients with their medical team. These nurses meet with patients to discuss treatment plans and identify possible treatments. They also conduct rounds, track health changes, and monitor patient outcomes.

Common healthcare settings for nursing coordinators include:

  • Hospitals
  • Treatment centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Hospice care facilities

Careers in nursing coordination require exceptional communication and administrative skills. They typically work with many patients, nurses, and doctors on a regular basis. Nursing coordinators typically hold a bachelor's degree and an RN license.

Nursing Shift Supervisor

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $78,380
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 9%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Nursing shift supervisors act as leaders within healthcare organizations. As leaders, they oversee a team of nurses and nursing assistants. Nursing shift supervisors create schedules to make sure patient needs are met. They also arrange for backup care and provide clinical care when necessary.

These leaders act as the primary contact point for other healthcare professionals. Their responsibilities include maintaining records, reviewing work, and setting practice standards. Nursing shift supervisors work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Most nursing supervisors hold a bachelor's degree in nursing, though some employers may prefer nursing supervisors with a master's degree.

Nurse Educator

  • Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $77,440
  • Job Outlook: 22%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Registered nurse license

Nurse educators train nurses in patient care procedures, healthcare delivery, and safety procedures. They demonstrate techniques in the classroom and in clinical units. While some nurse educators work in postsecondary nursing programs, they also work at hospitals. Some nurse educators conduct research in addition to teaching.

Typically, nurse educators need a master's degree in nursing, an RN license, and clinical experience. Specialized nurse education MSN programs typically take two years, though some nursing schools offer accelerated one-year programs. During an MSN program, nurse educators gain experience teaching along with administrative training.

Nursing Leadership Salary

Nursing leadership salaries vary widely. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse educators earned a median salary of $77,440 in May 2021, while nurse administrators earned more than $100,000 per year. In general, nurses see a salary increase when moving into leadership roles. Experience, a graduate degree, or additional certifications can help nurse leaders increase their salaries.

How to Find a Nursing Leadership Job

Most nursing leadership jobs require a nursing degree plus experience. Nurses can begin preparing for leadership positions during their training. Build a broad network and connect with nurses in leadership roles. Attend career fairs and seek out mentors to plan your career path.

Then, nurses should focus on gaining clinical experience. A graduate program can also help nurses reach leadership positions. For example, a master's for nurse educators provides valuable training, as does a master's in nursing administration. These programs provide career support for nursing students, including through networking events and recruiter meetings.

Finally, nurses can look for advancement opportunities in their current organization or seek new roles outside of their organization. As with many leadership roles, careers in nursing leadership typically require years of professional investment and connections.

Nursing Leadership Professional Organizations

AONL represents over 11,00 nurse leaders. The organization hosts an annual conference and a conference focused on leadership. Nurse leaders also benefit from webinars, a fellowship program, and professional development resources. AMA promotes health policies that champion nursing leadership. The academy holds an annual policy conference, connects nurse leaders through networking events, and publishes a bi-monthly journal that provides peer-reviewed articles for nursing leaders. PNEG represents nurse educators. The group connects nurse educators through networking sessions, an annual conference, and professional development support.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing Leadership Jobs

What is the highest-paid nursing leadership position?

Chief nursing officers and directors of nursing often earn the highest salaries. Chief nursing officers are the top nursing professionals in hospitals or healthcare organizations. They typically bring years of clinical experience and training in nursing executive skills. As policymakers, chief nursing officers oversee patient care procedures and nurse training. These professionals earned an average salary of $134,420 according to July 2022 data from Payscale. Healthcare management roles also report strong demand, with the BLS projecting 32% job growth from 2020-2030.

What nursing leadership career is the most popular?

The healthcare industry faces high demand for all management roles, including nursing leadership positions. According to BLS projections, healthcare management roles will see 32% growth from 2020-2030, which is faster than average. That translates into an estimated 51,800 job openings annually. As a result, many nursing leadership roles are popular and in high demand. Positions like shift supervisor and nurse team leader require many qualified RNs to meet need. Other popular leadership roles include nursing coordinator and clinical nurse manager.

Can I become a nurse leader with an online degree?

Yes, you can become a nurse leader with an online degree. Many accredited nursing schools offer online bachelor's and master's programs for nurses seeking leadership responsibilities. Nurses can earn their MSN in nursing leadership, for example, or complete a specialized master's program for nurse educators. Other options for nurse leaders include a master's in healthcare administration or a master's in nurse administration. Online nursing students complete coursework in a virtual learning environment. These programs encourage learners to gain hands-on leadership experience in diverse healthcare settings. RNs interested in career advancement and leadership in nursing roles can research online programs.

How much money can I make as a nurse leader?

The earning potential for nurse leaders varies depending on the role. Nurse educators earned a median salary of $77,440 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Shift supervisors earn an average salary of $78,380, according to Payscale data from July 2022. The BLS also reports that medical and health services managers like nurse administrators earned a median salary of over $100,000 per year in May 2021. The highest-paid leadership positions, such as chief nursing officer, report even higher salaries. According to Payscale, chief nursing officers make $134,420 annually in July 2022.

What is the fastest way to become a nurse leader?

Nurse leaders typically gain several years of clinical experience before moving into a leadership role. However, RNs can speed up the process by earning a master's degree in nursing leadership. Accelerated programs for nurse educators can also move RNs into leadership positions quickly. While most MSN programs take two years, many nursing schools offer accelerated one-year options. Current RNs with a bachelor's degree can move into leadership roles after completing an accelerated program. Positions with greater responsibilities, such as director of nursing or chief nursing officer, require additional experience and education.

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