What Your Nurses Didn’t Learn in Nursing School

Article Title is laid over top of two nurses, one a manager, one a new Charge Nurse. The manager is holding a clipboard and the new charge nurse looks overwhelmed

For nurses, especially those who are new to peer leadership positions, “soft skills” are important in career development. Being the best clinical and bedside nurse may mean little if other nurses are not buying into a new leader’s vision. “Soft skill” development is vital for new Charge RNs, and these skills can quickly help set a new nurse leader apart from others. But these skills are hard to quantify and are not widely taught. Most nurses get into the profession to help patients, not to lead teams. HCA designed its Charge Nurse Leadership Program to address this critical skills gap:

“The vision was to build a program based on the voice of nurses. The program would incorporate what the front line needed and wanted from a leadership perspective, with attention to meeting their needs and providing support for their careers.”

Nurse Leader, Volume 17, Issue 4, p.331-334, “Investing in the Front Line: Preparing the Best Nursing Leaders for the Next Generation”

So how can we encourage our nurses to develop these skills? And what are the top skills or techniques that should be learned?

Ways to Encourage Your Nurses

Change the entire “soft skill” dialogue

The first way to encourage nurses to have a positive attitude towards soft skill development is to discourage the narrative that these skills are actually “soft.” These qualities can sometimes be interpreted as less valuable by team members, but try to keep that from happening. Tell the team that in today’s super complex healthcare environment, and especially during the pandemic, that skills like communication, critical thinking, and teamwork are the skills that will yield big results when it comes to achieving organizational and team goals. Bristol Hospital builds on its Magnet success by teaching charge nurses these key skills:

“Critical thinking, decision making, effective communication, and conflict resolution all help to advance our nurses’ practice,” stated Kerry Yeager, Clinical Informatics Specialist at Bristol. “The participants were most engaged in the communication and conflict style assessments. I believe it gave them a greater understanding of how effective communication and conflict resolution skills impact patient care. As the charge nurse, these skills are essential.”

Teach nurses to write down goals, and find motivation to obtain them

Any newly learned skill or technique needs motivation behind it, and soft skill learning and development is no different. Teach nurses to write down reasoning for learning new techniques. For example, if your nurse wants to learn how to delegate work more efficiently, have her write down past situations where that skill would have helped the team, how it can help her lead in the future, and how she can practice that skill in the future.

Encourage working individually on each desired “soft skill,” – intentionality about practicing them

Like any skill learned, practicing helps us to improve. Encourage nurses to think small at first, gradually increasing intentionality until a desired outcome becomes easier. For example, if there is a charge nurse on your team who generally is quiet and stays in the background in a group meeting, ask her to share a few more opinions at the next meeting. This may help with learning and may lead to her more actively contributing, and this skill may become more natural for her later.

Encourage your team to take care of themselves

Let your nurses know that taking care of themselves requires thought, time, and practice. It might mean finding a nutritionist, therapist, mentor, or trainer. Identifying nursing “needs” and devising a plan to fulfill them requires a mix of soft skills, including time management, confidence, and adaptability. Investing in oneself is crucial.

Which ‘Soft Skills’ Should You Encourage Your Team to Improve?

Encourage practicing conflict resolution techniques

Better conflict resolution helps the entire team. In healthcare facilities, navigating conflicting personalities between coworkers, patients, and their families is hard, but a good nurse leader can resolve issues and minimize stressors. Healthcare delivery is stressful enough, even without personality differences. So with your team, practice resolving issues. There are many frameworks which can be used.
See this article to learn more, “Nurse Conflict Resolution Strategies.”


For any nurse, and especially for nurses new to leadership, it is crucial to be able to listen, understand, and give instruction. When communicating with patients or colleagues, getting a point across without being condescending or uncompromising is a skill that should be practiced. Voicing suggestions and opinions with peers or those in a position of authority requires practice.
According to Wellstar’s JONA case study on “The Effectiveness of Charge Nurse Training”:

“Among the leadership skills that were identified as being important to the role, communication was the most consistently reported area in which charge nurses needed to demonstrate effectiveness.”

Positivity and professionalism

When Nurse Managers and Directors are looking for young nurse talent for future leadership roles, they value those who lead by example, and are looking to improve. Encourage your team to practice positivity and professionalism by showing initiative and by thriving under direction. Let nurses know that serving as a good example and demonstrating a strong work ethic, flexibility, and positive attitude will help pave the way to future leadership positions.

The truth is, skills usually labeled as “soft” will impact the “hard” issues like organizational financial goals, patient outcomes, and patient experience which healthcare systems are eager to impact.

NCharge®: “Nurses Learning to Lead”

Are you interested in preparing your nurses to lead, especially those new to frontline leadership roles? NCharge® is an evidence-based curriculum that gives first level supervisory nurses the insights, interpersonal skills, and business knowledge they need to more effectively manage, inspire, and lead. Our customers use NCharge to build nurse leader pipelines, increase nurse engagement and retention, and impact financial awareness and results. Critical leadership skills like communication, delegation, and conflict resolution require ample practice time. That’s one key reason that up to 70% of time in NCharge courses is spent in group discussions and interactive activities. Courses like “Supervisory Skills for Positive Outcomes” teach a collaborative approach to managing conflict, and Critical Thinking Skills for Charge Nurses teaches using a process to make informed decisions. Learn More!


“The Importance of Soft Skills In Nursing,” Eastern Illinois University RNBSN literature, May 10, 2019

“Soft Skills That Deliver Hard Results,” Health Leaders Media, Jennifer Thew RN, November 26, 2019

“The Importance of Soft Skills in Nursing, Hondros College of Nursing, Beth Smith

“Fostering soft skills among new nurses,” Wolters Kluwer, January 28, 2019

“Top ten soft skills for nurses,” Lippincott Nursing Center, Valeria Dziados MSN, CRNP, ANP-C, AGACNP-C, March 9, 2019

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