The Nursing Professional Development (NPD): Scope and Standards of Practice outline seven roles for NPD practitioners, which are learning facilitator, change agent, mentor, leader, a champion for scientific inquiry, advocate for NPD specialty, and partner for practice transitions. The standards also outline competencies for leadership in standard 12, which states “the nursing professional development practitioner provides leadership in the professional practice setting and the profession.” It should be noted that although NPD practitioners may not hold formal leadership positions within their organization, they are always leaders, and that leadership competencies span all disciplines.
The standards differentiate competencies for the NPD generalist and NPD specialist. The NPD generalist is defined as a baccalaureate-prepared nurse with or without NPD certification or a graduate-level prepared nurse without NPD certification. The NPD specialist is a nurse prepared at the graduate level in nursing or a related field and certified in NPD. If a graduate degree is in a related field, the baccalaureate degree must be in nursing. Both the NPD generalist and the NPD specialist can function in a leadership role. Specific competencies for the general and specialist role related to leadership are outlined in the standards.
A couple of examples of the differences between the generalist and specialist competencies are provided to differentiate between the two roles. NPD generalists create and maintain healthy work environments in education and practice settings, where the NPD specialist creates a culture in which innovation and risk-taking are promoted and expected. The NPD generalist supports a just culture, where the specialist creates a just culture. The entire list of competencies for both the generalist and specialist roles can be found in the standards.
The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health supported education programs for leadership development to prepare nurse leaders at all levels with the leadership acumen to transform the health care system. Specific recommendations relating to leadership included: recommendation 2, to expand opportunities for nurses to lead and diffuse collaborative improvement efforts and recommendation 7, to prepare and equip nurses to drive change to promote health. Nurses, nursing education programs, and nursing associations should be available to prepare this workforce to assume leadership positions at all levels. Executives should create leadership positions that are available to and filled by nurses.
Issues of Concern
Issues impacting the NPD leader role are the characteristics and skills of a leader, leadership activities, including transformational leadership, as well as legal and ethical responsibilities.
Leaders share a common set of characteristics. The top four characteristics of admired leaders have remained consistent over the years. Admired leaders are honest, forward-thinking, competent, and inspiring. Other qualities that nurses seek in their leaders include a commitment to excellence, passion about their work, clear vision and strategic focus, trustworthiness, respectfulness, accessibility, empathy and caring, and commitment to coaching and developing staff. Eight essential qualities that make a great leader are: sincere enthusiasm, integrity, great communication skills, loyalty, decisiveness, managerial competence, empowerment, and charisma. Each of these qualities is essential to great leadership and organizations must learn the best ways to identify and develop these traits in existing and emerging leaders.
Skills needed to achieve these characteristics include communication, creating a healthy work environment, collaboration, shared decision-making, coaching and mentoring, and delegation. Effective leaders must have strong verbal and written communication skills and need to create a healthy work environment attending to the physical, social, and mental health and well-being of patients and staff. This includes both giving and soliciting feedback. Leaders should be quick to listen, slow to speak and react with caution.
With the current healthcare environment and the focus on interprofessional education, it is imperative that the leader develop good working relationships with members of the other disciplines in the healthcare team. Effective leaders implement shared-decision-making practices to allow for active and full participation of stakeholders and continuously support, coach, and mentor staff members. In addition to serving as a role model, leaders motivate and empower people with the tools and the resources they need to do their job then get out of their way and let them do it. Leaders seize opportunities to motivate people by recognizing their worth, services, or contributions. However, since the leader cannot achieve strategic goals in a vacuum, delegation skills are an essential tool in the leader’s arsenal.
Many leadership texts outline similar leadership activities. These include, but are not limited to, strategic planning, managing human and fiscal resources, environmental scanning, delegating, quality improvement, program and project management, and fostering innovation. Authors also emphasize the importance of being a transformational leader.
Schmidt developed a transformational leadership model from data collected through a standardized interview process with 15 leaders in health care and non-health care organizations. She noted that transformational leadership could only exist in an environment of integrity, respect, and authenticity. The five attributes of transformation leadership were visionary, risk-taking, effective communicator, motivates others, and persistent. These are very similar to the four components, which were idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.
A transformational leadership style can spark positive changes in followers. Transformational leaders are generally energetic, enthusiastic, and passionate. They can inspire others to change expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work toward common goals. They serve as role models, challenge the status quo and encourage creativity, have a clear vision, and offer support and encouragement as needed.
It is important for leaders to understand the organizational culture in which they work. Knowing how the organization thinks is critical to aligning with its goals and helps individuals deal with the changes that occur in every organization. Departmental goals must be consistent and align with organizational goals and leaders must be able to articulate their value to senior leadership.
All leaders must adhere to legal and ethical guidelines in the performance of their duties. In the ever increasingly complex world of healthcare, leaders are confronted with numerous ethical and legal practice challenges. Legal requirements are specified in local, state, or national laws. Regulatory bodies also have specific requirements. Leaders must ensure compliance with these standards, such as requirements for health reporting and adherence to privacy standards related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Ethical standards guide the behaviors that are expected of individuals in the practice environment. The NPD standards include a standard of ethics, which states: “the nursing development practitioner integrate ethics in all areas of practice” (Harper & Maloney, 2016. p. 42). Specific competencies are outlined for both the NPD generalist and NPD specialist.
Special legal and ethical issues impacting the NPD practitioner can include issues related to copyright, content integrity, maintaining a just culture, protecting the rights and dignities of the learner, and maintaining appropriate documentation (Dickerson, 2016). Ethics in NPD practice focus on integrating and implementing the policies of the organization and standards set by national professional organizations.
Nursing professional development (NPD) leaders play a critical role in advancing the specialty in the professional practice setting and the profession. They facilitate the professional growth of nurses and other healthcare personnel in a variety of settings and encourage interprofessional education and collaboration. They are champions for scientific inquiry and advance the specialty through mentoring and contributions to the professional development of others.