Making the move to a formal leadership role : Nursing Management

Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Department: Leadership Q&A

Making the move to a formal leadership role

Foster, Rhonda EdD, MPH, MS, RN, NEA-BC

Author Information
Nursing Management (Springhouse) 54(5):p 56, May 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/nmg.0000000000000012
  • Free

Q What recommendations do you have for someone seeking to move from an informal to a formal leadership role?

This is a very important question to explore given the need for both types of leaders within healthcare organizations and nursing. Traditionally, leadership theory has been centered on the study of a singular, formal leader and focused on understanding how the behaviors or qualities of formal leaders affect followers and the organization.1 As a result, this has contributed to the mindset that vertical leadership in organizations is the way to climb the ladder and gain power and influence.

However, as organizations have focused on engaging staff, other structures and opportunities are appearing, providing many more opportunities for input, influence, and leadership. According to Pearce, leadership in this approach originates not only from the designated leaders but also from the team members themselves; it has become known as shared leadership.2 This approach to staff engagement and informal leadership is also considered shared decision-making or shared governance.3

As organizations have turned to team-based, shared, and nonvertical structures, they've realized the value in engaging staff at all levels in decision-making and offering opportunities to staff in nonvertical roles. It's a bonus organizationally to allow informal leaders to “test” the accountabilities of formal leadership thinking and decision-making while maintaining their informal leader status. In addition, it supports succession planning.

Exploring your options

My recommendations involve three areas of exploration: 1) motivation, 2) influence and relationships, and 3) the desired role.


First, what is your motivation for desiring a formal role? Is it a new degree, a desire for more responsibility, or an opportunity to increase your income or status? It's imperative that your motivation is aligned with your passion, strengths, and sincere desire to be in the new role. It's important to explore your readiness from a skill, experience, and educational perspective. Readiness is important to your success in any role but especially in a formal role with direct reports, increased responsibility, and more accountability. This doesn't mean that you have to know everything; yet it's important to know what your learning or developmental needs might be early on.

Influence and relationships

Second, what influence do you have in your current role? Do you have a track record of success in completing what you started and building relationships? Successful leaders can achieve goals through others and inspire individuals to be better. Therefore, are you considered influential—a thought leader and partner in your current role? Moreover, can you align your new interest to organizational needs and imperatives?

The desired role

Last, before you identify your next role, do your homework to discover what individuals currently in the role love about the work. This perspective should be with people inside and outside of your current workplace. What do they consider to be the attributes of leadership and their role, and what keeps them up at night? It's always a plus to review the job description for the expectations, skills, abilities, and competencies required. What will the support be for a new person in the role? Ask questions; get curious about the measures of success and failure.

Don't limit your options

The healthcare environment has a plethora of options within to lead, influence others, and make a difference. Be mindful that the organizational structure offers opportunities vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Consider roles, even if they don't exist yet, that align with your passion and for which you see a need. Cheers to you in your next role!


1. Bass BM. The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research and Managerial Applications. 4th ed. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 2008.
2. Pearce CL, Conger JA, Locke EA. Shared leadership theory. Leadersh Q. 2008;19(5):622–628.
3. Porter-O'Grady T. Reframing knowledge work: shared governance in the postdigital age. Creat Nurs. 2012;18(4):152–159.
Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.