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Want to Make the Leap to Leadership?

If you think you are ready to step up from clinical practice to take on a leadership role, it’s important to understand the true scope of what it takes to be a good perioperative nursing leader. Here are several characteristics of strong perioperative leaders.

1. Good at Cultivating Relationships

Long time perioperative leaders know the power of winning the hearts and minds of those you lead and those who lead you. “You must put equal focus on building working relationships with C-Suite executives, physicians, nurses, and staff members, including orderlies and food service specialists—everyone who touches a patient’s surgical experience,” according to perioperative leadership consultant Brian Dawson, MSN, RN, CNOR, for AORN OR Exec.

2. Comfortable with Numbers

Whether you are shaping next year’s budget, building an ROI (return on investment) for a new equipment purchase, or pulling data to share outcomes from a quality improvement project, a perioperative leader must be at home with numbers. This work is a stark contrast from many clinical skill sets and it takes time and training on topics such as financial management to master.

3. Savvy with Operations

In the practice of keeping daily perioperative care running smoothly, a smart OR nurse leader must keep an eye on key aspects of operations, whether it’s targeting productivity measures, collaborating with materials management for cost savings or coordinating sterilization practices for complex surgical instruments. Patient engagement is also on the mind of a good OR leader to support satisfaction and good HCAHPS scores that can impact reimbursement and the overall financial health of the perioperative department.

4. Knowledgeable with Regulatory Rules

CMS, FDA, CDC, OSHA—can you translate the alphabet soup of regulatory organizations and rules that directly impact clinical workflows, policies and procedures, staff education and the financial strength of your organization? In addition to keeping up with rules and regulations, leaders have to be equally skilled in communicating these rules to staff members in a way that will ensure adherence and therefore prevent costly penalties.

5. Innovative with Human Resources

As a perioperative leader, you are responsible for the hiring, firing, and inspiring of your staff. Are your perioperative nurses and physicians satisfied? Are staff members being bullied by colleagues or experiencing compassion fatigue? Good leaders have the magic touch for engaging staff, effectively leading crucial conversations and balancing a culture of safety, accountability and support that permeates across all perioperative roles. 

6. Committed to Building Leadership Skills

Good leaders never stop working to perfect their approach and consider new strategies and schools of thought for effective leadership, which begins with the individual.  “Strong personal leadership isn’t something we’re born with … it’s something you have to recommit to every single day, because it’s not easy. It’s a decision, an intentional act of the will to stay the course and be a strong personal leader,” according to Kaylene Mathews in a guest blog post for Dr. Quinlan’s blog at  

OR leaders at the top of their career are likely seeking future leaders to mentor. If you feel you have the drive and professional interest to grow into nursing leadership, seek out a mentor and begin making time for professional development to build your leadership skills.

Find a variety of education and networking resources for aspiring and experienced leaders through AORN’s Center for Nursing Leadership.