• case study;
  • clinical leadership;
  • impact;
  • nursing;
  • outcomes

Aim  This study explored the dynamics related to a leadership development programme and their impact on the clinical leader, the nursing team and the care-giving process.

Background  While there is a growing conviction about the need to invest in transformational leadership in nursing, further insight into the true complexity of leadership development and, more specifically, how leadership can make a difference in nursing and patient outcomes is essential.

Method  A single instrumental case study was conducted in a unit of a large academic hospital where a Clinical Leadership development Project (CLP) was implemented successfully. We used mixed methods with multiple sources of data to capture the complexity of leadership development. Data were collected through individual interviews, focus groups and observation of participants. A purposive sample of 17 participants representing a wide variety of team members has permitted data saturation. The data were categorized and conceptualized and finally organized into a framework describing leadership development on the unit and its impact on the leader, the nursing team and the care-giving process.

Results  Leadership development is an ongoing, interactive process between the clinical leader and the co-workers. The head nurse became more effective in areas of self-awareness, communication skills, performance and vision. The nursing team benefited because more effective leadership promoted effective communication, greater responsibility, empowerment and job clarity. Improved clinical leadership seemed also to influence patient-centred communication, continuity of care and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Conclusions  The results of the study give more insight into the processes underlying the leader’s progress towards attaining a transformational leadership style and its impact on the team members. The impact of leadership on the care-giving process, however, remains difficult to describe.

Implications for nursing management  The interactive nature of leadership development makes CLP a challenge for the leader as well for the team members. Through its impact on the leader and the nursing team, CLP is a valuable instrument for improving work environments of nurses, contributing positively to patient-centred care.