• caritative theory;
  • content analysis;
  • nurse leaders;
  • patient safety;
  • providing safe care;
  • qualitative research

Aim  The purpose of this study was to explore and describe how nurse leaders facilitate safe care from the perspectives of both nurses and nurse leaders.

Background  The health-care system’s success in improving patient safety pivots on nursing leadership. However, there is a lack of knowledge in the international literature about how nurse leaders facilitate provision of safe care and reaching the goal of a safe health-care system.

Method  A qualitative design using a content analysis approach was applied for data gathering and analysis. In this study, 20 nurses (16 nurses and four head nurses) working in a referral teaching hospital in Tehran, Iran, were recruited through purposive sampling. Semi-structured interviews and 10 hours of structured observations were conducted to collect data.

Results  The data analysis resulted in three main themes: ‘providing environmental prerequisites for safe nursing practice’, ‘uniting and integrating health-care providers’, and ‘creating an atmosphere of safe care’.

Conclusion  The results indicate that to facilitate providing safe care, nurse leaders should improve nurses’ working conditions, develop the nurses’ practical competencies, assign duties to nurses according to their skills and capabilities, administer appropriate supervision, improve health-care providers’ professional relationships and encourage their collaboration, empower nurses and reward their safe practice.

Implications for nursing management  Approaching the challenge of patient safety requires the health-care system to combine its efforts and strategies with nursing leadership in its vital role of facilitating safe care and improving patient safety.