Leadership in intensive care: a review

David J. Brewster (Lead / Corresponding author), Warwick W. Butt, Lisi J. Gordon, Charlotte E. Rees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


An integrative review of the literature specific to leadership within the intensive care unit was planned to guide future research. Four databases were searched. Study selection was based on predetermined inclusion and exclusion criteria and a quality check was done. Data extraction and synthesis involved developing a preliminary thematic coding framework based on a sample of papers. The coding framework and all selected papers were entered into NVivo software. All papers were then coded to the previously identified themes. Themes were summarised and presented with illustrative quotes highlighting key findings. In total, 1102 relevant quotations were coded across the 28 included papers. Four themes pertaining to leadership were described and analysed: (a) leadership dimensions and discourses; (b) leadership experiences; (c) facilitators and/or barriers to leadership; and (d) leadership outcomes. The literature was found to focus on leader behaviours, as well as the leader dimensions of role allocation, clinical and communication skills and traditional hierarchies. Positive behaviours mentioned included good decision-making, staying calm under pressure and being approachable. Leadership experiences (and outcomes) are typically reported to be positive. Personal individual factors seem the biggest enablers and barriers to leadership within the intensive care unit. Training is considered to be a facilitator of leadership within the intensive care unit. This study highlights the current literature on leadership in intensive care medicine and provides a basis for future research on interventions to improve leadership in the intensive care unit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-276
Number of pages11
JournalAnaesthesia and Intensive Care
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • Leadership
  • critical care nursing
  • intensive care medicine
  • intensive care unit
  • interprofessional collaboration
  • management
  • medical emergency team
  • rapid response team

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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