Nurse leaders can positively influence practice environments through a number of empowerment strategies, among them professional practice models. These models encompass the philosophy, structures and processes that support nurses' control over their practice and their voice within healthcare organizations. Nurse-driven professional practice models can serve as a framework for collaborative decision-making among nursing and other staff. This paper describes a provincewide pilot project in which eight nurse-led project teams in four healthcare sectors worked with the synergy professional practice model and its patient characteristics tool. The teams learned how the model and tool can be used to classify patients' acuity levels and make staffing assignments based on a "best fit" between patient needs and staff competencies. The patient characteristics tool scores patients' acuities on eight characteristics such as stability, vulnerability and resource availability. This tool can be used to make real-time patient assessments. Other potential applications for the model and tool are presented, such as care planning, team-building and determining appropriate staffing levels. Our pilot project evidence suggests that the synergy model and its patient characteristics tool may be an empowerment strategy that nursing leaders can use to enhance their practice environments.