This paper describes the findings of a two-part study designed to elicit preliminary answers to the questions: "How do incumbents and potential aspirants describe key role functions and competencies associated with senior nursing leadership positions in Canada?" and "What lessons can be drawn for considerations of leadership succession planning?" The study was undertaken to develop a grounded knowledge framework upon which to develop national and local strategies. Such knowledge may help minimize the impact of an impending crisis by identifying gaps between expectations and reality in order to support proactive succession planning strategies and sustain senior leadership in Canadian nursing.