Aim To describe the experiences of 14 clinical nursing leaders introducing a knowledge translation (KT) project into one metropolitan acute care hospital in South Australia. The study also explored team members' and service managers' experiences. Background KT strategies assume that local (nursing) clinical leaders have the capacity and capability to champion innovation combining positional leadership roles (ward leader) with a project lead role. There is limited evidence to support these assumptions. Method Semi-structured interviews of clinical nursing leaders and managers were undertaken at month 4 and 12 of the project. Data were also collected from the interdisciplinary team members (n=28). Results Clinical nursing leaders identified risks and anxieties associated with taking on an additional leadership role, whereas managers acknowledged the multiple pressures on the system and the need for local level innovation. Team members generally reported positive experiences. Conclusions With support, clinical nursing leaders can effectively embrace KT project leadership roles that complement their positional leadership roles. Clinical nursing leaders' experiences differed from nursing and medical managers' experiences. Implications for nursing management Managers need to be more attuned to the personal risks local leaders experience, providing support for leaders to experiment and innovate. Managers need to integrate local priorities with broader system wide agendas.