When we interview a potential new hire, HR professionals assess the candidate against a list of key skills and personal characteristics needed for the job. Let’s turn the tables and see what that list of key attributes would look like for a human resources management professional.
In no way is our list authoritative, but it is the opinion of people, including BLR® Founder Bob Brady, who’ve spent decades meeting with HR professionals, supporting their goals, and reporting their achievements.
You may agree or not with our assessments, but either way, we’d like to hear about it via the “Share Your Comments” link at the end of the article.
That said, here goes:
HR Management Key Skill #1: Organization
HR management requires an orderly approach. Organized files, strong time management skills, and personal efficiency are key to HR effectiveness. You’re dealing with people’s lives and careers here, and when a manager requests help with a termination or a compensation recommendation or recognition program, it won’t do to say, “I’ll try to get to that if I have time.”
HR Management Key Skill #2—Multitasking
On a typical HR day, an HR professional will deal with an employee’s personal issue one minute, an intermittent leave question the next, and a recruiting strategy for a hard-to-fill job the minute after. And that’s to say nothing of social media, wage/hour, engagement, retention, and a whole host of other things, every one critical to someone.
In HR, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Priorities and business needs move fast and change fast, and manager A who needs someone hired doesn’t much care if you’re already helping manager B who needs someone fired. You need to be able to handle it all, all at once.
HR Management Key Skill #3—Dealing with Grey
A surprisingly large percentage of the issues HR managers face are in “the grey area.” Is it discrimination? Is it harassment? What’s a “reasonable” accommodation? How far over backwards do you have to lean to approve intermittent leave? HR managers have to be able to act with incomplete and “best available” information, and they have to know when to seek the professional help of colleagues, attorneys, and other experts.
HR Management Key Skill #4—Negotiation
Along with grey comes the need to negotiate—there are often two or more opposing views, and the successful HR pro can find an acceptable middle ground. Remember, the goal of negotiation is to end up with two parties that are satisfied with the outcome, and that’s not often easy to achieve.
HR Management Key Skill #5—Communication
HR professionals have to communicate up to management, over to managers, out to potential employees, and down to all levels of current employees. And they have to do it in writing, while speaking to large and small groups and, increasingly, through social media. They have to be convincing, caring, and believable.
HR Management Key Skill #6—Discrete and Ethical
HR professionals are the conscience of the company, as well as the keepers of confidential information. As you serve the needs of top management, you also monitor their actions toward employees to be sure that policies and regulations are followed. You need to be able to push back when they aren’t in order to keep the firm on the straight and narrow. Not an easy responsibility!
Of course, you always handle confidential information appropriately, and never divulge it to any unauthorized person.
HR Management Key Skill #7—Dual Focus
Employees expect human resources professionals to advocate for their concerns, yet you must also enforce top management’s policies. The HR professional who can pull off this delicate balancing act wins trust from all concerned.
There are times you must make decisions to protect the individual and other times when you protect the organization, its culture, and values. These decisions may be misunderstood by some, and you may catch flak because of it, but you know that explaining your choices might compromise confidential information. That’s something you would never do.
HR Management Key Skill #8—Conflict Management and Problem Solving
News flash! Everyone doesn’t always get along with everyone else. High productivity demands that people work together at least civilly. HR has to find ways to allow that to happen. And that’s to say nothing of the myriad other problems that hit HR’s in-box—you can’t be effective without problem-solving ability.
HR Management Key Skill #9—Change Management
Most companies today are in a constant state of flux. Task forces, matrices, and teams spring into being, do their jobs, and disband as others form. Hierarchies have been squashed, and companies have four or five generations working side by side. A lot of people are freaked out by what’s going on. HR has to help everyone cope with the constant changes.
Nine Skills, But Also One Caveat
“HR is a creature of, and serves the business strategy,” Brady says. “It’s important for HR people to know what that strategy is and what makes the business tick so the approach to HR can be tailored accordingly.
“Never think of HR in isolation,” he advises. “Because if HR professionals think of themselves as ‘just HR,’ that’s what the rest of the organization will think, too.”