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6 Characteristics of a Great Human Resources Professional

Several days ago, one of my favourite bloggers, Laurie Ruettimann, wrote a great post about “The 5 Attributes of a Great HR Department.”  On its own, it was a great post and I encourage you to read it; however it also inspired me to take it one step further and look at what characteristics make up a great Human Resources Professional. When thinking of great HR professionals, I am referring to those HR pros that are involved, in some capacity, with recruiting, payroll & benefits, employee relations, etc. I have had the privilege of leading, working for and working with many HR Professionals over the course of 16 years as an HR Professional myself. Based on my own personal observations, here the characteristics that I feel make up a great HR professional (HR Pro):

1) Ethical behavior – kind of a given when you think of the work that we do; however I have found it to be not always so. I am not talking about the ability to differentiate right from wrong, but more looking at individuals who have a strong moral compass that guides their decision-making. They know when to extract themselves from certain situations, when to engage others in the organization to address an issue, etc. They understand the impact of needing to manage perceptions in terms of interpersonal relationships and the need for HR to be seen as neutral and unbiased.

HR logo2) Fearless – as a follow up to #1, these are the HR Pros that are not afraid to voice a countering opinion. They are not afraid to be the voice of reason or to escalate a particularly stinky matter to the “higher-ups.” Great HR Pros never “look the other way” because it is the easy thing to do. They also don’t toe the line because that is the path of least resistance. They are stewards for the organization and believe in good corporate governance.

3) Separation of church and state – they understand that they work for “the company” but also represent their profession and its code of ethics/conduct and are able to balance the two. They hold their professional reputation in high regard and would never to anything to risk tarnishing it.

4) Ability to build and maintain confidentiality – another one of those items that you would think would be a given for an HR Pro; however, I have seen far too many HR folks who simply cannot maintain confidentiality. It doesn’t matter what has been discussed with them or reinforced (i.e. this this for your eyes only) they feel they simply have to share the juicy gossip with someone else. Nothing undermines HR’s credibility more than HR folks who cannot keep things confidential. Simply put, confidentiality is the essential foundation of being a great HR Pro.

5) Humility & Coachability – two for the price of one. These are those HR Pros who have that sense of self-actualization or realization that they don’t know everything; or that they realize that they constantly need to be in a state of learning. The truly great HR Pros are those that openly accept coaching – from their manager, peers, business partners, etc. They are constantly looking to improve themselves professionally and elevate their profession.

6) Sense of humour – perhaps not quite as critical as the other five, but when I am hiring for my teams I always look for a sense of humour. We are constantly faced with so many challenging situations in HR (terminations, layoffs, harassment investigations, etc.) that without a sense of humour, you would quickly lose your passion and drive in your job. The best HR Pros I have worked with have all six of these characteristics.

What have I missed? What else makes a great HR Professional? What has been your experience in terms of working with other HR Pros? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 Responses

  1. […] week I blogged about the 6 characteristics that make up a great Human Resources Professional. This week I wanted to take it a step further but in a slightly different direction. I want to […]

  2. Scott, this is an excellent list. I appreciate that your first characteristic was ethical behavior, but all of these traits are critical to the credibility of HR professionals. Thank you for this post.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Sara. All too often in many professional roles ethics are more of a “suggestion” and we see the impact to companies and to people when this happens. I appreciate your thoughts.

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