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The Top 3 Skills for the HR Professional

Because many of us are so involved with coaching, counseling and advising others we rarely take enough time for self-reflection. For many of us HR Pros, especially the generalists, we are often involved with working with our operations partners on advising on training and development courses for their employees. The gap, which I have found over the years, is that HR professionals rarely take enough to identify their own development needs so that they can focus on enhancing their skill sets. Additionally, I am often asked by Jr. Practitioners and students, as to what the key skills are that HR folks should have.

Human Resources DevelopmentThe challenge is that many of us are so focused on keeping our “HR knowledge” up to speed we sometimes lose site of the core general business skills that would be critical to our success. Often the first thing that comes to mind for HR folks is to make sure their knowledge of relevant legislation and employment law stays up to date. While that is important, I don’t so much look at that as a skill set per se as I do a knowledge base. So what are the key areas that HR pros should be focusing on? Based on my experience, and in my opinion, here are the most important skills that should be developed and maintained by HR Professionals:

1. Negotiating skills – having the ability to be a strong negotiator helps in so many facets of the HR world. For those involved with labour relations and collective agreements this is a no brainer! But think about the broader application of this skill for a minute. For recruiters, it pretty much encapsulates at least 50% of the job description. It starts with negotiating with a hiring manager on job requisition timelines and requirements and then continues on with candidate interaction. Recruiters negotiate starting salaries, signing bonuses, benefit waiting periods, start dates, etc. Really, a huge chunk of their time is spent negotiating! For other HR professionals, because a huge part of what we do is project based, we negotiate on timelines/deadlines, the need for (additional) resources, etc. That is why this skill set has to be developed to be a solid HR pro.

2. Project Management skills – with the ever increasing move by organizations to either outsource admin related functions and/or carve out in-house “centres of excellence”, the work of the business level HR pro has become very much project driven. The projects can run the gamut from developing a mentorship program, implementing a new performance management system or selecting and implementing a new HRIS. Either way, the ability to plan, organize, lead and manage a project so that it is on time, on budget and on target is a critical skill set for HR professionals. So order to enhance this skill set, either take a course in project management or find a way to job shadow a strong project manager. Learn about GANTT charts, PERT, CPM, RACI charts, etc. Be able to estimate time and costs during your project planning stages. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is all the new language of HR!

3. Presentation/Public speaking skills – developing and/or enhancing these skills is critical. More and more HR pros are being asked to present to management teams, boards of directors or even industry groups on various matters. Whether it is reporting on workforce trends that are impacting your business, updating the team on your current project (see #2) or perhaps you are speaking to colleges, universities or trade associations on preparing them to enter the workforce, the ability to present/speak in public is critical to your success. These skills are also valuable if you are ever asked to speak at conferences, trade shows, government events, etc. HR pros are being asked for their input and vision on a greater number of topics every year and the ability to craft a persuasive/informative presentation and articulate your key message(s) to a group of people is a critical skill set that HR pros should have.

I realize this is a very short list but I think that if you were to focus on developing/improving even just one of these skills over the next year, it would put you ahead of many of your peers. These are skills that are lacking in the repertoire of many HR Professionals and we all can use more development (focus) in these areas. Let’s all work together as an HR community in continuing to elevate our skills and our profession. What have I missed? Is there anything else that should be added to the list? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of basketman/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


2 Responses

  1. What is left of your list is the understanding of business and understanding the language of business. if you do not have these skills then you can forget about being taken seriously.

    • Hi Sarah – totally agree. I guess in my mind I sort of already had that as automatic but you are right in pointing it out. Having HR folks understand some basic accounting, finance, marketing concepts is essential – there is no way you can grasp the business you are in without knowing about business in general. Thanks for reading and providing feedback! (and pointing out what I missed!) Appreciate your time.

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