10 skills that will make you an outstanding HR Professional

Following on from last week's Top Story on What is Good HR Practice we're now looking at specific skills that contribute to being not just a run of the mill but an OUTSTANDING HR Professional.

We all know that HR professionals need to be good at dealing with people. That much is a given. But there is so much more to be being an HR professional than just that. The modern HR professional has to be a business thinker, a strategist, an influencer, and a great communicator. That’s just for starters. They also need to ‘get’ technology – they need to understand the benefits of technology and how best to leverage it to suit individual and organizational needs.

We’ve outlined below what we think are the 10 top skills that make an outstanding HR professional.

1. People skills. HR spends so much time dealing with people and people issues, so good people management skills are essential. Say no more.

2. Communication, negotiation and influencing. These three skills are linked and critical to the success of any HR function. HR professionals need to have them in abundance.

3. Business nous. Today’s HR professional really needs to know the business inside out, know its drivers and objectives and how to meet them. Yet, many plough on without considering the business. Research by benchmarking company Towards Maturity found that only 55% of HR professionals analyse a business problem before recommending a solution.(http://www.towardsmaturity.org/article/2014/05/01/Towards-Maturity-aligning-learning-business-2014/)

4. Industry awareness. To understand your business, you need to understand the industry it operates in. HR professionals need to know what’s going on in the industry, what’s trending and the skills that are needed now and in the future. Unfortunately, a lot of HR pros fall short on this too. According to research by the Learning Performance Institute, 49% of the 2,000 plus professionals who have completed its Capability Map think industry awareness is part of their job(https://www.learningandperformanceinstitute.com/capabilitymap.htm). Furthermore, only 12% consider themselves experts at industry awareness.

5. Strategic awareness. If HR wants to have any credibility within the business, it needs to operate strategically. We must understand our business strategy and everything we do should be aligned to this.

6. Tech savvy. HR has to get to grips with what tech has to offer. Learners are using technology to the max – HR needs to catch up. Analytics is huge, yet according to the CIPD’s HR Outlook Survey 2014-2015, HR is still lagging behind most other business functions. Fewer than half of respondents to the survey said their HR function draws insight from data and communicates it to stakeholders to help drive competitive advantage.

7. Change management. Organisations are in a continuous state of change. HR needs to be at the forefront of making those changes happen. Change management skills are critical. Yet, managing change and cultural transformation are current priorities for only 24% of the CIPD survey respondents.

8. Problem solving and conflict management. HR has to deal with a lot of grey areas – say two senior leaders have hit an impasse and HR needs to help them move forward. HR has to be able to address conflicts, diffuse them and find workable solutions.

9. Results driven. There is a lot of fluff in HR and the profession is often accused of being swayed by fads. HR needs to overcome this by focusing on results and demonstrating it. Want a new training module or engagement initiative – what results will it give?

10. Discrete and ethical. HR has to be confidential, ethical and follow best practice in everything it does. It has to help the business be the same.

So those are our top 10 skills we believe will help make you an outstanding HR Professional (as well of course as a DPG CIPD Qualification ;)

Do you agree with the list?

Are there any other skills we've not mentioned that aren't included that you think should be?

We'd love to hear from you

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  • A great summary which covers the range of skills and behaviours I would look to employ in an HR team.

    For me, a lot of the personal qualities and behaviours are key, including problem solving, engagement and resilience as, whilst still crucial, the industry knowledge and business awareness, technical skills for ICT and change/project management techniques are a lot easier to learn that trying to change someone that has challenging, embedded personal behaviours.

    I think creating an environment that allows staff to flourish, contribute to their role and the business, and develop themselves, can also bring out the best in people and help grow the right behaviours for the future.


  • Hi Mike, I have found this blog useful for my first assessment.  I work for a international company and there is a huge impact of globalisation in the HR profession such as different cultural business practices, leadships styles and technological compatabilty.  HR has changed so much in the last 30 years from being personnel in the 70's, doing the welfare part to HR isitting on the top table making decisons and leading the business to a new era of HR Strategists. 

  • Great blog and shows that HR professionals require a multitude of skills to be good at what they do. When I first went for a job in HR (some time ago!) I was given some good advice to avoid saying I wanted the job as 'I liked working with people'. Of course there is so much more to it than that! Back then, HR was very much seen as a function employees and managers could take their problems to and leave in the knowledge that HR would do something about it!

    HR is of course is viewed as much more of a business partner now, but there can be a conflict where people want to work strategically but are spending time fire-fighting. Without the resources to help or time to plan, working strategically can be a challenge for HR professionals working on their own or in small teams. This is especially true where no-one from HR sits on the senior management team.

    I would firmly put coaching in the 'people skills' area and working with mangers to equip them with the skills, knowledge and HR tools they need to manage. This not only helps managers do their jobs well, but frees up HR in the longer-term to work more strategically. I agree with Aileen that focusing on the service to customers is key and love the quote!

    • Thanks for the comment Helen and how many interviews for L&D / HR roles hear the words ' I'm a people person' I wonder ;)

      People skills are absolutely key of course but without the other areas specifically the understanding of the business and commercial acumen then it will only get you so far. Perhaps I'd go so far to say that focusing on the people aspects and neglecting the strategic and commercial aspects of HR strategy lends itself to the term 'fluffy' HR.

      As Neil Morrison put on a recent blog there should be no HR Strategy just Business Strategy

      • Hi Mike

        An HR strategy needs to be aligned with the business goals and business influences and not be created as a 'stand alone' piece of paper during an away day, as this blog highlights. 

        I often get feedback from students on the HRP programme that they find the 'Understanding Organisations and the role of HR' really useful in terms of improving their knowledge of the business they are in and the factors (internal and external ) that impact this. Being curious is certainly a key requirement for completing this assessment! ;-)

        This link is gives some helpful advice in terms of creating an HR strategy (or business strategy!)

        Developing HR strategy

        There is also a CIPD toolkit, a link to a sample is here which contains some useful information on HR strategy

        CIPD sample toolkit HR Strategy


  • I like this and I agree with all these skills.

    The only addition I would make is to include 'customer focussed' here too. Our HR team has little or no interaction with external customers (as I'm sure is the case in other organisations too), so we try to focus on the service we provide to our internal customers e.g. how easy is it for them to get what they need - is there always cover? how comprehensive is our cross-functional knowledge? what happens if the 'expert' isn't there? And, of course, how do we do it even better?

    As Jan Carlzon said, "If your job isn't serving the customer, then it's serving someone who is."

    • Hi Aileen, thanks for commenting and yes agree - everything we do should be serving our customers - I think that is something that we can all be guilty of at times. Great quote!

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