Skip to content

Essential HR Manager Skills and Competencies to Advance Your Career

Human resource management responsibilities require an overlapping set of skills and competencies. If you’re looking for an edge in today’s competitive job market, understanding and developing these skills is the key to success. Let’s count down six core competencies for HR professionals.

1. Human Resources Knowledge

Today’s job seekers have access to more information than ever before. Therefore, the best HR professionals must be prepared to meet these informed candidates with industry expertise of their own.

Understanding how and why individuals enter and move within an organization is at the core of everything else you will do in human resources. HR managers who truly add value are always attuned to “the big picture” of how HR practices relate to a successful business.

Your knowledge in this area needs to be greater than anyone else’s to support employees and employers’ objectives. After all, HR management is not just about talent acquisition but also about retention.

2. A Commitment to Ongoing HR Learning

Today’s business landscape is complex and in a state of constant flux. The field of HR is dynamic, and our ability to process and understand it needs self-motivation.

Growing in your job means being receptive to new ideas, wherever they may come from. Have you demonstrated a commitment to ongoing learning by taking advantage of conferences, other colleagues in HR, or graduate studies?

HR professionals who never stop learning are well-positioned to translate well-thought-out industry trends and data into actionable insights.

3. Communication Skills in Human Resources

The primary function of the typical HR professional’s job involves facilitating discussion between employees and employers. If a human resources manager can’t communicate clearly, they will not be successful. Both oral and written skills are required to relay information effectively.

One aspect of communication that gives people an edge is a strong ability for conflict resolution. Even in the most agreeable workplaces, problems arise that need a diplomatic ear, an eye for assessment, and a hand for getting the problem settled. This particular skill is invaluable when negotiating solutions and keeping things on track.

4. Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is in the “sweet spot” of less common/more desired employed traits, according to an analysis of the skills gap by Bloomberg. HR professionals, in particular, frequently need to balance complex situations and take their time to think with a combination of set-in-stone processes and outside-the-box thinking.

Employees come from a breadth and depth of backgrounds and experiences. HR professionals need to strategically cultivate an environment in which all can work together toward improving the business.

5. An Ethical Approach for Human Resources

The importance of ethics as an HR core competency cannot be overstated. Every day, HR professionals face ethical challenges related to everything from managing private employee information to protecting the reputation of their organizations. Adopting an unwavering and unilateral commitment to ethics not only helps attract top talent while safeguarding your organization but also fosters a culture of trust and loyalty.

Part of being ethical is truly caring about people. Empathy for tough situations and “real life” goes a long way to set you apart from those who just do it “by the book.”

Some ethical principles are enshrined in law. Making sure your company’s policies and practices are in legal compliance is a mainstay in the world of human resources. Avoiding discrimination in regard to ethnic background, disability, religious belief, and many other factors is important because of the hurt it will avoid and to foster a better, more diverse work environment.

Laws are always changing, sometimes incrementally, sometimes as part of a great cultural shift. Therefore, staying up to date on national news, trends, and laws is particularly important; ignorance of the law is not a winning defense. Legal compliance, of course, also protects the company and its officers.

6. Human Resources Organizational Skills

HR management is a juggling act. The more organized you are, the better you’ll be able to stay ahead of what you need to do and have time for things you would like to do. If you think organization is something you either have or you don’t, think again. Organization can be honed by understanding where you work and doing a few things the same every day to build a daily routine.

How to Get Into Human Resources Management

HR has come a long way since the National Cash Register Company established the first known human resources department in U.S. history in 1901. A major employee strike had almost doomed the company the year prior.

History tells us that management responded to that strike positively by creating a department to handle grievances, safety and other concerns. Other companies adopted this model at the time, and it is still the norm more than a century later.

The global marketplace, automated recruiting, talent management systems and outsourced payroll have encouraged – almost forced – the HR profession to evolve. Most HR professionals in the 21st century have embraced additional duties as asked; yet, each company seems to offer something slightly different from all others.

One way to expand on your skills in this area is to highlight the fun side of HR. That can include coordinating company parties, theme days and charity events, and drives; a nice break from keeping up on legal updates and handling tough personnel issues.

Stepping up as an employee advocate is now one of the more essential roles of HR, partly due to changing demographics. Millennials surpassed Generation X in 2015 to comprise the largest share of the American workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Human Resources and the Millennial Challenge

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median tenure of all American workers at one particular job is about 4.6 years. Millennials (those ages 18–34) had a median tenure of 2.1 years. Whether it’s a perceived lack of loyalty to a single workplace, an active desire to move around, a “higher expectations” mentality, or another not-quite-accurate label used by analysts, millennials present new challenges for HR.

There are five essential qualities HR leaders must embrace. The first, and perhaps most important, is to never stop learning. This quality is especially vital when it comes to hiring and retaining millennials. The knowledge you’ll gain from your MS in Human Resources Management studies provides a foundation that not only encourages continued learning but also teaches methods to stay up-to-date on the latest news.

For instance, studies show that millennials are more entrepreneurial and open to change than Generation X. At the same time, millennials are less likely to be team players. It’s up to HR to provide top talent the tools and accommodations necessary to retain them as employees.

Many students in an MS in Human Resources Management program use the Capstone course to share their experiences with fellow students and learn real-life methods for properly handling issues with a younger workforce. A happy secondary benefit of this course is that professional circles grow, providing career connections with peers who will continue sharing experiences and solutions for years.

Human Resource Leaders Plan Company Strategy

The ability to think strategically and act accordingly is the fourth essential characteristic of HR leaders. As touched on earlier, many aspects of human resources have been automated or outsourced, particularly when it comes to talent acquisition and payroll. This enables HR professionals to contribute to their organization’s success in new ways.

Marketing, sales and development managers present CEOs and CFOs with ideas to increase revenues, convert leads, or some other goal. Once approved, it’s the responsibility of HR to partner with any involved department in fulfilling the plan — that is, if your company embraces this forward-looking arrangement.

An analysis by Harvard Business School found that only one-third of HR departments craft HR strategic plans in line with the company’s overall strategy. This unusual phenomenon presents an opportunity for HR managers who have obtained the proper training to execute better.

The MS in Human Resources Management program covers strategic planning, risk management, and labor relations. Granted, unions are becoming more of a rarity every year. One-third of American workers were part of unions in the mid-1960s. Today that number is barely 10%, according to researchers.

Having knowledge of collective bargaining and contract negotiations opens doors to new positions at larger companies that employ unionized workers. One way or another, looking after employees remains a central part of the human resources role.

Prepare for a Future in Human Resources Management

Great work experience can help, but that takes time. A Master of Science in Human Resources Management helps develop all these skills quickly. Not only will an advanced degree help you develop a richer understanding of how to be a better HR leader, but you’ll learn how to apply these skills appropriately for success.