Attributes of an HR Leader

by Saba Software | Posted | Career Management

Attributes of an HR Leader

[Update November 28, 2013]: Since I wrote this post back in 2009, more interesting research has been conducted into the attributes, competencies, skills and experience that are required for HR leadership. As the business world evolves and changes, it makes sense that the attributes required for HR leadership would evolve and change as well.

In 2012, SRHM came out with a core competency model for HR. It includes nine primary HR competency domains:

  • HR expertise and practice
  • Relationship management
  • Consultation
  • Organizational leadership and navigation
  • Communication for impact
  • Global and cultural effectiveness
  • Ethical practice
  • Business acumen
  • Critical evaluation

According to SHRM, these competencies are required regardless of the stage you’re at in your HR career — entry-level to executive. The difference is in the level of proficiency, the sub-competencies and the associated behaviors required at each level. And as Alexander Alonso, Ph.D., director of HR Thought Leadership at SHRM stated:

“The big surprises will be the emphasis on global cultural effectiveness and a big emphasis on the ability to digest and understand data.”

The other really interesting HR competency model I’ve come across comes from Dave Ulrich, Professor of Business at the University of Michigan and a partner at the RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value.

According to the RBL Group’s 2012 Human Resource Competency Study, successful HR professionals must be:

  • Strategic positioners who understanding evolving business contexts
  • Credible activists who build relationships of trust
  • Capability builders who define, audit and create organization capabilities
  • Change champions who initiate and sustain change
  • HR innovators and integrators who look for new ways to do HR practices
  • Technology proponents who use technology for efficiency to connect employees

The evolution of the HR competency model is a good thing

More and more, it’s becoming critical for HR to sharpen their business skills, and help their organizations achieve their strategy, often in a global context. And being able to adapt, change and develop new skills and competencies in response to an ever changing work environment. It reminds me of the importance of continuous professional development — and maybe in the end, that’s the most important competency for any role.

What do you think? What do you see as the most important competency for your role? And what effective programs/tools have you found to support your continuous learning and professional development?

Here’s where my original article starts. Let me know if what I said back in 2009 is still relevant.

HR needs a new model for HR leadership

I recently read two great articles over at Human Resources IQ on the attributes that HR leaders should have in order to positively impact their organizations. Both are well worth a read, and I wanted to share some of the key takeaways with you in today’s post.

The first, Braveheart HR: Attributes of a Transformative HR Leader by Jason Lauritsen, discusses how HR is at a crossroads and to break free of the administrative role, HR needs a new model for HR leadership. I cannot agree more!

Unfortunately, many organizations relegate HR to a tactical and administrative role responsible for “personnel”, instead of a strategic function that impacts the organization’s overall performance. Using the William Wallace character from the movie Braveheart as an example, Lauritsen outlines the leadership characteristics HR needs to have to get to the next level.

HR leaders need passion, purpose and courage

While it’s an apt analogy, I’m going to skip over the Mel Gibson wears a kilt talk, and get right to the characteristics HR leaders need to truly have an impact on their organization: passion, purpose and courage. All of these traits aren’t necessarily going to be required skills on your next performance review, but without these it will be difficult to transform the way HR is viewed and valued in your organization.

Take for example the characteristic of purpose. Lauritsen shares his opinion that a lot of HR professionals’ purpose is to ‘not rock the boat’. To be competitive, organizations need the leg up that a strong HR and talent management strategy can give them, and HR professionals need to lead this vision. Without purpose, there’s not going to be the authority and motivation required for HR to be sitting at the board room table.

It’s not acceptable for HR to say “I don’t do numbers”

Speaking of the old board room table, Mike Grogan’s piece The Seat of Knowledge: Competencies for the New Human Resources Leader looks at this ongoing discussion. Grogan does a great job of explaining some of the key issues about whether or not HR has a seat at the table. As he explains:

It would be a mistake to personalize the decision, making it only about the human resources representative’s sense of prestige and/or self-worth. Instead, it seems more powerful to treat this decision as a matter of language and culture. More specifically, does the executive team fully understand and appreciate the language of human resources and how its areas of expertise (recruiting, hiring, retention, succession planning, performance management, compensation and change management, to name a few) are deeply connected to and impacted by every business decision? Likewise, does the human resources executive fully appreciate and understand the language and daily challenges of the other functional areas, including finance, sales, marketing and operations?

It’s interesting that Grogan acknowledges that getting the seat at the table is a two-way street, and it’s about more than just making sure executives understand the value HR brings. HR professionals need to fully understand how the rest of the organization works to have credibility. Grogan outlines three things every HR professional needs to have to get the seat at the table: financial knowledge, product industry knowledge, and functional knowledge.

As he points out, it’s not acceptable for HR to say “I don’t do numbers” and then expect to be sitting at the table when the discussion is all about financials. For industry and product knowledge, there needs to be a strong enough understanding of the industry and how it connects with key HR areas like compensation.

In the category of functional areas, a good understanding of all areas including sales, marketing and operations is important so HR has a good handle on the big picture.

Being a strong HR leader is about more than having “a seat at the table”

Based on both of these posts, it’s clear that being a strong HR leader is about a whole lot more than having HR skills and competencies. The competencies of a strong HR leader includes a mix of tangible knowledge and often harder to measure characteristics.

Regardless of how your organization treats HR and whether or not you have the magical seat, this tangible knowledge and the harder to define characteristics above only serve to make you a stronger leader in the long run.

Read the HR Centers of Excellence

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Read the HR Centers of Excellence

Find a variety of resources, focused on specific topics, all designed to help you be brilliant at talent management.


READ NOW


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