Traits of Successful HR Managers

For two decades, the mission of human resources has evolved from record keeping and administration to driving organizations’ strategic plans. HR managers are responsible for a broad spectrum of functions including payroll and benefits, employee relations, and performance improvement plans. Furthermore, at a time in which many organizations have wrung out inefficiencies in nearly every facet of their businesses, further enhancing profitability is a matter of making more efficient personnel decisions.

Given this evolution, today’s HR managers must have a broad array of talents and skills in order to benefit their organizations and sustain successful careers. They must be smart leaders, clear thinkers and polished business people. Their traits fall under the three broader categories of personal qualities, business skills and leadership skills.

Personal Qualities

Integrity: Many of the premises of human resources laws and regulations are related to principles of character and integrity. HR managers must uphold the concepts of equal employment opportunity, fairness and equity. To do this consistently and effectively, personal integrity is paramount.

Discretion: HR management is more art than science. Managers need discretion to notice gray areas and to fairly balance the concerns of management and employees. As examples, determining whether an act of management qualifies as discrimination, or a supervisor’s criticism of an employee constitutes harassment takes nuanced judgment. Handling confidential information appropriately is also an act of discretion.

Empathy: HR managers frequently find themselves in scenarios requiring more empathy than most other professionals routinely have to exhibit. In discussing sensitive matters and in terminating employees, or in learning about medical issues, they must be able to balance compassion and concern for individuals with professionalism.

Business Skills

Organizational: The roles HR managers serve within a company are so diverse that an orderly method of organizing time and resources is necessary to get everything done. HR managers must have excellent time management skills, personal work efficiency, and short- and long-term memory. They must be flexible multitaskers who can move back and forth between tasks and projects.

Negotiation and Collaboration: Many of the functions of HR involve bringing parties together and learning their needs and expectations in working relationships. Often, there are opposing views, and the HR professional must find the middle ground so that all parties are satisfied with the outcome.

Conflict Management: Scenarios that begin with collaboration often move toward negotiation, and eventually conflict. Organizations are made up of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences, differing perspectives and competing interests. HR managers must be able to help mediate conflicts and solve the problems that underlie them in order to mend working relationships. Sometimes, the conflicts are between groups, such as labor management disputes, and HR managers find themselves acting as mediators and arbitrators.

Leadership Skills

Expertise: Leaders have broader skills than their generalist and specialist subordinates. HR managers must be knowledgeable in all of the HR disciplines, including staffing, payroll, benefits, safety and risk management, employee relations, and training.

Strategic, Visionary Thinking: Top HR leaders need to define what HR is known for within their organizations. For example, is it simply traditional administration, is it leadership and culture development, or is it management of organizational change? HR managers need to understand what is possible, how to formulate plans and how to implement them — from bringing in the right staff to delegating responsibilities.

Communication: The best-laid plans often fail in implementation, and specifically because of poor communication. Great HR managers are well-practiced in all forms of corporate communication, from speaking at town hall events to sending personal emails to individual employees. In being good communicators, they serve as visible models for others to emulate in their professionalism, integrity, strategic thinking and expertise.

Most of these skills are optimized through a combination of innate talents and educational training. A human resources-focused MBA program provides the training to enable HR professionals to develop their natural talents in order to become highly effective managers.

Learn more about the Fitchburg State online MBA program in HR Management.


HR Daily Advisor: The 9 Essential Skills of Human Resources Management – How Many Do You Have?

Chron: Characteristics of a Human Resource Manager

Chron: Key Functions of an HR Department

SHRM: 10 Things Every HR Professional Needs to Do to Succeed

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