10 Skills That Make an Outstanding HR Professional

When it comes to advancing your career as an HR professional, it's all well and good to have the right qualifications and experience, but what about the right skills?

We all know that HR professionals need to be good at dealing with people - that much is a given - however, there is so much more to be being an HR professional than being a people person.

The modern HR professional has to be a business thinker, a strategist, an influencer, and a great communicator. That’s just for starters. To give you more insight, below we’ve outlined what we think are the top ten skills that make an outstanding HR professional. 

woman at desk

1. People management skills

HR obviously spends a lot of time dealing with people and, subsequently, their people issues in the workplace, on a daily basis. As a result, good people management skills are essential in becoming an effective HR professional. This means demonstrating a high level of leadership along with establishing trust, honesty, accountability, and positivity amongst your colleagues and team.  

One of the best ways to improve people management skills and human resources skills in general is by studying a dedicated CIPD professional qualification. The CIPD offers three types of qualifications that teach you all of the essential skills that you'll need at different parts of your HR skills. They are:

2. Communication

This skill is critical to the success of any HR function, and HR professionals need to have it in abundance in order to efficiently communicate, negotiate, influence, and relate to employees. 

Honing in on your listening skills alongside being confident, clear, concise, and self-aware in your own delivery will help you master this skill. 

Here are some basic ways to improve your communication:

  • Practice active listening
  • Use body language to take part in the conversation when you're not speaking and show you're engaged
  • Maintain good eye contact

3. Business nous

Today’s HR professional really needs to know the business inside out.

That means getting to grips with things like its drivers and objectives, as well as how to help management in meeting them. Research by benchmarking company Towards Maturity found, however, that only 55% of HR professionals analyse a business problem before recommending a solution.

Whilst not analysing a business problem might help get someone off your back in the short-term, in the long-term it's storing up massive problems. In terms of best practice, this is something that should definitely be avoided.

Instead, try to immerse yourself in the strategic concerns of the business and think about the long-term, as well as the short-term consequences of a decision. 

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 their 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. Furthermore, only 12% consider themselves experts at industry awareness.

Understanding the industry that you operate in doesn't take any incredibly complex or specialist skills – it's usually just a matter of carrying out some basic desktop research. 

5. Strategic skills

If HR wants to have any credibility within the business, it needs to operate strategically. This means coming up with ideas and solutions based on business analysis and planning that will benefit ever-changing workplace environments while considering the changes that may lie ahead. 

Thinking strategically about a situation can be a pretty daunting task, but when you boil it down its basics, it's essentially about forward-thinking. In other words, being able to look at future possibilities and draw connections between decisions that you make in the present and future consequences. This article has some super useful tips on how to think strategically about situations.

6. Tech-savvy

HR has to get to grips with what tech has to offer. Learners are using technology to the max, and HR needs to catch up. Data analytics, for example, is huge, yet according to the CIPD’s HR Outlook Survey, 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, and this needs to change! 

7. Change management 

Organisations are in a continuous state of change, and  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. For example, say two senior leaders have hit an impasse and HR needs to help them move forward - this can get tricky. HR has to be able to address conflicts, diffuse situations, and find workable solutions.

9. Results driven

When HR is results-driven it's easier to recognise that it is the people at the heart of each business that provide the competitive advantage for organisations, and it's HR's job to maximise HR strategies and solutions so they can maximise organisational results. 

10. Discrete and ethical 

HR has to be confidential, ethical, and follow best practice in everything it does, helping businesses and employees to do the same along the way. 

Interested in advancing your HR career? Upgrade yourself with an online CIPD HR programme