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Human Resource Management Skills: Key HR Skills and Competencies

Human resource management is one of the fastest-growing careers today, with employment projected to grow 9% from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As this career path has grown, so too have the duties and responsibilities of professionals in HR roles. If you're interested in pursuing a career in this booming field, you're probably wondering what the key human resource management skills you will need for success are. Our comprehensive HR skills list will give you the answers you need to decide if this field is right for you!


HR Skills and Competencies 

So what are the key skills for HR professionals? Along with the competencies typically associated with human resource managers, such as recruitment, screening, employee relations, and performance management, today's human resource professionals will need to have a much broader, more complex skillset. Here are some of the top areas you should focus on:

Business Management & Leadership Skills

Business management and leadership are fundamental skills that all human resource managers must have in order to be successful. Today's HR professionals need to be prepared to address organizational challenges in businesses of all sizes, from small, privately-held companies to nonprofit institutions to large, multi-national corporations. These challenges may include, but are by no means limited to, handling the complex of issues diversity and inclusion, understanding hiring laws and employee rights, creating and managing competitive benefit packages, and overseeing a healthy organizational culture while effectively managing personnel issues.

Additionally, human resource managers must be effective leaders that can coach employees and develop them into leaders themselves. HR professionals must be able to cultivate an organization-wide leadership and coaching approach that will develop agile employees, build creative teams, and creative effective problem-solvers at all levels of the organization. Employees should look to human resource managers as organizational leaders helping to guide the organization towards success in a productive, positive way, with both the employee's and the employer's interests in mind.

Human Capital Development Skills

Great human resource management isn't just about hiring new employees and handling personnel issues when they arise, though those are both important tasks many HR managers are responsible for. The reality is that in today's world, hiring new employees is a costly, time-intensive process that isn't guaranteed to yield results in the form of longevity and success. Human resource professionals must shift their focus to workforce development, leveraging and managing the "human capital" of their organization - defined as "the collective skills, knowledge, or other intangible assets of individuals that can be used to create economic value for the individuals, their employers, or their community."

Essentially, this involves looking at employees as individuals with a diverse set of skills, competencies, needs, and interests beyond the confines of their current job description. Good employers - and good HR managers - will understand the importance of developing a comprehensive workforce development strategy that will allow them to truly invest in their employees through training, education, and opportunities for internal advancement. Instead of looking outside the organization to bring in new employees, these employers turn to the talent they already have within their organization and give them the tools they need to develop new soft skills and grow both as employees and as individuals. These strategies can include mentorship programs, tuition reimbursement plans, or structured training programs.

Human resource managers will be responsible for developing and managing these human capital investment initiatives, and will also be tasked with encouraging employees to take advantage of any and all employer offerings, such as using tuition reimbursement to pursue higher education.

Communication & Interpersonal Skills

One of the most important skills required for professional success in any field, but particularly human resources, is the ability to communicate well, and to relate to those around them. Human resources professionals are known for being good with people for a reason - they are constantly interacting with employees at every level of their organizations, and must know how to communicate with them in a warm, clear, and professional way. In most organizations, the human resources department is responsible for managing conflicts between coworkers, coaching employees looking to advance their careers, and counseling individuals in need of support - meaning that interpersonal relations and soft skills, such as the ability to listen well and to build rapport with all kinds of people, are key.  

Because HR professionals are often dealing with, and delivering, sensitive information, it is essential that they be able to express themselves well both verbally and in writing. Knowing how to effectively modulate tone, manage body language, and personalize communication based on the individual being spoken to are key skills for effective human resource management.

Additionally, in today's increasingly diverse and global workforce, it's important that human resource professionals be culturally competent, demonstrating a developed and multicultural worldview to promote respectful, reciprocal interactions, setting an example for the rest of the organization. This includes, but is not limited to, taking care to use inclusive language that makes all individuals in the organization feel recognized and respected, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or social class.

Strategic Thinking & Planning Skills

While people skills are important in the human resources field, the ability to think strategically - and use that strategic thinking to successfully shape and help lead the organization - just as important. Human resource managers must have a keen understanding of how organizations gain a sustainable, competitive advantage through investing in people - both new hires and existing employees. They must be very aware of the strategic needs of the organization, at all levels and in all departments, and must have the skills to find and retain people that meet those needs.

While big-picture thinking is one of the most important skills for HR, human resource managers must be equally detail-oriented. They need to be meticulous planners, due to the fact that they have to juggle so many balls and are responsible for so many different tasks. A successful human resource professional will, in addition to these planning skills, be very comfortable making data-driven decisions based on metrics and analytics to drive and improve organization-wide recruitment, training, development, and retention efficiency.

Perhaps most importantly, they must be the champions for the human resource lens, and must ensure that it is fully incorporated into the organization's overall strategy and direction. Human resource professionals understand that their division within the organization isn't simply a box that needs to checked: it is an essential piece of a successful business and, done well, will strengthen the organization's ability to meet its strategic goals.

Workplace Culture Development Skills

Finally, the last of the essential human resource management skills needed for success in this field is the ability to effectively develop, shape, and lead workplace culture. The concept of a strong workplace culture can vary based on the organization in question, but at its core it means a positive, productive, and healthy work environment for all employees, defined by the overarching values and behaviors of the group. This is often shaped by the employees in an organization, but is defined and led by the company's key decision makers - including human resources.

Human resource managers must be tuned into the value systems of the organization, both those that develop organically from within and those that are set out by those at the top. Human resource managers are responsible for designing healthy workplace cultures that will guide and lead engaged workers, develop leaders, and create a creative and inspiring environment. Oftentimes, this means creating a vision for the organization (usually in conjunction with upper management) and constantly ensuring the organization and its employees are moving towards it, motivating others to produce meaningful, lasting results.


Developing Skills For Effective Human Resource Management

Now that you know the most important HR skills and competencies, you're most likely wondering, "how do I develop human resource management skills?" While many can be obtained over time through experience on the job, obtaining additional credentials is an important way for HR professionals to establish their authority and expertise in the workforce. Because HR is an increasingly popular field, having credentials beyond work experience is a good way to differentiate yourself and make yourself a competitive candidate for jobs and promotions going forward. 

One of the best ways to develop HR skills is to pursue a degree or certificate through an accredited higher education institution. If you're looking to change careers and enter the HR field, an undergraduate degree, master's degree, or human resource management certificate might be a good choice to help you develop the skills you'll need to make the shift. Certificates can also be a great option for current human resources professionals who want to hone their business and people skills and boost their resumes.

As a busy working professional, going back to school might sound challenging - you probably feel that fitting classes into a packed schedule and trying to balance school commitments with home and work life would be nearly impossible. Luckily, online higher education is a great, accessible option for those with full-time jobs, and there are now many high-quality, affordable online colleges to choose from.

You could earn your online human resources credential from the comfort of your own home, on the road, or during your breaks at work. A high-quality online education means you can continue to work while building your human resource management skills and your dreams of finding success in the HR field.

About the Author

Sonya Krakoff

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Sonya Krakoff is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the school's story across multiple digital platforms. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor's degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University.

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