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Key qualities of an HR manager

Published on: 18 Nov 2016

Many aspire to the role of HR manager, but have you got what it takes? Stephanie Sparrow reports

The role of HR manager is highly sought after. And little wonder, because as reports , it ranks fourth in the list of the best 25 jobs in the UK. It is said to offer greater career opportunities and earning potential than other management jobs such as business analyst and marketing manager.

It is an attractive job, but applicants should not underestimate the breadth of this HR role. As advertised jobs illustrate , organisations ask a lot of their generalists, including broad-thinking challenges such as the ability to create and implement policies and strategy, through to detail such as a solid grasp of employment law.  HR professionals are expected to follow the typical management model of planning, organising, designing and controlling activities.

Self- audit your skills

Relevant qualifications are a prerequisite for HR manager jobs, but career development doesn’t end there .Professional bodies such as the CIPD are calling on the HR community to: “build flexible workforces and positive cultures”. This means that potential HR managers, and those looking to step up into bigger HR management roles are advised to audit their skills and experience for employability and to prove that they are forward-thinking individuals.

This self-audit process is about looking at the skills traditionally associated with HR management, and forecasting what will be needed next in order to meet the demands of a workplace which is simultaneously more fluid (because more roles are outsourced or taken by the self- employed) whilst also driven by technology and artificial intelligence. HR managers are expected to help lead the way in which businesses use technology, as the CIPD acknowledges with its HR Technology Campaign. A raft of new skills is joining the list of more familiar qualities.

“Certain skills have always been needed”, says development consultant Catherine Shepherd. Shepherd, who runs HR development programmes at the Roffey Park Institute, offers a list of attributes which organisations expect from HR managers:

*Business acumen

*The ability to build good relationships in all parts of the business

*Influencing and advocacy skills. This covers the ability to look at how you represent the business to employees and vice-versa.

*Coaching skills. Meaning a general ability to explore issues and come up with a solution, not to become an executive coach.

Alongside these, says Shepherd, is a new set of qualities, which are becoming

“ increasingly important”. She lists these as:

*Strategic thinking. Specifically about how work and technology are organised and impact on each other.

* Analytical skills. Linked to the above. “Can you look at data and assess what it is telling you”, she says.

*Digital mindset. The HR profession traditionally attracts people who are interested in people, not technology, but, as Shepherd points out, new ways of working require HR to be tech-savvy.

*Understanding how to deliver HR in boundary-less organisations. Can you think beyond the immediate people on a company payroll and assess the impact of the “gig economy”?

And underpinning all these qualities, says Shepherd, is the ability to look after oneself and the workforce: to be aware of one’s own physical and psychological wellbeing and be aware of that of other people, and so safeguard them from stress-related illnesses.

So, an HR management remit is quite a large one. What, then, if this self- audit reveals gaps in your knowledge?

At CLG Human Resources, HR consultant and director Carole Grimwood, advises HR managers to initiate more self-development. “Organise some communities of learning”, she says, explaining that HR managers should put themselves forward for new initiatives at their organisations, particularly if they involve social media and technology.

Grimwood says that this involvement is not just necessary for continuous learning, but to show that the profession overall is keen to maintain influence and share its expertise.

“We want to keep the human element of Human Resources. It needs to be promoted in a world where technology is having such a major impact. The only way to do that is to engage and develop with the way it is implemented.”

Convey your qualities

The remit and expectations of an HR manager are growing rapidly.HR managers at all stages in their career have to keep pace. But how to convey these qualities in a job application?

Be wary of using “too many buzz words,” says Shepherd. She advises candidates to give examples of when and how they used those skills, rather than present lists of acheivements.

Successful candidates for HR roles are those who can show that they have been immersed in the business. As Grimwood points out, HR managers are expected to be linch pins -- at the centre of change and organisational development. So this shouldn’t mean confining one’s role to interpreting data and big data, or reward or customer care training, but demonstrating understanding of how the  organisational jigsaw fits together.

She says that any HR manager who feels that they are embedded in transactions, rather than understanding organisational processes, needs to put themselves forward for training or secondment or to take responsibility for new initiatives within the business.

“Volunteer now”, says Grimwood. “And get yourself in the project.”