7 HR Competencies For the Modern HR Professional

Human Resource Competencies and HR Skills

This article is part of a series discussing the different competencies needed to be successful within the human resources profession. Click here to read part 1 where I discuss recruiting competencies and look for a future article on leadership competencies for the human resources industry. 

What Does a Competency Model Mean in Human Resources?

A competency model is a collection of competencies considered essential to an organization and a particular function which in this case is job groups and types within human resources. Individual competencies are usually defined and supported by key behaviors. Competency models can apply to all employees and professionals, while other models may apply to specific occupations or positions. Competencies and their models provide a map for professionals. It’s important to remember that not every competency in the occupation-specific model may be relevant to an individual’s position and career.

An Example of an HR Competency Model

When the Society of Human Resource Management launched their SHRM HR certification, they included a list of competencies not just for the HR leader but for all business leaders within your and my organization. Their list of competencies included four HR specific competencies which are 1) people, 2) Organization, 3) Workplace and 4) Strategy.

Personally, I am a fan of SHRM competencies and like the fact that they include both behavioral and technical competencies. You can read more about them by clicking here. I imagine some very smart consultants and SHRM employees tirelessly researching and debating for 12 months or more before launching these to the members of the SHRM community.


Seven HR Competencies Essential for the Modern Human Resources Professional

For my list of competencies for the modern HR professional, I’m taking a less scientific or consultative approach and looking inward when I discuss the 7 competencies essential for future professionals in human resources.


  • Role Model. HR professionals have to set the standard when it comes to leadership, ethics and business practices. Because of this, our profession can be a lonely one especially in an office where we are a sole practitioner. We must set the bar when it comes to ethical behaviors and creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace culture and environment.
  • HR Subject Matter Expert. Depending on our role within human resources, we are often cast as the expert on employment law, human resources and compliance topics. We are often the objective voice of reason in advising employee terminations, documentation and other employee relations workplace scenarios. While I am supportive of foundational knowledge of human resources and employment law, experience is the best teacher here.
  • Collaborator. Since our role in human resources often involves engaging and working together across the business and with many different individuals from all backgrounds and positions within our organization, we have to be master collaborators and project managers in order to transform our business. This is a challenge since in most work teams and scenarios, we are a peer or a subordinate and must collaborate to help our team members or individuals come to the conclusions that we have sometimes known all along to effectively drive change.
  • Business Acumen. No matter what your role is within human resources, as modern HR professionals, we must seek to know and understand the business. Not only does it help us in communicating the value and benefit of human resources but we can truly be business partners if we understand the business. When it comes to gaining knowledge in the areas of business acumen, it might mean taking business classes and getting your MBA. It also might mean working with your CFO or COO to understand the financial statements. It also could be spending time really understand your business by immersing yourself in every single business and leadership meeting.
  • Communication Communication is essential especially offline and online activities including social media, email and in person communication. It’s more than presenting powerpoint slides. It’s more than customer service. It’s about managing it all and doing so quickly, efficiently and effectively because we know the market. It’s about navigating and handling some very tricky situations, employee investigations and coaching discussions sometimes with our boss. We can always be better at communication especially when now we are expected to speak emoji and texting shorthand.

  • Human Sponge. As the role of human resources grows in importance in our businesses, we must absorb knowledge beyond basic business practices and strategies and be commitment to presenting new ideas from areas, subjects and departments that are outside of our comfort zone. The new modern HR professional will be well-versed in many topics, flexible and open to new learnings and ways of doing things. At present, HR should be looking forward towards technology, analytics and artificial intelligence.
  • Vision. Most importantly, the modern HR professional must have the vision to see, influence and evaluate the world differently. Our leaders might not realize it yet but HR has a pivotal role as our central focus is our employees, their skills and abilities. We need to have the vision to not only see and understand that these changes are and will be happening but must have the ability to speak confidently but also with care in order to truly influence and drive change.

What competencies do you think are the most important in human resources? Selecting seven was a challenge as our roles within organizations continue to change, evolve and grow. Notice how these competencies in human resources contrast with our recruiter counterparts.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Gary Mearns says

    As a retired VP-HR, I spent many years considering such a list of competencies. I think you have captured a great compilation of what is critical for success by HR professionals in today’s challenging business world. Great job!

  2. Ahmad Nasrallah says

    No more agreement as that it’s a true solid competencies framework to be existing in such current highly challenging business world.


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