The Top Five Skills Necessary for the HR Professional

I was interviewed the other day as an HR “expert.” Naturally I was flattered; I am a sucker for an ego play. They wanted to talk about what it is like to be an HR Professional and what does it take to get there. They asked a number of questions, and I talked for almost 45 minutes on a variety of questions.  But, one stuck with me and that was the area of “skills” that go beyond HR knowledge and needed to be a great HR professional.

The Top Five Skills Necessary for the Successful HR Professional

Number 1: Speaking Ability

The ability to speak in front of a crowd is a key HR skill for a successful HR Professional. In fact this skill can probably do more for you career than almost any other. To be able to make a presentation or speech with confidence and minus all the “ums” and “likes” and “ers” will set you heads above the others around you. It is well worth time, money and effort to learn how to do it well. Even the ones who are good at it realize that time needs to be put into the craft of making a good presentation. So get yourself to a Toastmasters, Dale Carnegie or some other professional coach and learn how to do this well and in turn you boost your personal marketability in an HR Career.

Number 2: Reading people

The ability to “read” people is another key HR skill. Most of us who have been around have developed an ability to read people. We acquire the ability to sense if someone is lying to us or trying to hoodwink us. We have a feel for “body language” and what it may be telling us about attitudes. This, however, is something we can all get better at with training. You can learn to notice and understand some universal expressions, postures and micro-expressions that reveal subtleties about an individual that will then allow you to better understand how to deal with them.

Number 3: Backbone

The ability to have a “backbone” and not be intimidated is a key trait. Too often HR professionals are seen as being weak because they back down when intimidated by a controlling manager or executive. A “backbone” comes from the strength of your convictions and the strength of your knowledge of your “craft.” The more knowledgeable you are the more confident you will be in your encounters with managers. With that knowledge comes strength. Although age plays a factor it is not sufficient. I have known my fair share of weak HR managers who have been well into their 50s.

Number 4: Empathy

Empathy is the fourth soft skill I consider key to being an HR professional. Without the ability to see another point of view or to understand the nuances of a situation you will be robbed of the ability to make the appropriate decisions at the appropriate time.

Number 5: Listening

The HR skill that I consider the last of my list is “listening.” You must have the ability to put aside you agenda and to listen and “hear” what someone is saying and how they are saying it. You must be able to make the person understand that you have heard what they are trying to say in addition. Generally this requires a focused mind and a disengaged mouth.

Being in HR and doing it well is a tough job. To be a true HR Professional you must have the foresight of Nostradamus, the vision of Issac Asimov, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the speaking ability of Cicero and the brashness of Theodore Roosevelt. Piece of cake!

What “HR skill” would you add to my list?  Please make a comment below.

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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.

Reader Interactions


  1. Joanne Picavet says

    Good Evening Mike

    Loved the article, I agree that these are probably the top 5 most important skill. The other that I think is pretty important is to have a sense of humor – don’t take yourself too seriously all the time. Sometimes a bit of humor goes a long way in breaking the ice and take down a notch in tense situations (you must be able to judge the situation).

    Have a great week and thanks for sharing.

    Joanne C. Picvet, CHRP

  2. Cynthia Stotlar, M.ed.,SPHR says

    Spot on with the humor addition! What makes hr fun after 30 years us that it is never boring. New laws, new nuances to them, new employees and lots of variations on the games people love to play! Now we have the NLRB playing with non union shops as well. The fun never ends!

    Loved the article.

  3. Anne Van Abel says

    Good reminder of basic HR skills for anyone in this role. How about workplace politics?
    Maybe that would be under all of your points.

  4. Basit Basharat Tayyab says

    Enjoyed reading the skills needed by HR Managers. Bakcbone is related to the negotiation skills and comes through experience in handling situations. More difficult situations are great teachable moments and turn you into good negotiators, a trait for good HR managers.

    Was a treat to read

    Basit Basharat Tayyab

  5. babangida mohammed usman says

    Very gud article with gud definations of skills needed for a HR specialised. However, a HR specialist should posses a visuasionary skill on both actors i.e on the one.part of the employers and employees with d purpose of integrating the two different ideology. Therefore i thnk an additional added to your list which is INTEGRATION SKILL. Thanks for your contribution

  6. Michael D. Haberman says

    Joanne, I agree that a sense of humor is very important, if not critical, for helping maintain perspective and your sanity.

    Cynthia, the fun keeps on coming and we are going to have four more years!

    Anne, office politics are indeed wrapped up in the other skills.

    Basic, yes the backbone comes from having to stand up to “lessons learned” and they are teachable moments if you let them be.

  7. Mohamed Taher says

    It is a good article specially , when it takes focus on listening which is very important to
    To hear from people and assure that you got them and make your homework to confirm your understanding then be ready to implement the right action because without doing it
    No need to all steps before .
    I think that the leadership is most important skill for each position , most of
    Business weaknesses come from lake of lake of
    Leadership .

  8. Jacob Archibong says

    Human Resource is the most potent phenomenon in every kind of organization.i like your article,especially the ‘listening’ point.Humans need attention,and to do that,YOU MUST LISTEN TO THEM.

  9. Sheldon Toh says

    Hi Mike,

    I think that it is a very good guide for people like me, who are keen on learning more about Human Resources. It is great to have such a guide, that could disapprove some of my doubts i have,regarding HR. I am still a student with little relevant experience, so thank you for sharing with us your insights.

    One thought i have is, the ability to adapt, as people’s thoughts and some policies change very quickly in today’s world and one must be prepared to move out of one’s comfort zone every once in a while.

    The other idea is the ability to manage expectations. One must deliver whatever is promised in order for the employees to be content with the way HR is being run.

    These are just my 2 cents as someone who aspires to grow professionally in the HR function, in the near future.

    Sheldon Toh, Student

  10. Erinna khoo says

    Hi Mike

    Thank you for the article. It certainly is the best summary of what HR folks should have. Can’t agree more on the backbone part. It is more difficult if we have own agenda and can’t put our career aside. I realize it is easier for me after I have achieved certain level of confidence and stop worrying about surving my job !

  11. New to HR says

    I think the skill that is missing that HR gets criticized most for is “business acumen.” Those that succeed in HR always stress understanding the business.

  12. Ankita says

    Hi ! Well very good article, thanks for sharing your experience and view.
    I always believe an HR must have 3Cs skills compulsorily ~
    1- Confident
    3-Ability to Convince


  13. Manish Bhartiya says

    I would also add: Commercial Skills (ability to understand business and align to it), the ability to simplify a pure HR theory and making it understandable to everyone else and lastly the ability to provide/generate evidence

  14. David says

    Be Predictable.
    This includes the first skill of being a good speaker but more so – a good communicator. Through word, action or policy organizational clarity is found and shared with the broader community.

  15. John says

    Good article. But I couldn’t agree more with the skill Business Acumen, or Business Savvy. If you’re not basing EVERY decision on what is best for the business, and able to express it in the business sense, and contribute value in a business discussion, good luck.

  16. Joshi says

    “To be a true HR Professional you must have the foresight of Nostradamus, the vision of Issac Asimov, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the speaking ability of Cicero and the brashness of Theodore Roosevelt.” Agree and superlike!
    “Piece of cake” Yes of course one needs a sense of humour and an outlet to relax!
    Be bold and be proud of the profession!

  17. Syed Wasiuddin Hasan says

    Just to add I think flexibility is yet another key skill or competency which is eminent. By saying that it doesn’t mean defying backbone. Finding out amiable solutions for conflicts and issues is one of the core domains of HR.


  18. Pallavi Chowdhury says

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and informative article. I feel an expertise in subject knowledge coupled with an ever learning attitude will be very beneficial for every HR professional.

  19. Sonia Bali says

    Dear David:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. I also feel that ability to connect to people and communicating effectively with them are the key skills that an HR professional must possess.

    Other key responsibility of the HR person is to act like a torch bearer for creating a positive and healthy environment where others fulfill their ambitions. An HR person can help creating an environment to Lead with Compassion. HR department is one department in the organization, which can strongly emphasize on following the human values at our work places where people are valued and treated respectfully for their contributions FOR people and organisations to GROW together.


    • Nancy says

      Thanks for this great article. I heard others comment about business acumen. I agree this is an important skill that will enable HR professionals to more effectively relate to the business issues and opportunities, which in turn will help Managers and Executives identify creative ideas that align business and HR objectives.

  20. Stanley Nicholls says

    Please do not discount ‘business acumen’; if we as HR professionals want to be an equal partner around the table this skill is going to be critical.

    On the speaking ability ‘practice makes perfect’ so grab at any opportunity to talk/make presentations to large groups – eventually it becomes second nature.

  21. Renee says

    A good article and I liked reading everyone’s viewpoints. Business acumen and gumption are two additional competences I would add

  22. Executive Search Agency says

    Hi Mike,

    Really great article this post works for those who wants to be an expert in HR or recruitment. Personally Our team suggest HR enthusiast, please read this article .

    Keep it up!


  23. Nicola says

    This is a great article highlighting 5 very good skills needed by HR professionals, I also think that Trust is an important factor to consider – the ability to build Trust with both the business and its employees allows the HR professional the opportunity to understand the needs, requirements and issues of both sides making them a strong intermediary who can play a large part in bringing out the best in an employee which ultimately benefits the success of the business.

  24. Meaghan says

    Great article offering insight into the HR profession. I agree with the previous comments a sense of humor certainly helps.

  25. Leland says


    Very good article. This is why police officers who have been on the front lines most of their careers(not administrators) are good fits for HR.


  26. Top Consultant in Delhi says

    wow! this is a great blog to know about the skills of consultants or recruiters. Thanks for providing the great information which is necessary foe every consultancy to meet the needs of their clients or provide the best candidate.

  27. Saket says

    Good thoughts. In this era, when HR is trying to play a strategic role in business, they need to have these competencies.

  28. madalina says

    knowing how and what questions to ask in order to get most of the information needed, and that is not speaking ability, rather thinking ability

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    Helo Mr.mike sir my name is Ravindhar.
    I am pursuing my MBA in Knowledge Business School-Salem dt
    This is the first time which am i using feedback i need to learn this more,so could you please guide me to expose myself and making a habit of write an Article

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  35. ManpowerGroup says


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