Five Top HR Competencies For 2014

Julie Shenkman
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It isn't enough simply to be generally competent in the HR field. The business world is looking for a specific skill set in an HR professional, and your success depends on how well you demonstrate your HR competency in those areas. What skills you need, and how they help you in your HR work, are worth knowing before you go to work in the field.

According to a single-question poll by, managing relationships is the most sought-after HR competency among employers. This is hardly surprising, as the term "human resources" refers to people, and managing relationships among the people at your company is at the heart of what it means to be an HR manager. Dealing with people has always been a core HR competency, and there's no reason that should change in the future.

The second-most desired HR competency is business acumen. An HR manager has to have a hard nose for business in order to effectively manage the timesheets, vacation requests and bonus programs that keep a workforce motivated. Careless work here can see an otherwise profitable company slide into the red as too much vacation time is assigned or benefits are inefficiently managed.

The third major competency you need involves organizational leadership. This is more important in HR than in perhaps any other department of the company. Even an entry-level HR rep will automatically be in a position of some authority with the larger workforce, if only to represent the company's position properly. Leadership, and the ability to sort out the competing threads of the company hierarchy, is an invaluable HR competency.

Effective communication comes in fourth on the list. An HR manager is often called on to communicate with outside parties, such as vendors or contractors, and so must be able to step outside the unique culture of the office and effectively express ideas to all the parties in a business relationship.

Finally, your ethics constitute an HR competency of a sort. Operating in an HR department, you have access to a lot of confidential and otherwise privileged information about employees, management and company projections. Your ability to operate at all largely depends on your trustworthiness with sensitive information. Your ethics are the final check against abuse of that access.

Some of the core competencies you need to work in HR are predictable, as with relationship management, while others can be surprising, as with business acumen. Sometimes a thing you do naturally, such as behaving ethically, can be framed as an HR competency, owing to its importance to your job. Knowing these skills, and keeping them sharp, makes you more effective as an HR professional and all but ensures your continued success in the field.

(Photo courtesy of Ambro /


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