skills of a good HR

HR managers have a wide range of responsibilities and constantly shifting priorities. As an HR manager, you might be responsible for recruitment, onboarding, career development, performance reviews, compensation and benefits and employee relations, among other tasks.

HR manager roles are in demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating 6% job growth by 2029, higher than the average across all occupations. While responsibilities vary across organizations and continually evolve, many of the foundational HR manager skills remain the same no matter the company size, industry or location. Below, we’ve outlined five key skills that top HR managers possess. These skills include:

  • agility
  • analytics
  • communication
  • empathy and compassion
  • discretion and ethics


As an HR manager, you likely often run into scenarios in which you must adapt to change quickly – such as backfilling a critical role when an employee suddenly leaves the company or preparing for unexpected workforce restructuring. As business needs evolve, agility is a key skill for any HR manager. What we mean by agility from an HR perspective is the ability to efficiently respond to changing employee expectations, workplace disruptions and business requirements.

One way to display agility as an HR manager is to encourage a culture of talent mobility at your organization – which has been proven to drive positive business outcomes. Data from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute found that 80% of HR leaders believe increased talent mobility leads to significant benefits including lower recruitment costs, faster times to fill open positions, faster time to productivity for new hires, higher retention, improved career satisfaction and better culture fit.

A strong talent mobility strategy enables you to adapt to changing business needs by helping employees align their career growth, passions and skills with business requirements. Employees often perceive their careers as a straight path; yet, a career is often a lattice, where employees gain new skills and experiences across different roles and functional areas. HR mangers play a critical role in developing internal talent mobility initiatives that enable employees to continually expand their skills and experiences and to move fluidly throughout the organization in a way that matches skills with work to be done.

Some examples of talent mobility solutions include career development and internal redeployment and even outplacement. Career development programs are often the first step in preparing employees to be ‘future ready.’ By providing career development opportunities to all employees, HR managers can build and sustain an adaptable workforce primed for innovation and change. Redeployment can help your team move current employees to other internal roles or assignments, either on a temporary or permanent basis, based on which areas of your business are seeing increased or decreased demand. An essential element of both career development and redeployment is employee reskilling and upskilling Whether through courses or experiential learning opportunities such as stretch projects, internal gigs or team projects, skill-building enables you to provide a culture of continual learning to help your employees develop and maintain a growth mindset, expand their skills and ensure these skills align with your evolving business needs.

Not only does talent mobility include internal fluidity, but it also incorporates solutions to help employees successfully transition to roles outside the company. While workforce reductions are often the last step employers want to take, the best HR managers recognize that it’s wise to have a plan in place and be prepared for potential layoffs. According to our ‘2021 Guide to Severance & Workforce Transition,’ 63% of employers began offering outplacement in the past two years. Additionally, our ‘Skilling Today’ global survey found that 55% of organizations offer skilling resources to employees during outplacement. While respondents were split on this result, of the employers that provided skilling to displaced workers in 2020, 85% said they believe it helped impacted employees find new work.

Organizations that value their employees understand the importance of offering team members affected by layoffs an effective outplacement solution, which enables departing employees to find new jobs sooner.

related content: why talent mobility is both a moral and business imperative.


In recent years, business leaders have increasingly turned to technology to make their organizations run more efficiently. HR managers that embrace the latest technology and have a grasp of analytics can help drive business efficiencies and stand out from other candidates when looking for new HR manager roles.

Of the HR leaders who indicated HR will change substantially in a recent Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report, 75% indicated that change would be an expansion of HR’s accountability. One way to hold yourself accountable for driving results is by leveraging data.

As an HR manager, you use your analytical skills to tap into impactful data and understand the total time and cost to hire employees, identify patterns that might cause employee turnover and point out common trends and themes from employee feedback surveys. When employees leave your organization and are offered outplacement services, you can also leverage analytics to gain real-time insights into outplacement program engagement, the efficiency of your outplacement investment and alumni sentiment. This data can ultimately help you improve effectiveness and adjust actions to protect your employer brand and avoid unfavorable reviews.

With the right analytical skills, you can be better equipped as an HR manager to improve the employee experience and show your leadership team how HR is leveraging data to drive business results.


HR managers communicate with a diverse set of individuals daily – from prospective employees to executive-level management – so it’s beneficial to have strong written and verbal communication skills. HR leaders are responsible for ensuring company policies are clear and concise and have many other responsibilities that require effective communication skills – such as interviewing candidates, leading presentations and managing conflict resolution, among others.

In all communications, one of the most important things you can do as an HR manager is maintain transparency. For example, if your organization going through restructuring or a workforce reduction, communicate any anticipated changes early and often with employees – both verbally and in writing. Even if you don’t have all the answers or details right away, update employees frequently on any workforce changes, rather than leaving them guessing. Transparent communications can help you build loyalty and trust with employees, which can ultimately help drive productivity and long-term business success.

related content: choosing the best outplacement services provider: the essential guide.

empathy and compassion

At most organizations, an HR manager is seen as a trusted resource to whom employees can turn when they have questions or concerns. Top HR managers typically maintain an open-door policy (even a virtual one) and create an inviting, comfortable atmosphere that encourages employees to feel safe and valued.

Part of showing empathy and compassion as an HR leader is being a good listener. In some cases, an employee might approach you with a concern in the hopes that you will be a sounding board as they figure out the problem on their own – rather than expecting you to share an immediate solution. For example, an employee might be facing challenges balancing their work and personal responsibilities – such as caring for a child or other family member. If an employee approaches you with this concern and offers possible solutions, such as more flexible working hours, actively listen and consider the situation from the employee’s perspective before offering a solution.

Empathy is a precursor to trust. Whether you’re speaking to an employee one-on-one about a specific concern or delivering tough news such as announcing a reduction in force, when you show that you are aware of your employees’ feelings, you establish trust. Building trusting relationships with employees leads to increased engagement, collaboration and productivity.

discretion and ethics

HR managers have access to a significant amount of sensitive information related to employees’ personal and professional lives. As an HR manager, it’s critical to manage personnel matters – such as discipline, complaints, development and layoffs with complete discretion. To be an effective HR manager, you must be capable of handling sensitive information appropriately and only divulging it to authorized people while keeping the employees’ best interests in mind. Not only can mistakes related to confidentiality erode employee trust, but they can also lead to compliance issues and even legal repercussions.

In January 2020, The World Economic Forum predicted that by 2022, approximately 133 million new jobs will be created to meet the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and 42% of core skills needed to perform existing jobs will change. The HR manager role is no exception. The skills listed here are just a few examples of the many traits needed to succeed in the role and as the world of work continues to evolve, it’s beneficial to have an ‘always learning’ mindset when it comes to your professional skills.

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beth kempton.

senior public relations and content manager

26 May 2021

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