Proven Leadership Secrets for Human Resources Pros

Leadership development is the number one priority for human resources (HR) leaders globally, according to Talent Management: Accelerating Business Performance, a survey by Right Management, the career and talent management experts within ManpowerGroup. Among the more than 2,200 senior HR leaders globally who participated in the survey, 46 percent identified leadership development as the top priority for 2014. At the same time, only 13 percent have confidence in the strength of their leadership pipelines to fill critical openings.

Among U.S. HR decision makers, 48 percent report that 2014 will be a year of growth marked by increased spending on talent management initiatives to help develop leaders and build talent pipelines. HR leaders in China/Hong Kong (88 percent), India (77 percent), Brazil (75 percent) and the United Kingdom (45 percent) also plan increased investments in talent management programs.

“Boardrooms around the world are recognizing the critical role human resources has in driving competitive advantage,” said Ruediger Schaefer, Group Executive Vice President EMEA and Global Talent Management for Right Management. “Today’s optimism for growth is limited by a lack of organizational agility, and employers are seeing the impact of the financial cuts and cost reductions that placed talent development on the back burner. As a result, too many companies are facing talent shortages, skills mismatches and weak leadership pipelines that threaten business growth. Future success is dependent on a sustained strategic commitment to assessing, developing and activating talent.”

Effective leadership traits for HR professionals aren’t really different than effective leadership traits for other business leaders, says Arlene Vernon (, a Minnesota-based Human Resources Consultant who provides a wide variety of HR services to small and large businesses. What makes leaders the most effective is determining which leadership skills need to be applied under the appointment circumstances, says Vernon. For example:

  • An HR leader designing or introducing a benefits plan may require negotiation skills with the vendor, quantitative skills to analyze the financial impact on the organization, and communication skills to educate employees.
  • An HR leader designing an new organizational development initiative needs creative skills for the design, influential skills to sell the concept, a vision for the results and the ability to train, delegate and implement the initiative.

The HR leader needs to be a leadership chameleon, applying their insight, knowledge and experience to determine which leadership skills and traits to utilize to effectively resolve the situation, serve the organization, and set the stage for the future needs of the organization, says Vernon. All while maintaining authenticity and consistency to be trusted by both peer leaders and employees.

“I think the hidden issue in HR leadership is how the organization’s leadership team treats, respects, considers and integrates human resources into the vision for the organization and its operation,” says Vernon. “For HR leaders to truly impact the organization, they must have the ear of the other chief officers and be an integral part of decision making. The HR leader must be respected, confident, and collaborative.”

A strong HR leader helps to give the business a competitive edge by helping to attract, develop and retain strong talent, says Nancy Merritt, Vice President, Human Resources at Andersen Corporation, the largest window and door manufacturer in North America based in Bayport, MN.

“Although education is important, a specific degree or certifications is not what makes a great leader in any functional area,” says Merritt. “Building trusting relationships and being a business partner first, HR professional second makes a great HR leader.”

Strong leaders have strong business acumen, are results-oriented and an ability to build and strong relationships. The best HR leaders, in particular, value and demonstrate true humility, courage, tenacity composure and the ability to navigate ambiguity, adds Merritt.

A good HR Leader possesses a balance of experience and education and they have to know how to navigate through sticky situations within HR boundaries while acting with poise and grace, says Jena Brown (@talentjunky_us).

“This person has strong business acumen and is an HR Business Partner hat helps to drive the company forward while keeping legal at bay and employee population satisfied,” says Brown.

This person is could moonlight as a competitive high stakes poker player, some with a stiff upper lip, stoic demeanor and nerves of steel, the good HR Leader takes hits from all divisions of the company without so much as flinching, says Brown.

They also possess these skills:

  • Poise
  • Grace
  • Business Accumen
  • Technical Savvy
  • Legal Accumen
  • People finesse
  • Incredible amount of discipline and organization

And finally, they must have what Vernon says is her favorite trait: A sense of humor.

“In HR, we encounter a wide variety of issues, incidents, personalities, situations and stressors that are ripe for comic relief,” says Vernon. “We need that sense of  humor to laugh at ourselves and the situations around us to maintain our balance and perspective.”

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Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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