6 skills of human resources professionals


Human resources professionals who work in organizations are either generalists or specialists. Generalists, who are more common in small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), are professionals whose responsibilities cover several HR activities. Specialists, who are found mainly in large organizations, unionized or in the public and parapublic sectors, devote their efforts to a single HR activity.

The most common specializations are compensation, recruitment, training, health and safety at work, labor relations and organizational development.

Today, it is generally preferred to entrust the management of the human resources department to a candidate with a generalist profile who knows the economic sector, who has some expertise in the various activities related to HR (such as recruitment, compensation and training) and who understands the concerns of all the other management functions, such as marketing, finance, production and research and development.

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The choice of the director or vice president of HR is important: it is important for the credibility of the HR department with the other executives of the company with whom he or she will constantly interact.

To assume their responsibilities in HR (strategic partners, agents of change, experts in administrative processes and representatives of employees), professionals must develop and demonstrate skills.

A study by Ulrich and Johnson (2008) revealed that human resources professionals must possess skills in human resources (employees) and in the business field (organizations), which can be grouped into six skill areas:

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The skills of human resources professionals

  • Committed and credible actor: 

A human resources professional must be able to defend their point of view with commitment, take a stand, question assumptions or ideas, be persuasive, etc.

They must also be credible in the eyes of the various stakeholders (management, managers, employees, unions, etc.), who respect them, judge them to be reliable, listen to them and consider them to be a person of trust.

To demonstrate this skill, the human resources professional must perform their work with integrity without deviating from the values of the organization and the principles of ethics and deontology that govern their profession to manage the inevitable dilemmas that present themselves to them or are submitted to them.

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They must create opportunities to collaborate to develop trusting relationships with the various stakeholders and, thereby, increase their credibility and influence. It is also important that they have political skills in order to anticipate the resistance and problems of the stakeholders and intervene in a way that is effective and productive.

  • Operational executor: 

A human resources professional must perform tasks related to the operational and administrative aspects of human resource management. This includes, in particular, the drafting and implementation of the various HR policies as well as the daily activities of managing salaries, vacations, and benefits. The human resources professional must also try to benefit from technological advances to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their management.

  • Partner of the organization or business partner: 

A human resources professional must know the social context (demographics, laws, globalization, etc.), the value chain or business model of the organization as well as the challenges of the other management functions (finance, marketing, sales, research and development, engineering, etc.).

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Considering the growing importance of marketing in HR, the human resources professional must also be able to identify and propose a brand that will attract, retain and mobilize talent. It is also important that they be able to be open to new technologies in order to establish a diagnosis of how they can improve the organization of work and to determine their impact on the number and skills of employees and their management.

Finally, more and more, the human resources professional must represent the organization to the actors of the local community and take into account their expectations in terms of social responsibility (e.g., climate change, water and air pollution, employment regulation, treatment of minorities and indigenous peoples, endangered species, land use).

  • Talent manager, organizational designer: 

A human resources professional must understand the business strategy and the expectations of customers/consumers in order to align HR activities (recruitment, training, advancement, departure, etc.).

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It is also important that they collect, analyze and interpret information and data from various sectors of the organization, from several stakeholders and with respect to various HR processes or activities in order to make recommendations regarding the structure, processes and modes of operation of the organization.

  • Promoter of culture and change: 

A human resources professional must evaluate and clearly express the organizational culture and values, and help shape and convey them through HR activities. They respect the culture, but they also know how to transform it to meet current challenges or adapt to changes within the organization and its environment.

  • Architect of the strategy: 

A human resources professional must play an active role in the development and deployment of strategic orientations that help to concretize the vision of the organization. In addition, they must demonstrate the results or impacts of the activities they have carried out by expressing themselves as much as possible in terms of numbers, revenue, costs, investment and productivity, and know how to present the return on investment in HR projects to management.

Develop the skills of human resources professionals

To develop the skills required for their role, HR professionals can take various initiatives related to their knowledge and its implications, as well as in establishing networks both within and outside the organization:

  • Staying up-to-date: They can keep themselves informed about HR matters, especially concerning other management functions, the industry, competition, and the business environment. This can be achieved by reading internal documents such as annual reports, strategic and business plans from different units, as well as publications dealing with various management functions, industries, customer expectations, and competitor characteristics. It’s important to make HR decisions that align with these internal and external trends and business priorities.
  • Building a network: HR professionals can establish networks and collaborations both inside and outside the organization. They can participate in task groups with mandates in different areas of the organization to understand different units, the market, and the industry. They can engage with industry associations, serve on the executive committee or internal committees involving experts from various management functions, or even sit on the board of a nonprofit organization. Maintaining advisory relationships with one or two mentors who have experience as HR professionals or in the business field can also be very beneficial. Moreover, considering all stakeholders when launching a major HR project to understand the interests, concerns, and goals of all employees and optimize their buy-in is crucial.

These proactive steps enable HR professionals to develop their skills and expertise, contributing significantly to the overall success of the organization.


In the evolving landscape of human resource management, professionals are expected to possess a diverse skillset that extends beyond traditional administrative tasks. The six key competency areas identified by Ulrich and Johnson provide a framework for HR professionals to assess their strengths and identify areas for development. By actively cultivating these competencies, HR professionals can become strategic partners, driving organizational success and fostering a positive and productive work environment.


1. How can HR professionals develop their skills in the six competency areas?

HR professionals can engage in continuous learning through various means, including attending industry conferences, pursuing relevant certifications, participating in professional development programs, and seeking mentorship opportunities. Actively seeking out projects and assignments that challenge them to utilize and expand their skillset is also crucial.

2. Is it necessary for all HR professionals to be experts in all six competency areas?

While a strong foundation in all six areas is beneficial, the level of expertise required in each area may vary depending on the specific role and organizational context. For example, an HR generalist in a small company might need a broader range of skills compared to a compensation specialist in a large corporation.

3. How can organizations support the development of their HR professionals?

Organizations can invest in training and development programs, encourage participation in professional associations, provide opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Regular feedback and performance evaluations can also help HR professionals identify areas for growth.

4. How do these competencies contribute to the overall success of an organization?

By developing and utilizing these competencies, HR professionals can effectively attract and retain top talent, improve employee engagement and productivity, foster a positive workplace culture, and align HR strategies with business objectives, ultimately contributing to the organization’s long-term success and sustainability.

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