Top 7 HR skills and competencies for successful leaders in 2021

Picture of Meara Hamidiani

Added on by 5 min read

Businesswoman HR speaking with colleagues

The times are changing, and the roles and responsibilities of human resources personnel are no exception.

Increasingly, HR professionals must not only possess critical socio-emotional skills to build relationships and have important (sometimes difficult) workplace conversations with employees.

They also need to be strong on technical skills. These include the ability to understand and manipulate different technologies for digital communication, visitor management, workspace management and utilization, and beyond. During the global health crisis,  agility with digital systems is all the more critical to an HR leader’s role.

As a result, the in-demand HR professional must be a master of hard skills and soft skills - a true Renaissance person (in alignment with important workplace trends) in 2021.

Here are some of the most valuable core competencies for HR personnel today:

  1. Communication skills
  2. Ability to manage conflicts
  3. Interpersonal skills
  4. Flexibility
  5. People flow management systems
  6. Digital communication platforms
  7. Space management tools

HR manager soft skills list

1. Great communication skills

This almost goes without saying: HR professionals must be absolute master communicators, both in writing and in spoken word. This includes:

  • crafting well-written, clear, and concise emails,
  • speaking honestly, calmly, and staying on topic,
  • writing up company-wide memos or policies in a way that is transparent and unambiguous to all readers, and,
  • conducting interviews in an informative, personable, and organized fashion

Importantly, HR personnel also need to be eminently reachable - quick to respond to emails, phone calls, and when applicable, messages on other digital communication platforms used in-house by the company.

In-house executives, employees, and job candidates should not spend days upon days waiting for responses. Efficient and timely communication is a must. 

"As HR leaders it’s important that we define the reality of our world, give hope and belief to our employees and guide and direct them through unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty. The past year clearly highlights the importance of our people and their physical and mental well-being. [...] HR must reconnect with our people, taking the lead in communicating when employees need it most." - Wayne Davies, Chief People & Culture Officer, Qiddiya Investment Company

2. Ability to manage conflicts

Realistically, managing workplace conflicts - however unpleasant a task - is very much a part of an HR professional’s job.

Whether mediating a simple workplace dispute involving personality clash, or handling more significant charges of harassment or discrimination, an HR professional must be calm, fair, and level-headed. They must listen to both sides and evaluate the merits of each without bias, before (if necessary) moving the complaint ahead to ombudsmen, upper-level executives, or legal counsel when necessary. 

"The HR profession is not for the faint of heart. We grapple with intimate family situations, difficult medical stories and death. We must have skills to manage conflicting situations, politics, employees at their worst and negativity toward our role from multiple levels of the organization." - Ivie Temitayo-Ibotoye, Recruitment & Human Resources Consultant, WorkInNigeria

Above all, the HR professional must maintain absolutely discretion in these situations - beyond merely avoiding water-cooler gossip. They should not allow knowledge of a conflict between employees to affect their workplace interactions with anyone not directly involved.

At the same time, they should work to resolve the conflict as quickly and seamlessly as possible so that the company remains compliant with any relevant legal codes and facilitates continued productivity.

3. Interpersonal skills

Mastery of social graces may be the lynchpin of a successful HR career - yet, it can be difficult to “teach” these types of skills.

Having self-awareness, awareness of one’s audience, the ability to work a room, and an overall friendly demeanor are invaluable skills, but very much personality-linked. It’s for that reason that they are so much in demand in HR personnel

It’s also important for an HR professional to maintain a good level of “social knowledge” of employees at a company, when size permits. Being aware of birthdays, new babies, and professional accomplishments of employees - as well as, conversely, deaths in the family or other struggles - helps HR folks to be supportive and empathetic to employees.

Besides being the right thing to do, a friendly and warm atmosphere at work, facilitated by HR personnel, helps maintain company loyalty and retain employee talent.

4. Flexibility

Because the business world is constantly changing - particularly during the pandemic - it’s important that HR executives remain agile and adaptable to changes in company policies, procedures, working arrangements, new technologies, and overall ways of doing business.

“[What's] really important right now for HR [is] looking at all the touchpoints for employees across the organization, and ensuring they’re consistent with your culture, messaging, and everything you’re trying to achieve as an organization." - Barry Marshall, Founding Partner, P5 Collaborative Consulting

In many cases, top-level HR executives may be on the planning committees for such business overhauls, and tasked with rolling them out top-down to employees.

The ability to simultaneously adapt to significant workplace changes while also facilitating groups of employees’ transitions to new policies and platforms is rare and valuable. The most highly sought-after HR pros are demonstrably able to weather these storms while providing guidance and direction to those employees for whom they are responsible.

To that end, here are some of the technologies that are taking off in the workplace, which a skilled HR person must not only know about, but be able to utilize effectively.

HR manager hard skills list

5. People flow management systems

During the pandemic, companies have had to adapt to the idea that “everyone is a visitor” - meaning, any employee, contractor, maintenance worker, or client who enters the premises immediately becomes both a potential vector for virus transmission and a person who needs to be protected from illness.

As a result, the role of visitor management systems (VMS) has changed to not just serve people who might come only sporadically (or just once) to an office space, but to also support employees returning safely to work

It is important that HR personnel be well-versed in these types of people flow supporting technologies, as they can quite literally protect employees from illness by providing a variety of features that align with public health experts’ recommendations.

These include:

  • health screening questionnaires and health and safety protocols delivered prior to arrival via email or app,
  • touchless temperature scanners,
  • access control solutions involving individual QR codes to gain entry at elevators and turnstiles,
  • building occupancy management,
  • notifications sent to meeting hosts and attendees, and emergency lists to send mass messages to all on-site,
  • securely stored data for contact tracing (should the need arise), while complying with data privacy laws,

...and a host of other useful functions that make the work environment safer until the pandemic is behind us.


6. Digital communication platforms

HR professionals need to not only possess good phone mannerisms and email writing skills - they also need to be able to use the various digital communication tools for real-time 'chatting' that are increasingly popular in the workforce today.

Platforms such as Slack, Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams enable not only video conferencing, but on-going conversations between co-workers that are more similar to text-messaging than to email exchanges.

These platforms allow for synchronous communication throughout the workday, and while they do not replace email for documentation and file sharing, they can be used for conversations in which an immediate response is required. 

Particularly with many employees working from home or in hybrid environments, these digital communication tools should be utilized by HR personnel when they need to connect or collaborate with employees or executives off-site in a hurry. 

"We should not simply virtualize the processes we were doing before, but instead create new processes, new workflows, new ways to build connections that work in a virtual environment - that are designed for a virtual environment. If we don't do this, our virtual experiences will always be clunky." - Brian Kropp, Group Vice President and Chief of HR Research, Gartner

7. Space management tools

Space management platforms such as Condeco, Robin, Smartway2, Roomzilla, and Float allow users to reserve office space, desks, and to optimize shared workspaces in a hybrid work environment where the same people are not coming “into” work every day of the week. (Learn more about how Proxyclick integrates with Condeco for space management).

If only to be able to find out when and from where employees will be working, it is important for a well-prepared HR professional to gain familiarity with these tools. 

During the pandemic, these platforms can also greatly help to optimize building traffic, reduce crowding, and facilitate safe social distancing (and contact tracing as needed).

HR professionals can also gain a lot of utility from these platforms for their own use, to hold in-person meetings with colleagues or interview job candidates.

With great power comes great responsibility

The need for HR employees not only to be calm, personable, and empathetic but also technologically savvy has only increased as a result of the global health crisis.

For all of the technologies with which a highly-sought after HR professional would need to be familiar, a common thread runs through - the imperative to be aware of who is on company premises at any given time and the onus to keep everyone safe. 

This added, significant responsibility somewhat changes the nature of the HR professional’s role, and reinforces the importance of hiring diligent, compassionate, and smart individuals to these critical company positions.


Want to learn more about how to plan ahead for a safe return to work with Proxyclick? Speak to one of our experts today.

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