15 Key HR Competencies – Is There ONE More Important Than All Others?

by Alan Collins

When you have 90 seconds, check out the video below (be sure to turn up the volume!).  It lays out my very jaded perspective on 15 key competencies needed for HR success.   However, I’d love to get your feedback.  What do you think is the ONE single most important skill or competency for success in HR? Yes, I know HR success is a mix of a lot of factors.  But what’s your opinion – is there ONE key skill that is more important than all others?  Post your answer HERE with your rationale.   See if others agree.   C’mon join in the fun!

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR  and the author of the HR best sellers, UNWRITTEN HR RULES  and BEST KEPT HR SECRETS.   He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.  His most recent book, WINNING BIG IN HR, is now available on Amazon.

Feed your network: If you like this article, feel free to share it with your contacts on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and E-mail by clicking the buttons below.

69 Responses to “15 Key HR Competencies – Is There ONE More Important Than All Others?”

  1. Sayma Says:

    Very cool video! Thanks Alan – I have twitted it to my groups. I look at this list and think this list truly applies to all leaders, not just HR. Hard to select one, I’d say “Know the Business”. If you don’t know who you’re serving, you’re really throwing stones in the dark!

  2. Gaurav Says:

    Knowing the Business. Everything else can derive from it.

    Cool video. Check out prezy.com if you have time.


  3. Annie Kavanagh Says:

    That was great, Alan! Thanks.

    I see fairness across the board as key. Placing principles above personalities keeps all the other competencies lined up in integrity and on purpose.

  4. HRWriterGal Says:

    Obviously all of these competencies are essential, but I have to say that the ability to listen effectively, is the one skill that every HR professional must master in order to be successful.

    If you are unable to actively listen, then it is close to impossible to give trusted advice, be decisive, know the business, support others, or any of the other competencies.

    When I coach managers, and employers, I start with their story. I wait for them to finish, then I say, “So, if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is…?” This shows that I am ‘actively’ listening, I care about what they’re saying, and that I have the ability to understand what they’re saying.

    Listening, definitely my favorite skill…

  5. Brig Sushil Bhasin Says:

    I feel this one single factor encompasses many other important ones and without this all others are of little use.

  6. Stephanie Says:

    While I agree with the above posts that all of these competencies are essential, I truly believe that knowing the business is what sets apart the best HR leaders from the average ones. It makes you more effective in your listening, advice giving, support, coaching, etc.

    Thanks for a great video!

  7. Alita Tucker Says:


    I really love how you’ve paired the competencies with characters from movies….I hold to the most important remaining “know the business cold”…
    It gets you in.

  8. Pauline S Says:

    Great compilation.. I second the idea that these are the competencies required for any leader, but if I need to select 1 only then I would say “Coaching for Success”, because Coaching is an integral part of any leadership role…

  9. Jackie DelGrosso Says:

    I believe the most important competency is giving trusted advice. If the business people don’t trust you, you will not have a “seat at the table” and you will not have a chance to do all the other things.

  10. Jeanne Kerr Says:

    I would have to say lead courageously. We often have to give difficult feedback and coach not only our employees and peers, but our executives. It takes courage to tell someone at the top what they do not want to hear. Second choice would be to manage change, but I believe we cannot lead change without courage.

  11. DND Says:

    Leading courageously is the number one for me. The others are just as important, but many times as the HR leader, even when knowing the business, leading, leading, etc., etc., HR must be persuasive and have courage to drive the organization and leadership in the right direction. I get the importance of all of the other skills, but HR leadership many times requires courage.

    Nice video Alan!!

  12. Susan Warner Says:

    Allan, this is an absolutely brilliant presentation. Wonderful job. Of course, all are critical competencies. Probably, though, if I had to choose, it would be to lead courageously. Knowing the business is important but one person can’t do it all. I’d also like to know how to put the right people (who know the business) in the right places at the right times. That’s why I happen to believe that a top-notch HR Professional would make a great President (of the U.S.)! Sorry, I’m not into tweeting yet but I am VERY impressed with your video! Warm Regards, Susan

  13. M. Sparling Says:

    They are ALL critical for success in HR, but for me, this is the first… ‘knowing the business’. If you do not know the business, you cannot – put the programs and practices in place; hire the right people; negotiate the right changes; develop the right strategies – to help move the business forward and achieve it’s goals. As HR, you are there as a business partner. With no understanding of the business, you have no voice at the table, you are not trusted in what you say, you can lead courageously but where you are leading; you are coaching but towards what end?

  14. Pham Thi Ngoc Chi Says:

    Thanks Alan,

    To me, the ONE single most important skill for success in HR is listening.

    Very cool video.


  15. Stace Says:

    All good success factors. However, the most important one may have been left out. This factor is critical to the success of ANY business endeavor: know your client and how to meet your client’s needs. Which brings up the debate about who HR’s client is. Answering that one question can really inform success in HR (which also underscores another success factor–developing the art of the question.)

  16. Carla Jalbert Says:

    Nice work – and agree with all the HR Competencies highlighted. For me, personally, to be able to lead, to challenge, to be creative it has always been being able to “build trust” between HR/Leadership Team, HR/Employees, Leadership team/Employees – when TRUST has been gained, everything else just seems to fall into place – from my personal experience.

  17. Vandana Says:

    The video triggers thinking towards different competencies an HR could develop, a nice one at that!I believe connecting with people across Organizational structure in all ways possible is a skill i look for..which gives people the confidence in you, and a leeway to you to get the work done at every point of service..

  18. Lakeesha Says:

    I really enjoyed this montage! Very effective and creative way to communicate those ideas (and ideals) quickly. All are essential but I think collaborating has been the most important in my career and has helped me build the other competencies.

  19. Eric Bot Says:


    I believe the most powerful skill for HR to be Empathy, be it organizational and towards people.

    The ability to “translate” back and forth as being the main driver to achieve all 10 skills you portrait.

  20. Eddie B Says:

    The most powerful skill would be know the Business, I am currently deployed with the Army as an HR Specialist, the most important skill is knowing all the regulations. The only way we can be decisive and do whats best for the soldier is to know what the guidelines say. A lot of our personnel issues are guided in black and white,(and people still have a hard time following that).A soldier said to me the other day, any soldier that knows the regulations is a “powerful” soldier. I agree!

  21. Safaa Hassan Says:

    Really interesting to see all of them and they are all important. For me I believe Giving Trusted Advice is the Key because you cannot do this without many of the others as well.

  22. Debbie Says:


    Great video. I don’t believe that there is one important competency because a lot of these competencies are part of the individual’s personality. I think that if a HR professional feels good about themselves and has confidence in his/her abilities to perform the job, then the other competencies will come naturally. Also, if the HR professional takes interest in the agency that he/she is working for and trusts his/her own capabilities, actively listens and communicates openly and honestly, I think the individual will be successful.

  23. Mostafa Reda Says:

    Business Understanding is the HR competency that is #1

  24. Sakira Says:

    Alan, great video! I hope you will allow me to post a link on my website.

  25. Alan Says:

    Sakira – Thanks & yes, feel free to post a link on your website.


  26. Jennifer Law Says:

    Know the business. You can’t be a true partner with many of the other traits that are listed if you don’t understand the business well.

  27. Koven Roundtree Says:

    Great video. I think ‘Listening’ is a key competency since it is almost a lost art form in this day and age.

  28. Russ Cook Says:

    the most important competency is trhe ability of the HR professional to assist in facilitating the best option for the business and employee in operationalizing process. when there is alignment employees are totally engaged and effective.

  29. Javier Says:

    Thank you Alan.
    After knowing the business, HR will help company and people sith his support, collaboration, listening…
    Regards from Spain.

  30. Rosa Reynolds Says:

    The most important HR skill is dependent on the mission/objective of the organization…it takes an “effective leader” to get buy in, trust from employees to accomplish an organization’s mission.

  31. Big D Says:

    I agree that all are important and selecting one as the most important is difficult. therefore, I will select 3 that are critical and rarely seen in combination for most HR people.

    1. Know the business (Includes competitors)
    2. Deep HR expertise
    3. Managing Change

    I will add another. Solid educational background in Behavioral Sciences. This is critical because Behavioral Science is the anchor in which all of the organizational behavior theories are based upon.

  32. Josh Westbrook Says:


    The single most important skill for success in HR is translating customer/investor buying criteria in to desired employee behaviors.

  33. David Malfitano Says:

    I agree with those who said Knowing the Business is critical, however, I think it goes beyond “knowing” to being able to add value because you know the business. You have to demonstrate the ability to get something done with that knowledge.

  34. Denise Lloyd Says:

    I have to agree with others that said – Know the business. Without that (but with everything else) you are a great HR professional. With all of it, you are a strategic HR Leader.

  35. Bill Flatley Says:

    “Knowing the Business” is the foundation for many of the other competencies and gives you the credibility to make things happen.

  36. Trishna Says:

    “BEING DECISIVE” others follow this criteria automaticallly…..

  37. Gene Tange Says:

    Great stuff. Just one question. Why would the competencies for HR leaders be different from any high performance leader in any functional discipline?

  38. Megan S Says:

    Great video and all important competencies. The most important is to know the business.

  39. Al G. Says:

    Great video with a strong message. I feel Command of HR is most important, without it how can you be credible? The trick is applying it to the business venue you choose to work in.

  40. sara dunham Says:

    Ability to develop globally and implement locally.

  41. Jessica D. Says:

    Terrific video! I think that the single, most important competency for HR professionals, especially those in leadership, is INTEGRITY. There’s nothing worse than having a politician or someone in the midst of an identity crisis leading a team or advising an organization. Socrates was right on the money: “Know thyself.” Own your stuff and commit. Know what you believe and live it out consistently.

  42. Lynita Says:

    I think the most needed qualified for an HR professional is the ability to communite clearly and to all levels of the organization.

  43. Diane Says:

    Knowing the business

  44. HR Coach Says:

    Being comfortable in your skin is a prerequisite for all the rest.

  45. Gail Says:

    LOVED the video – knowing the business is always top of the list. All of the competencies are required for great leadership, knowing HR well-for our specialty.

  46. How To Create Your Own Job Security in HR! | Human Resources Forum Says:

    […] Not sure which competencies to build, click here. […]

  47. FADI FAWAZ Says:

    Very interesting…….but i recommend posting it on the link

  48. Margarita Says:

    Drive for results. As most companies are not pure think tanks results must show, otherwise they might think you are too expensive for what you do.

  49. Barbara Says:

    Great video, I believe a strategic business partner is important, we as HR professionals already have the needed skills but understanding the strategy of the business helps us build a great organization and be prepared for quick changes!

  50. Toni Says:

    I loved the video. Thank you for sharing it.

  51. Zul Says:

    Great montage sharing Alan, thanks.
    HR mgmt is no longer an operational/administrative function. Those were the days. HR mgmt is now becoming more relevant sitting as board members and coined itself as the HR Business Partner. As HR Biz Partner, the fundamental role is to see our peers, workers, managers accomplish success and are in sync with the vision and mission of the Company. And in order to realise that, HR Biz Partner must Know and Understand the Business well. From here, we can program all other competencies needed to achieve the MBO.

  52. Linda Barberena, SPHR Says:

    While most will say Knowing the Business, I believe that Collaboration is key. All of these competencies are expected of HR, but if HR does not collaborate to produce the results needed for operations or production, your integrity and trust will be questioned, and others will lack confidence in you. Very good video. I strive daily to exhibit each of these competencies.

  53. Michael Zroback Says:

    As long as we’re being jaded about this, how about the competency of ‘Political Astuteness”. This is crucial in a such a high profile position where you are pulled in all directions.

  54. MRED Says:

    I think that without relationship building most of the others would be very difficult to accomplish. I do however believe that Business Acumen is Top Priority to become successful in your career. But that takes relationships to learn. What do you think??

  55. D. Wash Says:

    Alan – While all 15 core competencies are essential, I would have to say the power to persuade, “Speaking Persuasively” is the most powerful skill to have of them all.

    As an HR Professional, you need to have the ear of the Power Broker(CEO). The fastest way to see change within an organization comes from the Top. And when you have the power to persuade nothing is impossible.

  56. Noufal Says:

    Great Video , I belive HR should be contribute more to the business by enhancing productivity gaining thorugh the emotional attachmnet to the people.

  57. Peter Edward Says:

    Great Video…Value Addidtion.
    Once again Thanks Alan. Bravo !!!

  58. Helen Says:

    Great video and as cited above all of the skills highlighted are essential, however, for me I believe that HR needs to know the business they’re working in, the culture, the employees, the product and clients to be truly effective in HR.

  59. D'Anne Chesnick Says:

    I’d say having an aptitude for handling loads of information and data–being persnickety and attentive to details is a key personal trait as well as skill for survival in the HR field. But I also agree that “KNOWING THE BUSINESS” is critical. There’s nothing more frustrating for applicants and employees than a HR specialist without a clue. Great video!!

  60. Binh Pham Van Says:

    useful! Thanks Alan!

  61. Matt Murphy Says:

    I see the most prevalent theme above is “knowing the business.” I believe this is a very important key to professional success but the most important competency for personal success (which is the foundation of professional success) is listening. Without this skill your ability to expand your knowledge is limited and your life, business and expertise in HR will fail to evolve with the constantly developing world around you.

  62. Neil Schermitzler Says:

    Good list–but dated; an early HR mentor of mine taught me these and others in the 1970s!!

  63. MRED Says:

    I like your comment Neil, but in response I would ike to add, “when will we ever accomplish these and move into the 21st century and become a true HRBL?”

  64. Alan Says:

    I also like your comment Neil. However, I see nothing here that’s dated. These HR competencies are TIMELESS — just like the best ideas in leadership, teamwork, employee engagement, HR metrics…all of which go back to the pre-1970’s, in fact.

    Frankly, the only contemporary difference I see in HR these days is the over-use of buzzwords (much of which is simply old wine being put in new bottles)….and how HR solutions and services are delivered (via technology, self-service, social media, etc.) which is terrific.

    Don’t knock the 70s (or the 80s, 90s, 00s, for that matter). 😉


  65. Diana Says:

    Knowing the Business. It helps you to sit in the management table and being able to listen and speak their language and understand org/their issues, collaborate with them about addressing problems you can see through same lens of understanding and being a champion of change and giving trusted advice and it would inspire you to achieve and lead courageously.

  66. Diana Says:

    Diana again, THANK You, Alan,always, for sharing and encouraging useful HR discussion.

  67. Jenne Martin Says:


  68. Mike Says:

    Another thought provoking contribution from a man that knows! Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    Listening in the key to the rest, but it is closely followed by Leading Courageously. You have to know before you can lead and you have to listen to learn…

  69. Harvey Ashworth Says:

    #1 Active listening. How else will you #2 learn the business.


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.