How to Become a Great HR Manager

Want to become an HR manager? Like becoming an HR director, becoming a distinguished HR manager involves hard work.

Human Resources Managers excel in identifying talent, and organizational skills, coordinating employee incentive programs, staying up to date with labor laws, managing employee feedback and wellbeing, and coordinating miscellaneous administrative functions.

Handling human resource management requires a particular set of capabilities and knowledge.

After several years of working with exceptional HR Managers, I noticed that the best professionals in this role have three things in common:

  1. They master the capabilities of each HR function.
  2. They have powerful interpersonal skills and general speaking skills.
  3. They think and act strategically.

Fully conquering the HR manager career path requires effort, resources, and time.

To learn more via video, watch below or skip ahead to continue reading.

Steps to Become a Great Human Resources Manager

To help you build a remarkable career in human resources management, I will break down three capabilities into actionable steps. These steps will give you a solid foundation to become a human resources manager and excel in your role.

Let’s dive in:

Part 1: Mastering the Five HR Functions

Because HR managers take care of employees’ demands during their entire lifecycle, the field involves various responsibilities.

The knowledge necessary to administrate tasks involved in recruiting is different from the knowledge required in business management or workplace safety.

Good HR managers excel at all of these functions. Let’s go over the steps to get there:

1. Learn All About Staffing

HR manager’s job varies a lot from company to company, but staffing will always be one of your primary responsibilities in the role.

Staffing responsibilities involve recruiting, screening, and hiring to fill a job opening.

HR Manager Career PathWith effective staffing operations, you will build a strong workforce that will add to the company’s bottom line.

Many professionals start their careers with an entry-level position in a staffing agency, an excellent way to excel in the abilities necessary for this human resources management function.

Being an HR manager at a company you love to work for will make it natural for you to “sell” the open positions to candidates. This will help you to thrive in the role.

2. Invest in Training and Development Knowledge

Hiring top talent won’t take the company anywhere if you don’t know how to oversee training programs.

Some professionals neglect this area of HR. However, the best HR managers see employee development and performance management as a priority. Remember that when you have a limited budget and choices to make.

As an HR manager, you must create many learning opportunities for the staff. This includes taking them to conferences, organizing seminars, planning mentorship programs, and even developing a comprehensive new hire onboarding.

One of the best ways to keep your training and development knowledge current is keeping up to date with learning technologies and techniques that facilitate training.

If you’re interested in getting training, check out our HR Certification Courses for HR managers. All courses have a certification exam and will get you all the human resource manager qualifications you need.

Want to become a HR Manager

3. Obtain Compensation and Benefits Knowledge

Managing compensation and benefits doesn’t mean pressing the payroll button every two weeks. Although you don’t have to be a certified employment benefits specialist, salaries and benefits include bureaucracy and understanding how to use employee onboarding software.

Human resources managers are responsible for setting up pay and benefits packages, managing insurance brokers and other employee benefits vendors, coordinating bonuses, and even administrating stock options.

Journey to become an HR managerAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), obtaining a compensation and benefits certification is one of the best ways to learn the processes and to confer credibility to employers. The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans offers several excellent courses, which is a great option.

4. Study Labor Laws and Legal Compliance

Several laws and regulations protect employees. These regulations cover hiring processes, compensation, employee safety procedures, performance appraisals, and labor relations.

Legal and labor management is one of the biggest challenges in human resource managers’ jobs. Unlike entry-level positions like human resources assistant, a human resources manager has a significant responsibility. Meaning that it is crucial to invest time in mastering regulations. After all, one missed point can result in a massive lawsuit.

I recommend subscribing to receive legislative updates from the Department of Labor or the SHRM. If you manage employees across different states or even countries, having an employment law attorney on a contract is also a good idea.

5. Learn What Employee and Environment Safety Entails

Many HR managers work on risk management and workplace safety procedures.

This means you must understand employers’ health and safety responsibilities and know the best practices in managing risk. Although a professional HR specialist or an HR generalist might do the same things, human resource managers have more significant responsibilities.

Keep in mind that the responsibilities involved in safety change a lot from industry to industry.

Human resources managers who work in a building construction company, for example, might have to take multiple actions to prevent employees’ injury on the worksite. On the other hand, HR managers who work in the technology industry, for example, involve less intense responsibilities in this area.

This means that the policies and training procedures you must implement depend on the company and industrial relations. You can start learning about emergency procedures for the workplace or even learning safety training methods and techniques that you can put in place.

Part 2: Mastering Interpersonal Skills

Once you feel like an expert in every area of human resources, there is still some polishing before you become a great HR manager.

Mastering these skills is a crucial step to getting there. This includes competencies that facilitate interaction and communication with employees.

These are the actions you need to take to develop good communication skills:

1. Learn How to Engage in Difficult Conversations

As a human resources manager, you will have to handle challenging conversations daily.

Laying off an employee you know needs the job, hearing an employee’s complaint about workplace sexual harassment, or reinforcing the workplace dress code are all conversations you might have to conduct.

The worst thing you can do is avoid or put off these uncomfortable conversations. So you have to learn to manage them in the best possible way.

Best practices include:

  • Creating a safe space for conversation.
  • Focusing on the specific behavior in review.
  • Holding emotions away.

2. Master Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict within an organization is healthy up to a certain level. You want employees to disagree with each other sometimes. That’s what makes the company evolve.

The problem arises when the conflict interferes with employees’ morale, mental health, and work performance. That’s when you, as an HR manager, must step in.

To address the issue, you must keep clarity and consistency on policies and recognize that even though each case is different, you must have standards.

Problem-solving involves a lot of listening. When you identify the sources of the conflict, which usually are unequal treatment, poor management, unclear job roles, or lack of training, you can take a proactive approach to avoid future disputes.

3. Develop Empathy

Developing empathy means boosting your chances of succeeding as a human resources professional.

Empathy will help you develop positive employee relations, foster diversity and inclusion, encourage collaboration, and even facilitate conflict management.

resolving employee conflictPutting yourself in employees’ shoes is not easy, but it comes with practice. Learn to ask better questions, listen carefully, practice emotional detachment, and offer support when needed.

Another way to develop empathy is by observing your behaviors and examining your biases. Understanding yourself better will help you to read your employees with more accuracy.

4. Learn to Be an Active Listener

You won’t be able to unwind employees’ concerns and offer the necessary support if you don’t fully understand the circumstances. The only way to get a complete perspective of employees’ situations is by actively listening to them.

That seems simple to put into practice, but when you have tons of resumes, training sessions to develop, and payroll to process, listening to employees becomes easy to neglect.

When an employee approaches you, remember that intentionally listening is part of your management position responsibility. Dedicate time to the conversation and respond appropriately.

Engaging in conversations with employees might save you some stressful situations in the future.

Part 3: Mastering Strategic Capabilities

As you might have realized, the human resources manager’s job can be chaotic. To be successful, you must learn how to think and act strategically.

These are the abilities you need to leverage to master strategic capabilities:

1. Pursue Project Management Knowledge

HR managers’ job success relies on team collaboration and long-term planning. For this reason, project management processes are essential to make every area of HR flow.

For example, you will need to organize a timeline, coordinate a budget, and manage resources when developing an employee development program. Same for when you need to structure the hiring process for an open position.

Project management knowledge helps you to handle HR duties with a systematic mindset, which contributes to more effective results.

Some project management courses and certifications are designed specifically for human resources professionals. Everyone who holds a manager position or has administrative responsibilities in the HR department should consider taking these courses. Streamlining strategic planning creates the perfect scenario for successful outcomes.

2. Prioritize the Values

When managing human resources responsibilities, you must make many difficult decisions. Which candidate to choose for a position, whether or not to take a conflict case to upper management, how to structure employees’ compensation, who to include in training programs — these are all questions you will need to answer.

Decision-making can drain your energy if you don’t have a solid foundation on which to base your judgments.

I learned that there is nothing stronger to support your decisions than values. This includes your integrity and the company’s core values.

Referring back to the basics will always help you understand the best alternative when things are unclear.

3. Learn to Be Data-Driven

If you thought that by choosing to follow a career in human resources, you would be away from data and statistics, HR analytics would prove you wrong.

To become an excellent human resources manager, you must understand how to use analytics to answer critical questions about your organization.

people analytics use casesYou can leverage data for internal and external decisions. Some of the most common data sources you should use for internal decisions include employee demographic data, payroll data, social network data, performance data, and employee satisfaction data. You use external data to streamline recruiting processes. External data sources that could help you include labor market data, population data, and LinkedIn data.

4. Leverage the Right Technologies

As employees continue to expect a more meaningful approach to their employment experience, HR professionals must leverage new HR technologies to deliver enriching experiences in the workplace.

You can automate iterative tasks such as tax compliance through HR software. You should be familiar with a few software examples: GoCo, Gusto, and Zenefits. Besides coordinating payroll, these tools optimize new hire employee forms, onboarding, and employee benefits management.

That leaves you with extra time to focus on other vital HR functions.

Suppose you want to explore HR technology further. In that case, you can leverage artificial intelligence to identify workforce patterns, virtual reality resources to streamline training, augmented analytics to get more accurate insights or even self-service tools to improve employees’ experience. The possibilities are endless.

Using these technology resources will make your job easier and increase its accuracy and efficiency.


The road to becoming a great HR manager is not easy. But it is a gratifying career.

The curiosity to pursue a specialization separates the average HR professional from the experts. That can be through courses, mentorship, and conferences. Of course, the years of experience also help.

You might have learned a lot about HR functions if you completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in human resource management or business management. But unfortunately, that’s not enough to make you a distinguished professional in HR management.

To become a great human resources manager, you must go the extra mile. But all you need to do today is to take the first step. Pick one step in this guide and pursue it.

Knowledge is incremental. The more you learn today, the easier it will be to learn tomorrow. This means that with each step you take, it will be easier to conquer the other ones.

Identify your strengths in the human resources field, and work on making them your competitive advantage.

Follow these actionable steps, and you will be set in the right direction to manage every area in the human resources department and grow as an HR expert.


Here are the most frequently asked questions and answers about the HR manager role.

What qualifications do I need for human resource management?

The qualification you need to become an HR manager include:

  • An undergraduate degree in Human Resources Management, Business Administration, or another related field.
  • A graduate degree is beneficial but not required to get a job as an HR manager.

How many years does it take to become a human resource manager?

Becoming a human resource manager can take anywhere from three to ten years.

What courses are essential for human resources managers?

The following Human Resources courses can prepare you for this career:

  • Conflict Management in the Workplace – how to resolve conflict and manage employees with different personalities, values, beliefs, and backgrounds;
  • Preventing Sexual Harassment – legal requirements of employers who want their workforce free from sexual harassment.
  • Human Resource Management – learn how to respond to and anticipate employee needs, concerns and issues before they arise.

Do I need experience as well as qualifications?

Yes! Experience is essential when it comes to landing this job. The more knowledge you have in human resources management positions, the better your chances are.

If you are new to Human Resources and are looking to break into an HR role, we recommend taking our HR Management Certification Course, where you will learn how to build your skillset in human resources, build your human resources network, craft an excellent HR resume, and create a successful job search strategy.

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the founder of HR.University. He's a certified HR professional and has managed global teams across 5 different continents including their benefits and payroll. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.