How to Become a Great HR Manager
Want to become a great HR manager?
Well, I’ll start saying that enjoying being around people won’t be enough.
Liking to stay around people might have been one of the motivations you had when you decided to start a career in human resources.
But that’s really just what it is: a motivation. Just like becoming an HR director, becoming a distinguished HR manager involves much more than that.
Human Resources Managers excel in identifying talent, organizing training, coordinating employee incentive programs, staying up to date with labor laws, managing employee feedback and wellbeing, in addition to coordinating miscellaneous administrative responsibilities.
Handling these duties requires a particular set of capabilities and knowledge.
After several years working with exceptional HR Managers, I noticed that the best professionals in this role have three things in common:
- They master the capabilities of each individual HR function.
- They have powerful interpersonal skills.
- They think and act strategically.
Fully conquering these three areas requires effort, resources, and time.
Steps to Become a Great HR Manager
To help you build a remarkable career as a HR professional, I will break down these three capabilities into actionable steps. Following these steps will give you a solid foundation to develop as a human resource professional and excel in your role as a HR manager.
Let’s dive in:
Part 1: Mastering the Five HR Functions
Because human resources professionals take care of employees’ demands during their entire lifecycle, the field involves a broad variety of responsibilities.
The knowledge necessary to administrate tasks involved in recruiting is totally different from the knowledge required to manage employees’ compensation, which is also different from the knowledge needed to manage workplace safety.
Good HR managers excel at all of these functions. Let’s go over the steps to get there:
Learn All About Staffing
HR manager’s job varies a lot from company to company, but staffing is always going to be one of your main responsibilities in the role.
Staffing responsibilities involve recruiting, screening, and hiring to fill a job opening.
With effective staffing operations, you will ensure to build a strong workforce that will add to the company’s bottom line.
Many HR professionals start their careers with an entry-level position in a staffing agency, which is an excellent way to excel in the abilities necessary for this human resources management function.
Note that being a HR manager at a company that 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 position.
Invest in Training and Development Knowledge
Hiring top talent won’t take the company anywhere if there are no efficient training and development programs in place.
This area of HR is neglected by some professionals, however, the best HR managers see employee development and performance management as a priority. Make sure to remember that when you have a limited budget and choices to make.
It is key that, as a HR manager, you create many learning opportunities for the staff. This includes taking them to conferences, organizing seminars, planning mentorship programs, and even putting together 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, then check out our HR Certification Courses.
Obtain Compensation and Benefits Knowledge
Managing compensation and benefits doesn’t mean pressing the payroll button every two weeks. There is much more than that entailed in the role, including a lot of 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 in some cases.
According 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 great courses, which is a great option for you to get started.
Study Labor Laws and Legal Compliance
There are several laws and regulations that protect employees. These regulations cover hiring processes, compensation, employee safety procedures, performance appraisals, and labor relations.
Staying on top of legal compliance is one of the biggest challenges in human resource managers’ jobs. However, it is crucial to invest time to master them. After all, one missed point can result in a huge lawsuit.
I recommend subscribing to receive legislative updates from the Department of Labor or from the SHRM. If you manage employees across different states or even countries, it is also a good idea to have an employment law attorney on a contract.
Learn What Employee and Environment Safety Entails
Many organizations have human resources managers responsible for risk management and workplace safety procedures.
This means you must understand the health and safety responsibilities of employers and know the best practices in managing risk.
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 in the worksite. On the other hand, the job of 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 will have to implement depend on the company you work for. 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 to be made before you become a great HR manager.
Mastering interpersonal skills is a crucial step to get there. This includes competencies that facilitate interaction and communication with employees.
These are the actions you need to take in order to develop your interpersonal skills:
Learn How to Engage in Difficult Conversations
As a human resources manager, you will have to handle challenging conversations on a daily basis.
Laying off an employee who you know that needs the job, hearing an employee’s complaint about workplace sexual harassment, or reinforcing workplace dress code are all conversations you might have to conduct.
The worst thing you can do is avoiding or putting off these uncomfortable conversations. So you have to learn to manage them in the best possible way.
Some of the best practices include creating a safe space for conversation, focusing on the specific behavior in review, and holding emotions away.
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 a 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 is unequal treatment, poor management, unclear job roles, or lack of training, you can take a proactive approach to avoid future conflicts.
Developing your empathy means boosting your chances to succeed as a human resources professional.
Empathy will help you to develop positive employee relations, foster diversity and inclusion, encourage collaboration, and even facilitate conflict management.
Putting yourself on employees’ shoes is not an easy task, but it comes with practice. Learn to ask better questions, listen carefully, practice emotional detachment, and offer support when needed.
Another way to develop your empathy is by observing your own behaviors and examining your biases. Understanding yourself better will help you to read your employees with more accuracy.
Learn to Be an Active Listener
You won’t be able to unwind employee’s 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 in practice, but when you have tons of resumes to go through, 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 promptly might save you some stressful situations in the future.
Part 3: Mastering Strategic Capabilities
As you might have realized at this point, the human resources manager’s job can become chaotic sometimes. In order to be successful, you must learn how to think and act strategically.
These are the abilities you need to leverage to master strategic capabilities:
Pursue Project Management Knowledge
HR managers’ job success relies on team collaboration and long-term planning. For this reason, project management processes are key to make every area of HR flow smoothly.
When putting together an employee development program, for example, you will need to organize a timeline, coordinate budget, and manage resources. 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.
There are some project management courses and certifications designed specifically for human resources professionals. Every individual that holds a manager position or that owns administrative responsibilities in the HR department should consider taking these courses. Streamlining strategic planning creates the perfect scenario for successful outcomes.
Prioritize the Values
When managing human resources responsibilities, you will be required to 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 a training program -- these are all questions that you will need to have answers for.
Decision making can drain your energy if you don’t have a solid foundation to base your judgments.
I learned that there is nothing stronger to support your decisions then values. This includes your own integrity and the company’s core values.
Referring back to the basics will always help you to understand what is the best alternative when things are not clear.
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 will prove you to be wrong.
In order to become a great HR manager, you must understand how to take advantage of analytics to answer critical questions about your organization.
Data can be leveraged to based 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. External data is mostly used to streamline recruiting processes. External data sources that could help you include labor market data, population data, and LinkedIn data.
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.
Iterative tasks such as payroll processing and tax compliance can be automated through HR software. A few examples of software you should be familiar with include 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.
If you want to explore HR technology further, 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 not only make your job easier but also will increase its accuracy and efficiency.
Start Making it a Reality Today
The road to becoming a great HR manager is not easy. But it is certainly a gratifying career.
What separates the average HR professionals from the experts is the curiosity to pursue a specialization. That can be through courses, mentorship, and conferences. Of course, the years of experience also help.
You might have learned a lot about the HR functions if you completed a bachelor's degree or a 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.
If you want to become a great HR manager, you must go the extra mile. But all you need to do today is to take the first step. Pick one step on this guide and pursue it.
Knowledge is incremental. The more you learn today, the easier it will be to learn tomorrow. This means that each step you take, the easier it will be 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 involved in the human resources department and grow as a HR expert.
Frequently Asked Questions
What qualifications do I need for HR?
The qualification you need to become an HR manager include:
- An undergraduate degree or certification 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?
It can take anywhere from three to ten years to become a human resource manager.
What courses are important for becoming an HR Manager?
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. Online classes available!
- Managing Employee Relationships – learn how not only to respond but also 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 experience you have in human resources management positions, the better your chances are.
How much does an HR manager make starting out?
An HR manager makes an average of $68,000 per year.
Is it hard to become a human resource manager?
It's not hard to become a hr manager if you have the right HR skills.
To get a good first step, you can take some online courses or get certified to show employers that you're serious about becoming a human resource manager.
If you are new to Human Resources and are looking to break into a 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 a great HR resume, and create a successful job search strategy.
Josh Fechter has worked in the HR benefits and payroll software industry for the last several years.