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How to Develop 8 Soft Skills Necessary in HR Leadership

Learn the eight critical soft skills needed to be a successful HR leader and why they matter.

Jodie Sandell PHR and SHRM-CP
Consultant, project manager, writer, and process improver with over 15 years of HRM experience
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Don’t let the name fool you. Just because soft skills are “soft,” it doesn’t mean they are easy to learn or any less essential than the “hard skills” necessary to do your job. The ability to collaborate effectively, manage time, and communicate clearly are not easy things to master. Neither are social skills, adaptability, and problem-solving.

What’s unique about being a leader in human resources is that we need a wide variety of soft skills because HR is many jobs rolled into one. We act as spokespeople during hiring and recruiting, which requires great people's insight and communication. We play teacher when training new hires or clients. This requires patience and the ability to explain things clearly. We play project manager during a reorganization or reduction in force. Here, we need problem-solving and adaptability in bucket loads. The list goes on.

Developing soft skills to fulfill all these roles can happen organically throughout your career. However, for aspiring HR leaders, it is best to acquire and master these skills intentionally. This article will address the top soft skills HR professionals need to succeed in leadership roles. It will cover why these soft skills are essential and how to develop them.

In This Article


Soft Skills for Recruitment and Hiring

When you’re managing job listings, applications, candidate interviews, and all the other intricacies of a hiring pipeline, time management and collaboration are your most valuable soft skills.

Time Management

Time management involves organization and prioritization. On a deeper level, it includes planning, goal-setting, and delegation. Self-awareness is vital in time management. It requires that you know when you seek control and, therefore, struggle to delegate and when it’s worth getting stuck in the rough.

It requires you to admit if you are always running late. It requires you to be a team player - to share resources and goals.

Why Is Time Management Important?

Time management, organization, prioritization, planning, goal-setting, and delegation are important skills for coping with the urgency of recruitment. Your organization may be hiring due to an unforeseen vacancy or rapid growth. We are rarely blessed with time to fill a position at our leisure.

And just when you think you have hiring under control, a different company sector may need to lay off 100 employees. The shuffle ensues. The problem-solving skills that address the timing of a layoff and hiring a new Chief become vital. What gets communicated when? Is the entire company invited to an event welcoming the Chief the day after 100 people learn they are without positions? How will that impact your organization’s culture? How will it affect the acceptance of a new leader?

How to Develop Time Management Skills

More than any other soft skill, time management seems partially innate. Doesn’t it just feel like some people have an internal clock that makes them timely?

But that doesn’t mean this soft skill cannot be developed. Technology is your friend. Consider using team collaboration software to help you stay on track and accountable for your task deadlines. You can also practice tried and tested methods such as time blocking to manage your day.

A key component of time management is understanding your limits. We all have productive times when we can get a lot done in an hour and slumps when repetitive tasks are more achievable than complicated problem-solving. Schedule your day so that your natural cycle of productivity is optimized. Bear in mind that no one has their most productive day every day. Give yourself enough time to complete tasks, so you’re not perpetually behind schedule, and take breaks when necessary.

A team of HR professionals collaborating on a project using teamwork skills.

Teamwork

Teamwork happens when a group collaborates towards a shared goal. Teamwork involves participating, learning, speaking your truth, encouraging, supporting, and providing candid feedback.

When teams work together well, the workflow is streamlined and doesn’t incite stress. When teams achieve, a sense of accomplishment fuels the group. Momentum can carry the group into the next work cycle, whether it involves open enrollment or an employee manual rewrite.

Teamwork as a soft skill means that a person has an emotional intelligence that allows them to work well with others. Accountability, responsibility, active listening, and communication are all soft skills that fall under the umbrella of good teamwork skills. In addition, teamwork implies sharing blame and sharing credit.

Why Is Teamwork Important?

When an organization recruits and hires, a team is at work. In some organizations, the person composing a job post, posting the ad, responding to the applicants, screening the applicants, and interviewing the candidates are separate people. Without teamwork, a job post could inadvertently bring in unqualified candidates and waste the rest of the team’s time.

How to Develop Teamwork Skills

To foster effective teamwork, you must prioritize communication, actively listen to team members' perspectives, and be willing to collaborate and compromise to achieve common goals.

Building trust and mutual respect within your team is essential, as it encourages open dialogue and sharing ideas without fear of judgment. Additionally, you should recognize and leverage each team member's strengths while providing support in areas of weakness. Healthy communication within a team fosters a sense of camaraderie and ensures that everyone contributes meaningfully to the shared objectives.

Soft Skills for Workplace Conflict Resolution

Active Listening

Active listening is a communication skill. You can actively listen simply by putting your phone away during a conversation to show you are present, making good eye contact, and paraphrasing what you hear to confirm understanding.

Why Is Active Listening Important?

Listening to others and internalizing what they tell you is paramount to any conversation. Active listening is vital in the interview process. It is also crucial for mediation or conflict resolution.

In conflict resolution, HR professionals and managers hear multiple versions of the same story. Whether it is one incident or a series, you may need to mediate with your team members.

As a leader, you should be able to pick up on what might lead to a resolution. Is there any common ground? What is it that they each care about? By actively listening, you may help reestablish a working relationship between those presenting the conflict. You may also prevent a more significant issue, grievance, or lawsuit.

How to Develop Active Listening Skills

Practice makes perfect. You can actively listen to anyone - your family members, friends, colleagues, and strangers.

Once you commit to developing this skill, you will become aware of it in every conversation. Ask the cashier at the grocery store how their day is. What are your nonverbal cues saying? Are you looking at him when he answers? Do you express empathy if they tell you they are having a bad day?

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking helps us problem-solve by asking questions and seeking facts. It involves observation, analysis, and drawing conclusions based on relevant data.

Why Is Critical Thinking Important?

Human Resources is laden with emotional situations. When an HR leader mediates a conflict resolution, it will undoubtedly be full of personal viewpoints and one-sided beliefs. Critical thinkers are trained to hear and absorb these varying versions of truth without applying judgment (including acceptance).

How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Self-awareness is a vital part of critical thinking. You have to know where your biases are and analyze how you listen and process information. Practicing active listening plays a role here. As critical thinking can catapult your career development, consider engaging with a mentor, reading books on the subject, or enrolling in an online Critical Thinking Training course.

Soft Skills for Communication

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

If you have ever doubted the truth of someone’s words, it may be because you picked up on their nonverbal communication. They were telling you one thing, but their tone or facial expression was telling you another.

Nonverbal communication refers to the transmission of messages or information without the use of words. This includes body language, facial expressions, gestures, posture, tone of voice, eye contact, and even the use of space. Nonverbal cues can convey emotions, attitudes, intentions, and other subtle nuances that may not be explicitly expressed through words alone. Therefore, it plays a significant role in interpersonal interactions, influencing how others perceive and understand our messages.

Sincere communication means what you say aligns with your nonverbal communication. By extension, if you’re expressing genuine empathy or concern for an employee’s situation, your body language and tone of voice should also be empathetic.

Why Is Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Important?

When we give nonverbal cues that differ from our spoken words, we appear insincere - even manipulative.

Genuine communication is essential to create understanding and trust. Be mindful of your nonverbal communication when meeting with a potential employee, speaking to a large group, or conducting a job interview.

How to Develop Verbal and Nonverbal Communication Skills

Most skills require practice. Communication skills are no different. Be self-aware. Do you make eye contact when you’re speaking? Are your intentions evident?

If you need more confidence in these soft skills, consider consulting a communications coach or investing in a course.

An HR leader mentoring a peopleops professional to develop her written communication skills.

Written Communication

The quality of your written communication hinges on whether you’re conveying a clear and concise message. It is about selecting the right words, sentences, and paragraphs to deliver that message.

Written communication has advantages as it can be planned, reviewed, and edited. The risk of miscommunicating is lower than with verbal or nonverbal communication.

Why Is Written Communication Important?

Many of your duties as an HR professional or hiring manager culminate in the written word. You might be congratulating a team for accomplishing a goal, updating an HR policy, or drafting a job post. You might be crafting a letter of warning. You might be writing up an implementation plan for a new HRIS.

Your message must be clear and understandable to your audience. Because written communication is accessible, readers can pore over each word and detail. Ensuring that your message answers more questions than it causes is paramount.

How to Develop Written Communication Skills

Before you start writing, think about your message. What do you want people to know? Why do they need to know it? What will be important to them?

To keep your message clear, use simple language. Overusing adjectives, jargon, and “big” words dilutes your message. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short so readers don’t have to re-read them for clarity.

Allow time between drafting and sending to proofread your message. Looking at it with fresh eyes often leads to improvement. Invite others to review your message for clarity as well. If your proofreader is confused by what you’ve written, others will be too.

Soft Skills to Boost Culture and Retention

Influencing without Authority

Many HR professionals are not high-level decision-makers. However, many of us have ground-level organizational knowledge that leaders can use to make good decisions. This is where influencing without authority becomes a benefit.

When those with information can share what they know with those in power, that’s helpful. When those with information can influence those in power, that’s a game changer.

Influencing leadership in the workplace requires credibility, allies, persistence, and communication skills.

  • We need to have a proven track record of performance and problem-solving.
  • We likely cannot influence in a silo. We need colleagues, clients, and supervisors to support our credibility.
  • We need to be persistent in the face of resistance. Decision-makers may be reluctant to receive ideas from outside their leadership team.
  • We need to communicate with confidence. This includes actively listening to leadership’s needs and interests.

Why Is Influencing without Authority Important?

Influencing without authority enables you to garner support for ideas, initiatives, or projects even when you may not have formal hierarchical power or authority.

This is particularly valuable in collaborative environments where consensus-building and cooperation are essential for success. Individuals who can influence decision-making without relying solely on formal authority are often seen as influential leaders who motivate and inspire others to act.

Mastering the art of influencing without authority allows you to make meaningful contributions, build strong relationships, and drive positive organizational change.

How to Develop Influence without Authority

Developing influence without authority requires a combination of interpersonal skills, strategic thinking, and proactive behavior. Invest time in building solid relationships with colleagues, peers, and stakeholders across different levels of the organization. Establish trust, rapport, and credibility by actively listening, showing empathy, and demonstrating reliability and integrity.

Position yourself as a subject matter expert by continuously developing and showcasing your expertise. Offer valuable insights and recommendations that demonstrate your competence.

You can influence those in positions of authority. Present your ideas thoughtfully, provide a compelling rationale, and seek opportunities to engage with leaders respectfully and constructively.

Coaching and Mentoring

HR works hard to recruit and hire qualified candidates for available positions. Coaching and mentoring new hires is essential for retaining these new employees.

Coaches typically work with a coachee for a shorter time than a mentor would with a mentee. But both relationships are rooted in assisting team members to engage with the organization and the work meaningfully. Coaches are often hired to address specific performance goals. Mentors address employee growth over time.

Why Are Coaching and Mentoring Important?

Acquiring coaching and mentoring skills can reinforce your talent acquisition with retention. As the person in your organization a new employee may feel most connected with, you may act as the lynchpin for retention. You may also recognize skill gaps they can address or understand their broader career path goals. In addition, developing this skill can build your resume should your company’s hiring needs shift.

How to Develop Coaching and Mentoring Skills

The best way to learn coaching or mentoring is to have a coach or mentor yourself.

How do they interact with you? What support do you appreciate? What are you still missing? You can take this soft skills development further by getting certified. Online courses and training programs abound in this area.

Conclusion

Soft skills are essential for successful recruitment and hiring, workplace conflict resolution, communication, and culture and retention. We can only expect to succeed with the ability to manage time, actively listen, and influence without authority.

Identifying areas where we can improve our soft skills is a cornerstone for leadership and growth. Learning and honing these skills sets us apart as genuinely influential and inspiring PeopleOps leaders as we progress. In some instances, self-awareness is all you need. Generally speaking, though, investing in soft skills training is a substantial step towards achieving your leadership goals.

Jodie Sandell PHR and SHRM-CP
Consultant, project manager, writer, and process improver with over 15 years of HRM experience
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Jodie Sandell holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, a paralegal certificate and both PHR and SHRM-CP certifications. She has spent most of her career working in legal, education, and HR - writing, managing projects, and improving processes. 

She recently founded All In Project Services LLC to pursue her passion for this work. In her free time, Jodie can be found reading, hiking, paddling or traveling with her family.

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