Qualities of a Human Resource Specialist

As a human resources (HR) manager there are many soft skills that are almost as important as the other HR skills in your job. These soft skills, often also called interpersonal skills, are so important because the field of human resources involves working closely with many people.

HR and communication skills go hand in hand. This is especially important as staff members may need to confide in and share sensitive personal information. What makes a good HR adviser, among other things, is that they are approachable and have a personable demeanour.

In this article, we’ll explain what HR soft skills are and look at what skills an HR manager needs. We’ll also offer advice on how to grow these HR soft skills so that you can best complement your academic qualification. We’ll also show why soft skills are important for HR and look at the qualities of a human resource manager and what HR skills an HR manager needs.

Study Human Resource Management with UJ Online

UJ offers a fully online

Bachelor of Human Resource Management

  • Duration: The programme is split over 4 years and 8 months
  • Admission requirements: A minimum Admissions Point Score (APS) of 28, including at least 4 for both English and Mathematics (or a Mathematics Literacy score of 5)
  • Course fees are paid in instalments 
  • The course consists of 29 modules

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What are soft skills?

Soft skills also go by many other names, such as core skills, interpersonal skills or even emotional intelligence. These are skills and attributes that are not specific to a particular industry and are seen as desirable across almost all working environments.

Soft skills have little to do with the actual details of your job. They relate rather to how you interact with colleagues and others you deal with in the course of your duties. These are skills like being able to communicate effectively and in a professional manner. It also includes skills such as time management and problem-solving.

Sometimes it happens that a person is very good at their job, but that they are badly lacking in soft skills. Even if someone is great at their job, people will be reluctant to work with them if they are consistently rude and unprofessional, for example.

The British author Neil Gaiman once said: “People keep working in a freelance world, because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”

Although he spoke of freelance writing, this shows how important soft skills are in the working world.

Skills and duties of an HR manager

As an HR manager, you will be responsible for all the staff needs of an organisation. This begins with the selection of new employees and carries through to the settling of severance or retrenchment packages. They are not only responsible for the hiring and firing of employees, though. They are also responsible for conflict resolution, employee support and further skills development and training within the organisation.

The first module in the UJ online Bachelor of Human Resource Management course introduces students to the full HR value chain. This covers HR planning, recruitment, selection, appointment, performance management, performance development, organisational development, remuneration, employee relations, wellness, information systems and retention strategy.

Can I learn soft skills?

Because these are skills that fall outside of what is taught in most university courses, there is a common misconception that they cannot be learnt. This is not true. Some people admittedly are naturally better communicators and find it easier to get on with people, but anyone can work to improve their communication skills with effort and practice.

Public speaking is a good example of a skill that many people struggle to carry out confidently. Most of us are unlikely to need to stand up and speak in front of a packed room very often, if at all. What we’re more likely to encounter is situations such as team meetings where we need to be able to communicate clearly to a group of people, for example, to report on work progress. This is something that improves with practice and you can find opportunities in everyday things like dinner table conversations or meeting with friends.

Some people go so far as to hire personal coaches or attend classes to help them with their soft skills. There are many different soft skills that you could seek help on. Some coaches focus on clothing and appearance, while speech therapists can help people with speech impediments communicate more confidently. A business mentor could guide a new employee on corporate etiquette while attending a speech and drama class would help with public speaking.

Why soft skills are important for HR

Soft skills are useful for almost anyone in the working world as almost every career requires interaction with other people. For human resource managers, however, these skills are even more important. As the job title quite obviously implies, this is a job that heavily revolves around dealing with people.

As a human resources manager, you need to be acutely attuned to the emotions, sensitivities and needs of those you work with. You also need to be sensitive to the interpersonal dynamics of the people you work with.

Human resources managers often deal with matters of a sensitive and confidential nature. For example, an employee may need to take time off for a private medical matter or because of personal family difficulties. Other issues you could encounter could be that employees are struggling with their mental health, or are falling victim to substance abuse and addiction.

In this case, their role is not that different from that of a therapist. It is for this reason that human resource degrees include a heavy element of industrial psychology. That said, human resource managers are not to be mistaken for trained counsellors and therapists. Those are specialised roles requiring extensive training that fall well outside the responsibilities of most human resource manager positions.

5 HR capabilities and HR soft skills

There are many different skills needed for almost any workplace. Lists of soft skills can run very long, with lists of 10, 21 and even 25 “essential skills” for work and life. To keep things a little simpler, we have taken 5 of the most often repeated skills across many HR competencies lists that are especially needed for human resource managers.

Communication

Communication skills are crucial. In fact, HR and communication skills are very intertwined. Generally, the focus tends to be on outward communication skills, such as speaking clearly to customers and colleagues and typing up concise emails. While these are no doubt important skills, good communication is a two-way interaction. As a human resources manager, it is also essential that you are able to listen well. As well as allowing people the time to say what they need without talking over them, good HR managers make employees feel comfortable. Often the issues discussed are sensitive and managers need to listen without judgement.

Sensitivity

Sensitivity is a particularly fuzzy soft skill, but it is essential for a good human resource manager. This is a skill that builds on the listening element mentioned above. As well as being non-judgemental, HR managers need to be ethical and practice strict confidentiality. Human resource managers should also have cultural fluency, which is either an understanding of other cultures, or at least a sensitivity to unfamiliar cultures and practices. An example of where sensitivity might be needed might include a key staff member who requests time off to observe a religious holy day that is not a recognised national public holiday. A good HR manager should have empathy and compassion.

Negotiation

Negotiation and mediation are two important aspects of human resources. You may need to negotiate employment packages with prospective employees or promotions and wage increases for existing workers. Should any conflicts arise, you will also be called on to mediate between the two parties. A skilled negotiator should also be able to create win-win solutions for both parties involved, which brings us to our next skill.

Problem-solving

Human resource managers must be good at analysing situations and problems and quickly providing solutions. They must also be adaptable and creative. This requires both left and right brain thinking as it combines rational analysis with the creativity of problem-solving. As we’ve mentioned, HR managers are usually the first people called in when there is conflict in the company. If you have a knack for finding solutions to tricky problems then you will likely find this part of your job much easier.

Organisation and time management

As should be clear by now, human resource managers are often needed most when emergency strikes or unexpected crises develop. While it is difficult to plan for the unplanned, those with better time management will better adapt their schedules. HR managers need to balance their time to allow for unplanned emergencies without disrupting routine tasks like monthly payrolls.

Summing up

Human resource managers carry a lot of responsibility and they need a wide range of HR skills that encompass people skills as well as more academic knowledge to carry out their jobs.

If you would like to learn more about the field of human resources, please have a look at our previous article on studying human resources. In it, you will learn more about the benefits of learning human resources, the need for HR in South Africa as well as details on the skills and qualifications needed to get a job in the field of human resources.

Should this appeal to you as a future career, please have a look at the course write up for UJ’s online Bachelor of Human Resource Management. The course is entirely online and has been designed so that you can study while carrying on with a full-time job and other personal responsibilities.