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Skills HR Professionals Need to Lead and Influence Change


July 1, 2016 by Cabot Dow
Category: HR Advisor , Administration and Management

Skills HR Professionals Need to Lead and Influence Change

Dealing with change and influencing change is at the top of the list of challenges Human Resource (HR) professionals in the public sector continually face. This includes, but is not limited to, changes in elected officials, growing pains, increased competition for budget resources, new regulations, the demand for more flexibility in benefit designs and options, technological innovations, and recruiting and retaining skilled employees.    

Numerous professional HR organizations, and recent literature, agree that one of the most important discussions today is about the competencies an HR professional must have to be an effective agent of change. The competencies most often listed are:

  1. Conflict Management: The ability to limit the negative aspects of conflict while increasing its positive aspects in the organizational setting;
  2. Credibility: The need to be credible to both their HR colleagues and the business line managers whom they serve;
  3. HR Skill Development: The ability to coach and mentor employees in the development of their knowledge, skills, and abilities;
  4. Performance Management: Performance management is a process that unites goal setting and performance appraisals, into a single, common system whose aim is to ensure that employee performance is supporting the agency’s priorities;
  5. Knowledge of the Organization: understanding how their Agency and departments operate, how departments support each other in accomplishing the agency’s priorities.
  6. Knowledge of Employment Laws: Unless the Union has waived its right to bargain over certain changes in wages, hours and working conditions, the HR professional will likely be involved in dealing with the Union on decisions and effects that are mandatory subjects of bargaining.  

This HR Advisor column is an invitation to HR professionals, their superiors and colleagues to assess whether or not they are drawing the best skills out of the HR function. I have used the HR competencies the literature suggests are most important in effective leadership. These competencies are important because the HR department is uniquely positioned to take responsibility in the role of change agent. This occurs first by anticipating change and second by knowing how to implement it.  

The HR professional should be a proposer of changes to top management based on research identifying best practices. Additionally, they have a responsibility for smooth transitions during changes in the organization. The change professional must also be able to align different projects and imagine their impact on employees. Employees are rarely able to absorb a large number of changes at one time. The change professional should prepare a proper communication plan, providing as much notice as is feasible. In a results-oriented environment, HR skills play an important role in focusing attention on the skill base of the agency’s workforce. The change professional can help employees understand the change and thus minimize its impact. These HR skills provide a standard for measuring employee preparedness, developmental needs, and performance.

Top management frequently relies on the HR professional to support the change initiatives in the organization. As project leaders, HR needs to be extra familiar with the interests of the employees and collective bargaining laws (when applicable) so that the initiatives can be adjusted to make employees feel more comfortable with the changes. Labor leaders should be assured their bargaining rights are recognized by the employer.

As noted, the above listed competencies are pivotal to the HR professional being an effective change agent. In addition, mediation and relationship skills are of great importance, necessary to transform HR professionals into effective agents of change. Effective relationships allow HR to help improve work processes and systems through proper intervention and change efforts. This has a positive influence on the organization as a whole.

On this important subject of change management, I designed a simple self-rating scale based on research of the HR function and its role in leading and overcoming resistance to change. Rate your competency on a scale from 1 – 8 as you consider the above 6 competencies listed at the beginning of this article.

Low 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 High

You might keep in mind that the literature also suggests the following HR roles and skills are highly valued by the successful organization:

  • A positive leadership style,
  • Good management intuition,
  • An operations orientation,
  • Personal credibility;  
  • The ability to effectively work with line managers and the community;  
  • Familiarity with financial management;
  • Being knowledgeable about external competition for skilled employees;
  • Customer demands.

Thanks to Mark Bowman, retired HR professional, Puget Sound Energy, Bellevue, WA for his edits, critique and feedback on metrics for HR effectiveness.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Cabot Dow

Cabot Dow writes for MRSC as an HR Advisor.

Cabot Dow is President of Cabot Dow Associates, Inc. He offers more than 25 years of experience representing public and private sector clients in the full spectrum of collective bargaining matters, including negotiations, mediation and arbitration proceedings. Prior to entering the labor relations consulting field, he was the Assistant City Manager and Labor Relations Director for the City of Bellevue, Washington.

The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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