5 Things You Need for Long Term HR Staying Power

A quick Google search nets dozens of lists with titles like “Nine Essential HR Skills.”

I’ve seen these lists debated from time to time and I don’t disagree that any of the of the frequently listed qualities are important. How can you argue with ethics, business knowledge, communication, organization and integrity? But most of the lists I see don’t include a number of traits that, after 15 years in HR, seem to me to be integral to an HR professional’s long-term staying power (not to mention mental and emotional health):

Optimism – Resilience – Persistence – Courage – Creativity

Some people work at such fabulous organizations where these qualities are less crucial. But the truth is that in many HR positions, in addition to witnessing fabulous successes within your organization, you encounter the underbelly or the dark side. You see candidates lying about their criminal past, employees faking injuries, people trying to get by doing the least amount possible, supervisors alienating their employees or turning a blind eye to employment laws, managers failing to manage and leaders failing to lead. And you are faced with an almost endless stream of ethical dilemmas and conundrums.

I work at a good company with an amazing CEO, yet I have to say that working in HR in my industry is not for the faint of heart. We’re a nonprofit faced with plenty of challenges. We employ mostly hourly workers, almost half of whom are first or second generation immigrants. They work around the clock at remote sites with a supervisor rarely present. Their work is important but not paid well by society. HR is not easy in this setting.

Within your own industry, you undoubtedly encounter different challenges and quirks. Regardless of your setting, if you work in HR, it helps to have:

Optimism. Remember what is good and right within your organization when things go wrong; 10% of people are probably causing 90% of your problems. Focusing too much on the 10% is a glass-half-full approach that may lead to you giving up, leaving your position or even abandoning HR.

Resilience. Have sufficient strength and flexibility to bounce back after disappointments and set-backs.

Persistence. Do not give up easily; when one thing doesn’t work, try 6 or 8 or 90 other things and don’t stop trying until you find something that does work.

Courage. It’s one thing to be ethical yet it’s another to speak up when you know something’s not right or when a response that is convenient in the short-run doesn’t serve the long-term interests of your business.

Creativity. Figure out how you’re going to address or communicate your concern or position without alienating the very people whose cooperation you need to succeed. Some may call this influence, and that’s certainly involved, but I’m thinking more of the mental processes like brainstorming, ingenuity, IQ and EQ.

There are a lot of qualities you must have or attain if you want to succeed in HR. But for long term staying power, you may need a few more. You need to have the drive to persist and the ability to maintain hope and creativity despite adversity and downright disillusionment.

I know you won’t all agree with my list 1o0%, so I’m interested to hear your rundown of the top essential HR skills.

photo by artfulblogger

About the Author

Krista Francis

Krista Francis, PHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.


Natalie Cooper

Trusted peers: Make sure you have a network of trusted peers you can turn to in a crisis. Someone who understands your company culture, politics and can act as an objective sounding board. Sometimes we can get caught up in the heat of the moment. By turning to a trusted peer and having a five minute breather can make all the difference – invaluable.

Dorothy Douglass

Simply put. Thank you for the timely reminder. And yes, PATIENCE needs to on that list as well.

Lori Jablons

Great post, Krista! I absolutely agree with these top five qualities. I think I’d add patience to the list as number six. I’ve found this indispensable when dealing with just about every person at every level.


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