A human resources leader guides a group of colleagues.

How to Advance in Human Resources Leadership


The myth of the “born leader” is just that: a myth. Leadership is both a process and a passion that individuals must cultivate and nurture by learning a diverse set of skills. Leaders learn to communicate clearly and honestly, think strategically, live ethically, and inspire others by sharing vision and enthusiasm.

While business and human resources (HR) leadership have much in common, they are not synonymous. The Society for Human Resources Management describes the important role human resources leaders play in planning and implementing an organization’s business leadership development strategy. In effect, top HR executives lead an organization’s leaders by empowering them to make wise business decisions, mentor and inspire their employees, and communicate their vision of the company’s future.

Good business managers implement strategy and solve problems. The best business leaders transform their organizations and instill in their employees the drive to excel. Human resources leaders are responsible for transforming good business managers into great business leaders. They do so by leveraging the skills and experience gain from advanced education programs such as an online Master of Science in Leadership degree.

What Is Human Resources Leadership?

The leaders of a company’s human resources operation are responsible for converting human talent into business success. As with all aspects of modern business, technology is transforming how human resources leaders accomplish their tasks. HR-related responsibilities such as staffing, training, and administering benefit plans require a standardized approach to strategic leadership; yet, human resources leaders must adopt other forms of business leadership to create a modern and cohesive business strategy.

Forbes explains how artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies continue to change traditional human resources functions.

  • Talent acquisition: Job seekers now expect the same customized experience received when using Amazon and other online services: fast responses, quick decisions, and automated interactions. Human resources leaders need to adopt AI-based approaches to attract and retain top talent while simultaneously reducing recruiting costs.
  • Performance management: Most of the interactions managers and employees have with human resources involve routine performance issues that companies can easily automate via real-time talent management systems, chatbots, and other technologies. Human resources leaders must address employees’ expectations for self-service HR while ensuring managers and workers receive the needed human support.
  • Succession and workforce planning: The same advanced data analytics capabilities that enable companies to respond more quickly and accurately to changing markets apply to managing people more effectively. AI and related technologies help monitor a work team’s progress, accurately assess the value of an employee’s skills and ensuring a good match between the worker’s abilities and job responsibilities.

Human resources leaders play pivotal roles in the successful implementation and management of the digital technologies that impact all parts of a business’s employment operations.

How Norwich University Prepares Human Resources Leaders

Keeping pace with the quickly evolving nature of modern business means the learning never ends. Human resources leaders readily embrace the challenge of recruiting and retaining the best-qualified people for their organizations. They actively source, attract, and develop people who are ready to work together to achieve the organization’s goals, even when doing so requires that they reinvent their operations.

The Human Resources Leadership concentration of Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership offers the tools and skills that professionals need to thrive in current and future business environments. The program’s core courses combined with the concentration curriculum to lay a foundation on which future HR leaders can build their careers.

Human Resources Leadership Core Courses

The cornerstones of the program emphasize ethics, strategic communication, development of personalized management styles, and management of organizational change. The core courses examine leadership strategies, management theories, and issues that impact a modern business.

  • Leadership Fundamentals: Ethical Leadership and Value-Driven Organizations—Emphasizes the ethical application of leadership theories and techniques in various business settings. It teaches students to distinguish conceptual and theoretical aspects of leadership models.
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ) & Leadership Style—Introduces students to the tools needed to gain insight into the behavioral aspects of work teams, customer service, and other business operations. This perspective on human behavior and emotion enables students to apply intuitive reasoning to improve their interpersonal skills and create a personal leadership style.
  • Leading Change in Organizations—One of the most important skills for a human resources leader is the ability to adopt a collaborative approach to managing organizational change. The course reviews conceptual and theoretical change models to help students determine the best approaches for leading and managing change.

Human Resources Leadership Concentration Courses           

Technology isn’t the only force driving the reimagination of the modern workplaces. Globalization and diversity contribute to the fundamental changes in how organizations manage their human resources. These and other trends reshaping today’s workforce are highlighted in the Human Resources Leadership concentration.

  • Human Resource Leadership—Examines the effects of globalization, technology, and workplace diversity on employee work-life balance. The course discusses how leaders help develop and sustain an organization’s culture based on core values that reconcile a business’s strategic plan with the personal and professional growth of employees.
  • Leveraging Human Capacity for Strategic Results—Workforce development and retention strategies are studied via topics that include employee rewards and recognition, motivation and productivity, and cultural awareness. The course covers approaches for fostering teamwork through collaborative improvisation, how to meet the training and development needs of employees, and techniques for assessing the effectiveness of modern management systems from the perspective of human capital.
  • Capstone Studies—Students can put into practice the concepts and techniques they’ve learned from the program’s core and concentration courses. They do so through a written capstone project that presents a practical or theoretical solution to a business problem. The capstone also includes a paper suitable for publication that demonstrates the student’s ability to think critically, thoroughly analyze an organization, and communicate effectively.

Key Skills for Human Resources Leaders

New work processes and working environments require new approaches to the conversion of human knowledge and skills into business success. Yet, the core skills of human resources leaders— communication, problem-solving, collaboration, motivation—remain as important as ever, though they may take different forms in tech-forward business environments.

The traditional view of human resources as an administrative, transactional, and reactive operation is evolving as more HR managers enter the field with backgrounds outside of human resources, as Fast Company explains. The human resources leaders of the future must be familiar with a host of tech-driven recruitment and talent management tools. They must be prepared to address a broader range of workplace issues including gender identification and worker mental health.

Four skills that human resources leaders will increasingly rely on in the future include:

  • Learning agility—Not all emerging technologies gain a foothold in the workplace. This means companies should be ready to quickly adjust their implementation of new tech as business priorities and market conditions change. Human resources leaders must have the technical savvy to judge which technologies will suit their organization and which will not.
  • Creativity—Human resources leaders play pivotal roles in communicating their organization’s brand message. This includes shaping potential hires’ perception of the company, coordinating with marketing efforts, and ensuring the company’s consumer branding efforts are consistent and effective.
  • Business and data acumen—To fulfill their role as trusted advisors to the C-suite, human resources leaders must understand how the application of business intelligence and data analytics shapes and helps achieve the company’s goals. In particular, the demand for “people analytics” software is expected to boom in the coming years to improve recruitment, retention, productivity, and employee morale.
  • Storytelling—Human resources leaders must have strong oral and written communication skills, as well as the ability to use narratives to influence and inspire people both inside and outside the company. As human resources becomes more outward-facing, it leads the effort to “sell” the company’s value beyond its products and services. The ability to communicate such values as empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence is key to inspiring the workforce of tomorrow.

Preparing HR Professionals for Leadership Roles

The skills that human resources leaders need as they guide their organizations through the changing times ahead serve as the foundation for Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership degree program. In particular, the program’s Human Resources Leadership concentration can help human resources professionals achieve their career goals as they seek to become more effective leaders for their organizations.

Recommended Reading

Understanding Career Paths to Become a Director of Global Operations
What Is Organizational Leadership? Courses and Career Outlooks
Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership: A Comparison


Developing Organizational Leaders, Society for Human Resources Management
Reinventing Human Resources: What HR Leaders Need to Know About Workplace AI, Forbes
Four Job Skills the HR Leaders of the Future Will Need, Fast Company
Four Things CEOs Want from HR Leadership, Entrepreneur
Strategic HR Leadership Future-Proofs Sustainable Growth for Midsize Companies, Forbes
Hiring an HR Leader? Look for a Candidate with These Three Skills, Inc.
Four Strengths of Every Great HR Leader, Reflektive

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