So, you want to be a recognized leader in HR

Recognized leaders in HR are easy to identify. They are the ones whose organizations successfully try out new ideas. They are the ones who are asked to speak at conferences and information sessions about their organizations and their successes. They are upwardly mobile in their own organization and highly marketable to other organizations. They even become highly sought-after consultants. They are the ones whose careers we want to imitate. So how do you get there from here?

Increase your professionalism
Professionals have a common body of knowledge, a professional certification program, values and ethics, a discipline process, and a re-certification process. This applies to lawyers and doctors as well as to HR professionals.

Certification as an HR professional lends credibility to your worth within the HR community and increases your marketability within your own organization and with other organizations. Many HR associations offer a professional certification process.

The International Personnel Management Association-Canada (IPMA-Canada), for example, offers an international competency-based certification program based on the three roles of HR: business partner, change agent, and HR leader. Have you got the right competencies to support these roles? If not, make sure you take advantage of related professional development activities.

Increase your knowledge of HR
You need to understand the trends in HR to talk with authority; recognized HR leaders do this. They support their proposals with sound business information, HR demographics, and what is happening in other organizations.

There are new HR theories and practices being developed every day. The world is changing and new technical skills and competencies are needed to provide HR services and strategic advice. Professional development activities are no longer just for the entry-level HR professionals.

Find out what is happening in both the private and public sectors, in your direct business and affiliated businesses. For example, lessons from a pizza delivery business may be very transferable to the banking sector. New ideas can be gleaned from formal courses, business books, magazines, speaker events, and conferences.

Conferences and seminars are also a fabulous source of new information and skills. HR association conferences, such as IPMA-Canada, the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario, and the BC Human Resources Management Association  are usually good value for the money and attract big-ticket speakers, directly related to the world of human resources.

At any point in time, local or national events are available across the country. Many participants at local, national, and international conferences find that one of the greatest benefits is the personal contact made for future problem solving. You can network with others individually or through a professional HR association, such as IPMA-Canada.

Broaden your experience
You may need to acquire additional experience than you traditionally get within your staffing, labour relations, or job evaluation shop. You may want to try moving into the “softer” HR fields, such as HR planning, development, management training, or an organizational effectiveness unit to develop a broader perspective on HR.

A strategic advisor position within a vice-president’s office will help you understand what HR means from a business management point of view. Both of these lateral moves have proven to be effective in gaining new skills and visibility in recognized HR leaders.

Change the way you do business
HR leaders provide excellent service in the core areas of HR, but also act as strategic business partners. They develop HR strategies using a myriad of organizational and human resources theories and practices to address the specific organization’s issues; translate strategies into action; and support management through change management, process advice, and problem solving.

If you are not doing this, the first thing you need to do is change your behaviour. Start looking for linkages and opportunities for improvement. Question what is happening now and propose sound solutions, and your senior management will notice.

Believe and apply the principals of human resources management. You must be able to show your enthusiasm at the management table. This may include being fearless in the face of opposition or disinterest. Non-HR professionals may need to hear the same message many times before it makes sense to them.

Become involved in the development of business goals and corporate strategic plans. Talking to your clients about their goals and objectives, rather than about individual HR actions, will start you on the way to being a sound business partner.

One great piece of advice: don’t immediately say “no” to new proposals. Explore all options and move forward with a new idea while identifying and reducing the risks.

Raise your visibility
An IPMA-Canada study on career mobility indicated that visibility is one of the best ways to advance your career. If no one knows who you are, you are not that marketable. Take on something new. For example, a new assignment in a VP’s office or a special project are both good bets to raise your visibility and learn new skills.

Visibility can also be achieved through attendance at association functions and through putting your organization’s initiatives forward for local and national awards programs. Personally, you can become better known in the community by becoming part of an association executive.

This is the best way to get involved in high-level policy and program decision-making, without having to win a new job. It looks good on the resume and it is one way to demonstrate a high degree of competency. Contact with senior managers on the executive committee has its advantages.

If you can’t join an association executive, get involved by volunteering at a charitable or professional event, write articles, or give a presentation or seminar on an HR “hot” topic. Or, write articles for professional business magazines. These are all ways that your name will be better known.

In summary, if you want to be recognized leader, start now and apply it in your everyday work life. You can be a recognized leader even in the position you presently occupy. Try out these six simple steps and you’ll be amazed where they can take you:

Become a business partner and a change agent.
Get involved in an HR association, like IPMA-Canada.
Continue to learn about your profession and about your business.
Connect with others on HR trends and what has worked elsewhere.
Analyse the big issues.
Be fearless and develop winning HR strategies for your organization.

Carol Hopkins, IPMA-CP and honouary life member, is interim president, National Capital Region Chapter of IPMA-Canada. Founded in 1906, this HR association provides a national presence, national voice,
and international connections with eight chapters and members in all provinces.

Globally connected through an affiliation with the International Public Management Association for HR (IPMA-HR) and other IPMA chapters around the world, IPMA-Canada offers the only international HR certification program. For more information, visit