There are several practical steps an HR leader can take to build credibility with the CEO, senior stakeholders, and employees. Few of these have anything to do with technical competence. In research conducted by McKinsey & Company, CEO’s, company directors and presidents were asked: “Do you believe that HR could be a high-impact business partner?” Eighty Percent of those interviewed said it was critical and very important that HR be in that role. Unfortunately, only twelve percent believed they were actually playing that role within their organisation. Nick Holley’s research found that only thirty-seven percent of CEO’s and senior leaders thought their HR leaders knew their business well enough.

For HR leaders to deliver with impact, build credibility and influence outcomes, there are three key steps an HR leader should take. Commit to the business by demonstrating a high degree of commerciality and a thorough understanding of the critical drivers of organisational success. Deliver with integrity, building trust and gaining loyalty and; take personal accountability and action for the services, solutions and initiatives delivered. HR leaders must ensure the technical HR work is delivered seamlessly, that policies and processes are done well and consistently, and the solutions are not overly complicated or unnecessary.

Credible HR leaders know that to become a valued and respected member of the executive team, how they deliver their work is equally as important as what they deliver. The six critical qualities (the 6Cs) to building credibility in business are:


CEO’s want more than passive support from their HR leader; they want unbiased views. They expect to be challenged on people issues and their leadership style. Be passionate, open, reservice judgement, demonstrate empathy and challenge where appropriate – be courageous.


Build strong relationships with the CEO, the executive team and the Board. Make regular time to meet with peers. Take the time to understand their business, demonstrate genuine interest in them and their business. What is keeping them awake at night? Gain significant insights and intel into key business and people issues.


Be confident in who you are and the expertise you can bring. Have the confidence to be yourself around your peers and your team. This demonstrates a level of authenticity and self-assuredness. Confidence builds trust and confidence in others.


Be curious, ask questions. Learn what you do not know. To build credibility, those around you must get a sense that you understand the business you are in, the critical drivers of success, the financials. Show a genuine curiosity in others and listen with empathy.


HR leaders, more than any other, need to be seen as role models, living the values and behaviours expected of the whole workforce. Like most leaders in an organisation, HR leaders cast a long shadow. The HR team, employees, peers and the CEO will all be watching. Communication styles will vary, but to build commitment and trust, it is important to lead with transparency and honesty. Always consider the audience and make conscious, active decisions regarding what, how and when information is communicated.


Consistency builds trust. This attribute is important for any leader and HR is no different. Whatever your management style or leadership approach, key stakeholders need to know this is who you are and how you operate. Stability is important, particularly during times of stress, or significant change or transformation. Unpredictable or erratic behaviours can cause distress for the HR team and those around you, ultimately eroding trust and severely impacting employee’s health and wellbeing.

As an HR leader, these six qualities should apply to all your relationships, whether it be the Board, the CEO, peers, or the HR team you lead. Unfortunately, there are too many scenarios where HR leaders say and do one thing for those above them, and another to the broader workforce and those who work for them. Whilst this not just true of HR leaders, there is an expectation that HR leaders should rise above the inevitable politics and antics found in many organisations and lead with integrity, compassion, and care.

Businesses need and want their HR leaders to be adding real value. The more time taken to truly understanding the business the greater the personal and professional payoff and the more value an HR leader can bring. Demonstrating a genuine commitment to the business through courage, curiosity, collaboration, confidence, communication and doing this consistently is critical to building credibility as an HR leader.

Featured in theHRDIRECTOR (August, 2021), thehrdirector