What does an HR director do? (With duties and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An HR director refers to the most senior human resources professional in the department. They are responsible for making executive-level decisions in the field of human resources, including policies, procedures and strategic initiatives. They remain a step higher from human resources managers in bigger organisations and are a critical component of every organisation to ensure smooth operations and interpersonal relationships day to day. In this article, we answer 'What does an HR director do?' and learn about their roles and responsibilities, plus the necessary skills and how to become an HR director.

What does an HR director do?

If you have an interest in nurturing relationships and motivating individuals, you may want to know more about working in human resources and 'What does an HR director do?'. While HR directors in smaller organisations sometimes take on many of the responsibilities companies traditionally assign to HR managers, in bigger organisations they often find themselves in charge of the overall direction and funding for the human resources department. Some of the core responsibilities of an HR director include:

  • Liaise with senior management. HR directors play a pivotal role in the senior management team, providing critical information to the company on worldwide recruiting patterns, human resource developments and technological advancements.

  • Track trends in productivity and performance. They may monitor data, like sickness or absence levels, throughout the organisation and collaborate with the human resources management to ensure that these numbers improve.

  • Assess the impact of business decisions. HR directors keep track of the human resource ramifications of firm takeovers, layoffs and buyouts.

  • Make financial decisions surrounding HR. They allocate the annual budget for the human resources department and ensure that the company uses it efficiently and within budgetary restrictions.

  • Network with other firms and professionals. HR directors attend human resources seminars, conferences and networking events on behalf of the company's human resources team to improve their operations, recruitment and employee retention.

  • Compile an HR strategy for the company. They maintain strategic planning for recruitment and retention in each company department, facilitating exit strategies and recruiting procedures to ensure that the firm runs smoothly.

  • Collaborate with others to achieve organisational goals. HR directors serve as a knowledgeable primary contact for HR managers and advisers inside the organisation to help inform and meet KPIs.

Related: What is human resources? (With duties, skills and tips)

How to become an HR director

HR directors are valuable to companies because of their strategic experience, previous work with individuals in leadership positions and their educational background. The steps to becoming an HR director include:

1. Obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in a related subject

In human resources, most HR directors hold a degree in sociology, psychology, administration or another similar discipline. If you possess a bachelor's degree, consider pursuing a master's degree that allows you to concentrate in a relevant human resources sector. It's a bonus if your undergraduate degree is in an area unconnected to human resources. The following make up some master's degrees that benefit an HR director:

  • data analytics

  • people management

  • talent development

  • employment law

  • business administration

  • human resources management

2. Gain experience in an HR team

When considering applicants for this senior leadership post, potential employers look for work experience in an HR department, with at least 3 to 5 years in an HR leadership role. In general, it's important for applicants to have a thorough understanding of all human resource operations and show expertise in executing a strategic workforce strategy to ensure success. Employers also look for candidates with expertise in change management, working with finance, working with human resource information systems and operating in a multi-cultural context. Employers also want specialised industry expertise, particularly for roles in the financial and legal sectors.

3. Gain experience in other parts of the business

An HR director role requires extensive business expertise. Taking advantage of opportunities to learn from various departments of the company remains an excellent method to prepare for this position. The skills you acquire and develop through observing these people help you gain better knowledge of the company and how to significantly affect its operations.

4. Be open to changing jobs or joining another organisation

While most firms want you to remain with them for the rest of your life, it's not always the best option for your professional development. Keeping an eye out for HR director positions at other organisations is also a good idea. While promotion inside your organisation isn't uncommon, it often takes years to achieve that goal. Looking for what's available right now provides the chance to leave when you're ready.

Related: What does an HR manager do? (Plus how to become one)

Skills for HR directors

Usually, human resource directors refer to degree-qualified individuals who possess a suitable professional qualification from an approved organisation. Since the human resource industry is always growing, it requires you to keep learning during your professional life. Important skills to succeed as an HR director include the following:

  • Efficiency. Time management abilities and the capacity to prioritise conflicting demands make up some of the essential organisational qualities for an HR director.

  • Communication. It's vital to develop communication skills as an HR director to manage the HR staff while dealing with a wide range of personalities and points of view.

  • Analytical thinking. Entrepreneurial instinct as a human resource director allows you to become more engaged in strategic decision-making inside the organisation.

  • HR expertise. Hold a thorough working understanding of employment legal challenges, redundancy, payroll systems and experience in employee relations.

  • Interpersonal skills. The ability to build trust and professional relationships as a part of the executive team as HR directors frequently interact with the CEO, CFO and COO.

HR director vs. other human resources positions

An HR director refers to an executive job with a wide range of responsibilities, most of which relate to allocating funds and developing plans. It requires great organisational abilities, a keen understanding of business admin and strong leadership abilities. Consequently, human resources specialists only advance to the position of director after accumulating years of professional experience and strong academic accomplishments, such as a master's in human resources management.

The most significant distinction between a human resources manager and an HR director includes the level of responsibility they possess. Human resource managers find themselves directly engaged in the day-to-day operations of the human resources division. Conversely, an HR director concentrates on more critical issues such as formulating and implementing the company's human resources policies, setting achievable human resources objectives and implementing a plan to effectively manage the company's human resources budget.

Tips for becoming an HR director

HR directors carry out a range of roles in their day-to-day, including organising, directing and implementing rules about recruiting, management and employee relations. Tips for becoming an HR director include the following:

Participate in an internship programme

Consider completing an internship while still in university. Internships give individuals hands-on professional experience that qualifies them for the beginning of their professional careers. Professional experience remains essential for aspiring human resources directors since this position often requires many years of expertise in a variety of fields. Make sure to include your internship experience on your CV and bring it up during an interview.

Select a specialism

As you near the completion of your degree, consider pursuing a specialism. A specialisation in human resources enables you to focus your studies on an aspect of the field, such as labour relations, employment management or corporate finance. Having this specific expertise helps make your application more distinctive and memorable. This makes it easier for you to get a job or develop in your profession more rapidly.

Enrol in extra courses

Even after graduation, it's helpful to continue education in the field of human resources by taking extra courses. These courses assist in learning new content and keeping up to speed on the latest human resource trends. Make sure to put these programmes and courses on your CV. Having this information is also beneficial in preparing for a certification programme. Events such as seminars, conferences and workshops also provide opportunities to learn about human resource management.

Complete a master's degree

Even though a master's degree isn't a requirement for becoming a director of human resources, possessing one helps you advance in your career. A master's degree signifies knowledge and expertise; hence it's beneficial to continue your study via a master's degree after earning your bachelor's degree. A master's degree in human resources or a similar field of study such as finance therefore could be an excellent option for your career.

Related: Core HR functions and different human resource specialities

Continuously improve your skills

It's critical to always enhance your skills, regardless of your degree of experience or education. Human resource directors hold a wide range of abilities that make them well-suited for their positions. For example, most of these professions possess strong interpersonal, communication, organisational and public speaking skills.

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