What does being an HR professional actually mean?

Our latest research has revealed that we cannot expect ‘best practice’ or a static body of knowledge to act as a standard of professionalism in people management and development. So what does being professional actually mean? Is it a behaviour, or a status? Help us work through this challenge by reviewing the 6 key components we have identified. You can comment and vote whether you agree with the ideas. If there are new ideas you think should be considered, you can simply add your idea along with an explanation.


Situational Judgment

The ability to derive practical insight applicable to specific circumstances.

Votes for: 157 Votes against: 2

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Updating specialist knowledge and skills based on progress within the field and learning through practice.

Votes for: 99 Votes against: 2

Business Savvy

Demonstrate appreciation and understanding of business drivers to proactively support the delivery of

strategic goals through agile and adaptable HR interventions

Votes for: 90 Votes against: 3

Being a professional or being professional?

The questions conflate two ideas, one about 'being a professional' and the other 'being professional' (unfortunately the word 'professionalism' is used to describe both).  An exercise I carried out a few years ago with a group of mid-career doctoral candidates was to consider first what it means to be a professional, then secondly to be professional or act professionally.  The difference in the two lists was revealing. 

Being a professional suggests things such as being qualified (however defined) and practising in a definable area, having expertise based on a deep level of knowledge, and having a commitment to the area of practice - possibly (but not necessarily) through being a member of a relevant professional body.  This is essentially about  occupational identity and status.

Being professional on the other hand is about how one chooses to practise, and is about judgement, principles and ethics. 

Ideally, but certainly not always, the two things coincide.

Votes for: 40 Votes against: 0

Body of knowledge and skills

Using specialist, expert knowledge and skills to perform a particular type of work or role.

Votes for: 43 Votes against: 10


The profession ensures members are worthy of the trust of society, by setting standards of conduct and competence. This requires an identity both within the profession (through a community) and an external identity (recognition and trust in professional knowledge and integrity).

Votes for: 31 Votes against: 7

Perspective - Be multi-lensed

An HR professional must be a keen observer of the status quo. Understanding the context and then accurately contextualizing a situation is one of the most important characteristics that an HR professional must have.The ability to stay loyal towards pre agreed principles but switch lenses in looking at a situation is what makes the HR professional. While priorities within organisations may be competitively positioned to enable strong functional capability, an HR professional must enable the organisation to function with the least transactional cost in order to deliver the organisation's goal.

Votes for: 17 Votes against: 2

Social and ethical responsibility

Using knowledge for the good of society and making informed choices about actions, and a corresponding need to act. Is critical due to the ‘imbalance of power’ as a result of specialist knowledge and expertise.

Votes for: 17 Votes against: 14

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence Increases Individual Occupational Performance, Leadership and Organisational Productivity

Votes for: 4 Votes against: 1


Getting developing and retaining the right people with the right skills at the right time.  Linked to achieving this aspiration are things such as reward and compensation strategies, training and talent management.  The ultimate goal is to get people whose aspirations identify with the organisations goals.

Votes for: 3 Votes against: 1


A commitment to something bigger than yourself through abandonment of self-interest.

Votes for: 14 Votes against: 38