About the Competency Model

Advancing the HR Profession

In keeping with our mission of serving and advancing the HR profession, SHRM developed the SHRM Competency Model to: 

1. Support HR practitioners in their career and professional development. 

2. Help organizations build approaches to identifying and cultivating high-quality HR leaders, individual contributors and teams. 

The competency model and the resources developed based on the model:

  • Identify what it means to be a successful HR professional—across the performance continuum, around the globe, from early to executive career level.
  • Provide the foundation for talent management throughout the HR lifecycle.
  • Help organizations ensure that HR professionals have proficiency in the critical competencies necessary to solve today’s most pressing people issues and deliver highly effective HR strategies. 

FULL Competency Model  Competency Graphic

The model is comprised of nine competencies organized into four competency clusters:  Technical, Interpersonal, Business, and Leadership.  Each of these competency clusters is composed of one to three competencies as follows:
  • Technical Competency—HR Expertise (HR Knowledge)
  • Interpersonal Competencies—Relationship Management, Communication, and Global & Cultural Effectiveness
  • Business Competencies—Business Acumen, Critical Evaluation, and Consultation
  • Leadership Competencies—Leadership & Navigation and Ethical Practice
The Technical competency cluster includes the technical knowledge needed for proper application of the behavioral competencies. The Interpersonal, Business and Leadership competency clusters each reflect behavioral competencies important for effective job performance.  

Validation Studies

The SHRM competency model is founded on extensive research, including:
  • A content validation study to show that the content of the competency model represents what is required for successful performance across the HR profession. 
  • A series of large-scale multi-organizational criterion validation studies to gather data showing whether HR professionals’ proficiencies in the competencies are closely linked to successful job performance. 

In 2015, SHRM published a book about the SHRM Competency Model and its development titled Defining HR Success: 9 Critical Competencies for HR Professionals, available through the SHRM Store.

Business Acumen

Cluster: Business

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to understand and apply information to contribute to the organization’s strategic plan

Business Acumen addresses an HR professional’s ability to understand business operations and functions, the organization’s external environment, and how HR management practices contribute to core business functions. HR professionals who are proficient in Business Acumen are able to recognize how internal and external factors interact to influence organizational performance. They maintain awareness of the competitive labor market and internal personnel resources and determine how these factors impact workforce planning and recruitment processes.

Business Acumen is important within each career level, but like other competencies, its importance and requirement upon entry varies across career levels. HR professionals view Business Acumen as much more critical at the Senior and Executive levels. This makes sense, since the scope of responsibility and the need to think broadly across and outside an organization increases at those levels in order to make strategic decisions.

At the Executive level, 83% of those we surveyed stated Business Acumen is required upon entry, while only 37% stated that it is required upon entry as an Early level HR professional. These findings suggest that Early and Mid level professionals who are looking to advance within the profession should focus on developing their Business Acumen.

HR professionals who would like to develop this competency may want to study topics which can be beneficial to HR professionals at nearly any organization, such as: return on investment; key industry/organization metrics; principles of accounting and finance; marketing; economics; supply chain management, and technology. 

Developing this competency will help not only improve an HR professional’s ability to perform the specific technical functions of their role effectively, but will also increase their ability to gain buy-in, garner respect from other business leaders and influence others across the organization by speaking their business language. Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Business Acumen include:

Develops basic knowledge of HR Metrics
Manages project and initiative budgets
Builds business cases of HR projects and initiatives
Evaluates all proposed business cases for HR projects and initiatives

Read articles about Business Acumen


Cluster: Interpersonal

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to effectively exchange information with stakeholders

The ability to effectively communicate cannot be undervalued. Within the HR profession, Communication is essential, regardless of career level, organization size, or work sector. 96% of the HR professionals that we surveyed rated Communication as important or critical within the HR profession, with its importance increasing later in the HR career.

Professionals who are proficient at Communication: 

translate the organization’s vision and mission; 
describe new initiatives, goals, and progress; 
engage in conversations with employees, stakeholders, and senior leaders; and 
produce accurate reports and documents. 

HR professionals must ensure they distribute clear, concise, and readily understood messages. When HR effectively communicates information, employees better understand the purpose and value of policies and practices.

Proficiency in this competency upon entry into an Early career role is particularly important. 77% of the HR professionals surveyed by SHRM indicated that Communication is important as an Early career entry level requirement, more so than any other competency.

Communication is more than just the ability to write or speak effectively. Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Communication include:

Promptly responds to stakeholder concerns via written, verbal or electronic communication
Listens actively to understand stakeholder concerns at the operational level
Engages in conversations with stakeholders using appropriate communication modes and methods to achieve desired outcomes
Crafts messages to be delivered to stakeholders regarding high-visibility organizational issues

​Read articles about Communication


Cluster: Business

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to provide guidance to organizational stakeholders

Consultation encompasses the ability to apply HR and human capital knowledge to address organizational needs and support internal stakeholders. HR professionals who are proficient in Consultation are able to provide guidance to other leaders and employees regarding HR policies and practices, as well as business challenges. For example, at the request of a division manager, an HR professional may conduct an initial investigation into staffing and training needs. After evaluation, she would develop solutions that align with the organization’s business strategy and provide guidance to the division leader and his team based on HR best practices. 

Professionals at the Early career level may find that proficiency in Consultation is not necessarily required upon entry; however, development of this competency is critical if they wish to advance in their careers. Of those that we surveyed, the percentage reporting this competency as required upon entry into HR jobs rises from 34% and 67% for Early and Mid career levels, respectively, to 89% for Senior level positions and 91% for Executive level positions.

Although not required upon entry, this skill is important or critical at all career levels, according to at least half of the HR professionals we surveyed. The extent to which respondents found it important, however, varied drastically between early career roles and roles later in the HR career. This makes sense considering that Early career professionals may not have the network of relationships nor the HR Expertise yet to serve as highly effective consultants.

Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Consultation include:

Provides summary of pertinent facts and information to mid-level and senior HR leaders
Identifies threats to the business and recommends effective solutions
Designs creative business solutions utilizing HR expertise/perspective
Identifies opportunities to provide HR and business solutions that maximize return-on-investment for the organization

​Read articles about Consultation

Critical Evaluation

Cluster: Business

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to interpret information to make business decisions and recommendations

In today’s technology driven business world it has become more and more important for HR professionals to gather, interpret and provide data to support their decision making processes. Business leaders and stakeholders expect access to quantifiable information, and when it comes to their people resources they expect HR professionals to provide it. For this reason, Critical Evaluation is considered to be very important to the performance of HR professionals; 86% of HR professionals surveyed rated it as important or critical, with over 44% indicating that it was critical at the Executive level.

Critical Evaluation encompasses the HR professional’s ability to interpret information to make business decisions and recommendations. HR professionals at all levels should be able to collect, analyze, evaluate, and apply data when creating human capital solutions. To do this, they need to not only understand what data is useful (e.g., cost-per-hire, turnover, FTEs, engagement, business revenue) and how it should be collected (e.g., surveys, focus groups, interviews, archival records), but they also need to be able to effectively analyze and interpret that data.

Translating data into actionable recommendations within an organization can be challenging, but HR professionals are increasingly expected to possess these skills. HR executives in particular are expected to come into their roles with proficiency in this competency, where 86% of the HR professionals we queried indicating that it was a requirement at entry.

Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Critical Evaluation include:

Collects and synthesizes data through surveys, focus groups, research and other methods
Evaluates information gathered through research conducted
Leads research and evaluation and provides resources for specific issues studied
Communicates the impact on organizational strategy of relevant and important findings from data analysis

​​Read articles about Critical Evaluation

Ethical Practice

Cluster: Leadership

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to integrate core values, integrity and accountability throughout all organizational and business practices

Leaders and employees often turn to the HR function as the driver, monitor and model of ethics in their organizations.  Because the HR function is often viewed as the designated, impartial third party assessor of ethical behavior, and is relied upon to keep secure private information that could put both individuals and organizations at substantial risk, it is imperative that HR professionals practice their work with the utmost integrity and ethics. Ethical Practice involves integrating core values and accountability throughout all organizational and business practices. 

Displaying ethical integrity in the HR profession is critical across demographic and organizational groups and all career levels. An average of 75% of HR professionals surveyed by SHRM indicated that proficiency on this competency is critical, and over 94% believe that it is either important or critical regardless of career level.

Ethical Practice is a competency that is expected of professionals from the day they walk in the door in organizations. Based on SHRM’s survey of HR professionals, rating for required upon entry begins at 90% for Early career level and reaches 98% for Executive level.

HR professionals at the Early and Mid-career levels who are proficient at Ethical Practice begin by establishing themselves as credible and trustworthy, maintaining awareness of ethics laws, standards, legislation and trends, and ensuring confidentiality and privacy of employee information and company data. Senior and Executive level professionals strive to develop ethical standards and policies for all employees, manage political and social pressures, hold themselves and others accountable for ethical practice, model ethical behavior for others and communicate the vision for an organizational culture where employees feel comfortable reporting unethical behavior. 

Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Ethical Practice include:

Documents and escalates reports of unethical behavior to management
Takes immediate and appropriate action regarding reports of unethical behavior or conflicts of interest
Briefs executives on any reports of unethical behavior or conflicts of interest that might threaten the organization
Develops HR policies and internal controls to minimize organizational risk from unethical practice

​Read articles about Ethical Practice

Global & Cultural Effectiveness

Cluster: Interpersonal

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to value and consider the perspectives and background of all parties

Many organizations are proactively attempting to increase the diversity of their workforce, while at the same time the workforce is becoming increasingly global. Many HR professionals today work for organizations that are multinational or that do a significant amount of business in locations outside of their country of origin. Further, HR professionals must remain abreast of and address legal and regulatory policies related to diversity and protection against discrimination. Global & Cultural Effectiveness is therefore essential for any HR professional seeking to be at the forefront of an increasingly diverse business environment. 

Across all work sectors, Global and Cultural Effectiveness was rated by the HR professionals we surveyed as important to HR professionals’ job performance. However, Early career professionals rated the importance of this competency lower than those later in their career. This lower importance at Early career levels could be due to: the specialized role that many Early career professionals play, the limited scope of responsibility and exposure to employees across the organization for Early career professionals, and/or the reduced significance of potential consequences of low proficiency in this competency for Early career professionals – the risk for those later in their career could be at greater if they perform poorly in this competency.

While a majority of our survey respondents rated this competency as required upon entry across all career levels, this competency was seen as the least required on entry of the nine HR competencies. However, the competency is particularly essential for Executive level HR professionals upon entry into executive roles; 66% of respondents rated it as required upon entry for Executive level professionals, as compared to 41% for Early career professionals.

To be proficient in Global and Cultural Effectiveness, HR professionals must be able to effectively and respectfully interact with colleagues, customers, vendors and clients of varying ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures. Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are successful in Global and Cultural Effectiveness include:

Develops some general knowledge of local and global economic trends
Maintains advanced knowledge of cultural differences within the region and potential borders
Develops expert knowledge of global economic trends and best practices
Uses global economic outlook to determine the impact on the organization's human capital strategy

​Read articles about Global & Cultural Effectiveness

HR Expertise (HR Knowledge)

Cluster: Technical

Type: Technical Competency

Definition: The knowledge of principles, practices and functions of effective human resource management

HR Expertise is vital to successful job performance of HR professionals. This technical competency describes the knowledge needed by HR professionals to design, enact, evaluate, and maintain sound human resource management practices. When we surveyed HR professionals, 90% stated that proficiency in HR Expertise is required upon entry into any HR position.

In order to be effective, professionals must acquire comprehensive knowledge concerning policies, principles, laws/regulations, and practices. In addition to formal training and education, professionals seeking to develop this competency may do so through on-the-job training, mentorship, role play, and simulations.

This competency is organized into three broad knowledge domains (covering Organization, Workplace, and People), divided among fifteen HR functional areas. While these knowledge areas may not be as critical to every role in HR due to the variety of specialized functions across HR, as a well-rounded HR professional it is important to have at least a basic knowledge in each of these areas, with a more extensive understanding for more generalist HR roles. 

The importance of this competency grows as an individual progresses in his or her career. In fact, 80% of the HR professionals we surveyed indicated that HR Expertise is critical in Executive career level roles.

While HR Expertise is a knowledge-based Technical Competency, there are examples of how this competency can be applied behaviorally. Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at HR Expertise include:

Employs standard operating procedures and policies when performing HR transactions
Applies policies and procedures across organization
Develops policies and procedures consistent with organizational values and goals
Ensures alignment of HR policies and procedures with organizational values and goals

Leadership & Navigation

Cluster: Leadership

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to direct and contribute to initiatives and processes within the organization

Leadership and Navigation encompasses an HR professional’s ability to direct and contribute to initiatives and processes within the organization. Though not as immediately critical for early career HR professionals, Leadership and Navigation is an important building block for HR professionals at all levels to develop in order to advance their careers.  In addition, even at Early career levels, it is necessary for HR professionals to serve as business leaders, even if informally.

It will come as no surprise, then, that the importance of this competency greatly depends upon career level. Leadership and Navigation is rated as important to Mid and Senior career professionals and critical for Executive professionals, but rated lower in importance for Early career HR professionals.

Similarly Leadership and Navigation is rarely viewed as required upon entry at the Early career level, and only viewed as required upon entry by 41% at the Mid career. It is, however, viewed as required upon entry by 78% and 90% at the Senior and Executive levels, respectively. An exception to this rule may be in organizations with extremely small HR departments, where HR professionals at the Early or Mid-career levels may face more leadership more opportunities.

General topics within Leadership and Navigation include motivation, project management, change management, goal-setting, and workforce planning. Learning about and becoming trained in these topics will help HR professionals attain proficiency in Leadership and Navigation and prepare them to climb the career ladder. 

Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Leadership and Navigation include:

Acts consistently with and represents the culture of the organization
Manages programs, policies and procedures to support the organizational culture
Establishes programs, policies and procedures to support the organizational culture
Leads HR staff in maintaining or changing organizational culture

​Read articles about Leadership & Navigation

Relationship Management

Cluster: Interpersonal

Type: Behavioral Competency

Definition: The ability to manage interactions to provide service and to support the organization

HR professionals regularly interact with employees, leaders, job candidates, vendors, consultants, lawyers, government regulators and the general public. Job success for an HR professional therefore includes proficiency in Relationship Management and addresses the need for HR to manage interactions to provide service and to support the organization. This competency is deemed important across demographic and organizational groups, with 98% of survey respondents rating it as either important or critical to perform their jobs.

In order to develop this competency, HR professionals should maintain productive interpersonal relationships and demonstrate aptitude to help others to do the same. This is particularly true later in an HR career and in more Senior and Executive level roles.

In fact, other than HR Expertise and Ethical Practice, HR professionals at the Senior level find Relationship Management to be the competency most required at entry into senior roles.

Relationship Management goes from relatively basic transactions at the Early level to more complex and strategic relationships at the Senior and Executive levels. Examples of specific behaviors demonstrated by HR professionals who are proficient at Relationship Management include:
Provides basic information for resolution of conflicts
Recognizes potential employee relations issues in a proactive manner and either resolves the issue or moves the concern to senior leaders
Mediates difficult employee relations and/or other interactions as a neutral party
Creates conflict resolution strategies and processes throughout the organization

​Read articles about Relationship Management​