trustworthinessThe only HR competency that matters is trustworthiness.

Go ahead and earn your SPHR and SHRM-SCP. Add it to a distinguished list of undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas that are directly related to the world of business.

That’s fabulous.

But when the chips are down, will you do the right thing? If you make a mistake, will you admit it and contain it? Do you let your neediness and desire for approval get in the way of normal business operations? Are you competitive when you should be collaborative?

I pick trustworthy people over overly confident (and competent) people all the time. And so do other smart people. Amy Cuddy’s newest book talks about the difference between competency and trustworthiness. It’s worth a read.

For me, there are four quadrants of trustworthiness. You must be honest and loyal while demonstrating integrity and sincerity. The whole is bigger than the individual parts.

You can’t be trustworthy without being honest. Do you approach your job with good intent? Or do you have an agenda? And if you have an agenda, does it serve a broader purpose than yourself?

Trustworthy people are loyal. Far too often, HR confuses loyalty with allegiance to a CEO or an executive in the trenches. The most trustworthy human resources professionals are faithful to a mission, vision, or set of values. They do right by the business when they do right by their people.

You cannot be trustworthy without integrity. Some business leaders behave in offensive ways. Many employees will test our patience. Union leaders and politicians challenge our beliefs. Who are you? What do you believe? Do you have an HR philosophy? And when faced with tough choices, what choices do you make?

Finally, trustworthy people are sincere. They say what they mean. They offer honest advice. They expect you to do the same. And if they have questions, they ask. Sincere and trustworthy HR leaders aren’t passive-aggressive. They don’t spy and stalk employees on social media. In the face of unethical behavior, they don’t indirectly ask tough questions.

It’s not about whether or not you can do HR. It’s about how you operate in those moments where there’s no roadmap and HR handbook to help you reach a decision.

Trustworthy people with fewer skills are better HR leaders than people who are loaded with relevant competencies but struggle to build and maintain professional relationships that are rooted in honesty, integrity, loyalty, and sincerity.

So the next time someone asks you to talk about yourself, try shortening your list of skills and qualifications. Instead, expand your interest in the person who’s asking the question. That’s a good first step in demonstrating the best HR competency: trustworthiness.


  1. I love this post Laurie. HR professionals “real power” is through influencing others. In order to have influence you must have enough integrity to build the trust of both the management team and the employees. It is okay to make a mistake, but it is ones actions afterward that will make the difference whether they are successful of not. Admit the mistake to the people affected and try not to make it again. HR professional must be competent and trustworthy.

  2. Thank you for this post. I have now been in HR for 20 years. I don’t have a degree in HR; I haven’t had great mentors. And I’m not necessarily the smartest HR person in my organization. But I do have common sense and a strong moral code built around honesty and integrity.

    I believe I have been kept around the same organization for a long time because people know they can trust me. I’m not perfect and have plenty of things I can work on — but being trustworthy matters to me And it’s helped me survive in this weird world of HR.

    Good thoughts here — and great advice for people considering a career in HR.

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