The Top 10 Competencies Chief People Officers Must Possess

June 10, 2016 | Amy Hirsh Robinson | HCI
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chief people officer

Over the past 15 years, I have worked with hundreds of Chief People Officers (CPOs) in a variety of industries and companies. I have also helped CEO’s hire for these critical roles, roles that have the power to significantly alter the performance and competitive advantage of a business. I have also witnessed a seismic shift in the way executives think about people, culture and workplace practices. They have come to understand that exceptional “People” leadership and systems are levers of operational and financial excellence. As a result, there is growing recognition that the background, skills and competencies of the CPO position are vital components to the success of the business as a whole, and that an alarmingly high percentage of current HR/People leaders do not possess what it takes to lead their companies in the future.

Companies require -- and deserve -- a highly evolved set of skills and competencies from their human capital leaders. Here are the top 10 traits that Chief People Officers must possess to lead their organizations into the future.

  1. Authenticity – Employees expect their leaders to be authentic, open and honest. A CPO’s ability to gain the trust of others and consistently act with integrity is a critical success factor.
  2. Business Savvy – For CEOs, business acumen is non-negotiable. To have a seat at the strategic table, CPOs must credibly demonstrate their understanding of business operations and the systems, processes, departments, and functions that drive profitable growth.
  3. Change Management – CPOs must be change management experts. They will need to identify and drive organizational and cultural transformation in order to help their companies and workforces adapt to changing market demands, technology and initiatives.
  4. Comfort with Ambiguity – Businesses will continue to face a high level of economic, social and political volatility. As a result, CPOs will need to lead organizations through instability, possessing a comfort with ambiguity and the ability to make rational decisions during unpredictable times. 
  5. Emotional Intelligence – To be effective People leaders, CPOs must handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. They will need to role model emotional intelligence through their own capacity to be aware of, control, and express their emotions.
  6. Executive Decorum – CPOs must have an executive disposition that reassures others, internal and external to the organization, and that commands respect. Additionally, they must be willing to serve as public champions of organizational decisions and values.
  7. Financial Savvy – To have credibility with the C-Suite, CPOs must be able to interpret financial information and its impact on the business. They will also be required to substantiate any strategic People decisions with financial data and results.
  8. Generational Savvy – The future success of any businesses will rely on meeting the needs and expectations of a multi-generational workforce and customer base. CPOs will need to possess and embed generational savvy as a competency into any organization that they support.
  9. Innovation – As the competition for top talent increases, CPOs must be willing to seek out and adopt innovative approaches to attracting, engaging and developing top talent. Their ability to conceive of breakthrough engagement and talent management strategies that differentiate the organization from its competition will be vital.
  10. Strategic Vision – CPOs must be adept at establishing a strategic vision of the future based on a robust analysis of environmental trends, internal resources, and the organization’s mission and values. They will also need to communicate a compelling picture of their company’s future that helps others understand business objectives and their role in implementing them.

The Future of Work

I have watched organizations falter or thrive based on the skill sets and aptitudes of their People/HR leaders. The CPO who embodies these 10 competencies has the power to change the trajectory of a company and its performance. The future of work demands this level of skill and ability. Companies and their workforces deserve it.


Amy Hirsh Robinson
Principal, Interchange Group

Amy Hirsh Robinson, MBA (, is a leading expert on the impact of generational differences in the for-profit and not-for-profit workplace. She consults to C-level leaders on enterprise-wide strategies to reduce attrition costs, increase profitability and create agile workforces able to adapt to ongoing change. Amy’s clients gain a competitive advantage in attracting, retaining and managing top talent. Her strategic expertise refines her clients’ business models and practices by integrating cross-generational market trends into company strategy.

Successes include costs savings of 2-3 times employees’ salaries through reversal of current turnover trends; recruitment and retention of key talent to prepare for leadership transition; strong cash position during “great recession” and readiness for sale of business; competitive advantage through accelerated workforce adaptation to business model transformation.

Amy received her MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA and her BA from Vassar College. She speaks and publishes widely. Her website is She can be reached directly, or 1+323-230-6109.