What Does a Human Resources Manager, Generalist, or Director Do?

See Job Description Basics for an Overview of the HR Job

image shows five icons with corresponding duties below. The icons are a receipt, a human pyramid, a speech bubble, a handshake, and a woman at a dry-erase board. Title reads: "Responsibilities of the HR Manager." Captions read: "Salary and benefits, team building, communication, employee relations, training"

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © The Balance 2019

Are you interested in a general overview of the work, expectations, and contributions of a Human Resources generalist, manager, or director? Their role is extremely important in the operation of any organization that employs people. In fact, they make fundamental contributions to the organization's culture, development, and exceptional staffing.

HR Plays a Significant Role in Organizations

A Human Resources (HR) Generalist, Manager, or Director plays a wide variety of roles in organizations. Depending on the size of the organization, these HR jobs may have overlapping responsibilities. In larger organizations, the HR Generalist, Manager, and Director have clearly defined, separated roles in HR management.

These roles bring progressively more authority and responsibility in the hands of the manager, then the director, and ultimately, the vice president who may lead several departments including administration, compensation, and employee training and development.

HR directors, and occasionally HR managers, may head up several different departments that are each led by functional or specialized HR staff such as the training manager, the compensation manager, or the recruiting manager.

Human Resources staff members are advocates for both the company and the people who work in the company. Consequently, a good HR professional performs a constant balancing act to meet both needs successfully.

The Changing Human Resources Role

The role of the HR professional is changing to fit the needs of today's modern, fast-changing organizations. In the past, because the original HR personnel functions were often provided by accounting, the HR role was focused on administrative tasks such as paying employees, administering benefits, and keeping track of sick and personal days off.

But, a more comprehensive approach to the management of people in the organization was needed. Programs and processes that systematically hired employees, retained employees, and dealt with all aspects of ​talent management evolved in the best organizations.

Then, the role evolved again. Still responsible for the administrative tasks and the programs and processes related to people, the best HR professionals are now leading the charge.

They are developing systems and processes within the organization that addresses the strategic needs of the business. So, what was once the task of hiring employees is now the process of team-based hiring of the best possible talented employees who are recruited via methods that range from employee referrals to social media sourcing.

These employees are also committed to congruence with the company's culture. They are knowledgeable about the task of building the culture that will help your organization succeed and prosper. This is quite a different journey, one that continues to evolve. Make sure that your HR team is up to it.

Recommended HR Roles

The role of the HR manager must parallel the needs of this developing, changing organization. Successful organizations are becoming more adaptable, resilient, quick to change direction, and customer-centered. They recognize that organizations will vie for talent in the coming years.

This recognition brings about the need for employee-oriented workplaces and programs that meet the needs of employees for meaningful work, growth, challenge, communication, and effective leadership.

Within this environment, the HR professional, who is respected by line managers and consequently, whose talents are utilized by managers, is responsible for new roles. In "Human Resource Champions," Dr. Dave Ulrich who is one of the more popular speakers and writers in the HR field, and a professor at the University of Michigan recommends three additional roles for the HR manager.

  • a strategic partner,
  • an employee sponsor or advocate, and
  • a change mentor.

At the same time, especially the HR generalist position still has responsibility for the day-to-day employee problems and complaints, employee benefits administration, often payroll, and employee paperwork, especially in the absence of an HR Assistant.

Responsibilities of the HR Professional

Depending on the size of the organization, the HR manager has responsibility for all of the functions that deal with the needs and activities of the organization's people including these areas of responsibility.

When you ask the question, what does the HR manager, generalist, or director do, as you can see, the answer is—a lot. The role bears responsibility for all of the processes and systems related to people in an organization. They must also consider nonfeasance, “the omission of some act that ought to have been performed.”

The role must support the work of managers who supervise and lead the work of the organization's people. The HR staff leads efforts for organization development. They are seriously involved in defining and developing an organizational culture that enables the organization to succeed in its service to customers.

HR professionals must develop the skills of their managers and their organization to do these activities well. The job of the HR professional is a constant challenge as HR staff balance many roles and activities in support of their organizations.

Want More Information About the HR Role?

Want even more detailed information about the job descriptions and responsibilities of HR professionals? Take a look at these detailed job descriptions.