Leadership Skills in International HRM  

17 May 2022
International Human Resource Managers (IHRM) are an intrinsic link between management and the workforce. Strong leadership skills are required by IHRMs to bridge this gap effectively in a way that also assists organisational growth. 
  1. The core difference between domestic and international HRM is complexity. While domestic HR focuses on the interests of employees located in one country or jurisdiction, international HR manages the needs of domestic and global employees. International HRM requires a much broader variety of activities with greater focus on change management and more external influences. 

Some of the areas that are an essential part of global human resources include:

1.       Business Leadership

Leadership is at the core of human resources in all its forms. Although many businesses are researching what it takes to be an effective global leader, there does not appear to be a simple answer. 

One of the goals of successful international leadership is adjusting styles to the differing culture where an organisation does business. At the core of an effective global leader is someone who can:

  • Navigate international business issues
  • Set direction
  • Lead people from diverse backgrounds

To achieve global integration so there is consistency of approach, standardisation of process and similar culture across the organisation. 


2.    Employee Management

Employee management is at the core of Human Relations functions at all levels. Globally employee management becomes more complex. What works well in one location may not be socially acceptable in another or may even be illegal. 

Global Recruiting

One of the benefits of our globalised economy is that businesses have the opportunity to recruit the right people for the right jobs from around the world. Global HR professionals are being asked to identify, screen, interview and move talent to roles at pace. This challenges leaders to figure out which recruitment methods work best in specific cultures. 

Global Relocation

International business enables multi-nationals to fill gaps in skills or knowledge or share company culture with all employees by utilising expat employees. Although this is an effective method of achieving business goals it is not without risk. Expat failure, culture shock and difficulty settling into a new environment are all risks HR leaders have to mitigate against. 

International Assignment Management

This complicated part of international HR is likely to provide you and your team with plenty of opportunity to learn and grow. Managing expats on assignment involves everything from pre-departure training to managing the repatriation process when they return. There are also practical elements of a move to manage from relocation packages to providing employees with international health insurance. Each element of the process is high risk and expat failure is expensive so there is pressure to ensure assignments are successful.  


Employee Relations      

The international workplace can raise issues when it comes to international relations. Understanding cultural differences is an essential part of building an inclusive international workplace. HR leaders must be at the forefront of cultural awareness and provide employees with the support they may need to maintain on the job performance while navigating cultural differences. 



There should be diversity amongst a global workforce including race, gender, sexual orientation and religious practice. Encouraging diversity as a global business can prove challenging for HR leaders as diversity and inclusion practice and protections vary from country to country. 


Safety and Security

An organisation’s presence in multiple countries and jurisdictions is going to impact safety and security policy. HR leaders and the organisations they represent have a duty of care to their employees. This must be implemented in a way that also abides by health and safety regulations at a local level. 

Many of the skills required for international HRM will overlap with domestic HR requirements however there are also some differences.


Global leadership skills similar to domestic HR


Communication should be a core skill for every HR professional. To successfully achieve HR’s overarching goal of sharing plans from management and suggestions from employees, communication must be clear and straightforward. Communication skills become even more essential at an international level where leaders need to represent people from different cultures and countries. 


Successful communication should encompass the ability to listen. Encourage two way feedback through informal group meetings where employees are encouraged to ask questions. Use social media, intranets and newsletters to keep employees up to date with what is happening in other offices and make accessing international HR information easy using online portals. 



Resilience or the ability to bounce back from adversity is important in an area like HR because so much of the day to day revolves around problem solving. When HR goes global, the need for resilience only increases as issues become more complicated.



Empathy helps build relationships, create a positive organisational culture and fosters diversity and inclusion. It is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. As a business grows internationally this is more important. It makes it possible for you to cooperate with people who have different experiences, perspectives and opinions to your own. Empathy within HR has a really positive impact on businesses. A 2016 study found organisations with empathetic cultures had better employee retention and more diversity leading to better financial rewards.  


Leadership skills unique to global HR


Cross cultural sensitivity

As every country in the world becomes more diverse, cross cultural sensitivity plays a role in domestic HR; however, it is a core skill for HR leaders working globally. Cultural sensitivity helps employees regardless of their background to engage, communicate and improve productivity. It is critically important that you see cultural differences as a positive so your business can make the most of everyone's contribution. 



Flexibility is an important skill for employees in every industry given the pace of change in the modern workplace. For international HRM it is key to be able to look at a policy from a multitude of angles to understand how it may need to be tailored to work in different jurisdictions. 


Adaptive problem solving

Domestic HR leaders are likely to have a clear understanding of the culture and laws that they are working in, meaning in many instances they understand the issues that arise. When HR is at a global scale you may have to begin the problem solving process by getting to grips with what the issue actually is before you can work out ways to solve it. 


Managing Complexity 

Every country in the world has its own unique set of laws, customs and practices. Navigating these at scale to create an organisational culture that functions and enables employees to reach business goals involves managing a significant amount of complexity.