How to build strong working relationships with senior leaders

by Karen Gately21 Sep 2016
Acting as an adviser to a CEO, or any other leader, requires trust in your character and competence.

Persuading anyone to adopt any particular approach will only happen when they respect you and trust the advice you offer.

Building trust and strong working relationships with a CEO requires you to demonstrate competence and earn their confidence in your capabilities. 

Every interaction presents the opportunity to influence the CEO’s belief in your knowledge and skills.

Critically, most CEOs need to know they can trust the HR Director to act as their confidant in matters that relate to Senior Executive performance, board relations and at times their own confidence, engagement or performance. 

Four essential steps you can take to optimise the strength of your partnership with your CEO include: 

Be commercial and focus on business outcomes
Align your focus with the vision and strategic objectives of the organisation. In other words, speak the language other business leaders speak and focus on how people leadership drives business results.

Demonstrate a strong understanding of the organisation’s products, services and operational processes through the advice you offer and priorities you set. 

Balance focus on internal performance and the competitive landscape in which your business operates.

Step into the role of coach and advisor
It’s common for the CEOs I work with to come up through the ranks mostly due to the strength of their technical expertise. 
Many greatly benefit from an HR Director who is able to coach them to further develop their understanding and people leadership capabilities. Never assume the CEO has full appreciation of the purpose of particular initiatives or the role they need to play. 
Spend time discussing ways in which your CEO can deliberately influence the success of HR strategies.
Focusing on the successful outcomes of initiatives provides a non-confronting platform for honest conversations about the approach needed from the CEO, and every other leader across the business. 
Reach agreements about how the CEO will go about influencing particular Executives and addressing obstacles to progress.   
Be prepared to challenge
Among the most important roles an HR Director can play is to help the CEO see when the approaches they are taking aren’t working. 
While it can take courage to challenge a strong-minded CEO, it’s essential to have the tough conversations needed to build awareness and shift the thoughts and actions undermining their success.
It’s your duty as a trusted advisor to speak honestly about what is working well and what isn’t. 
Share ownership of the outcome
Sharing accountability for what is achieved is essential to the success of any partnership. 
Both the HR Director and CEO have an important role to play to ensure HR strategies are effectively applied to realise tangible benefits for the organisation.  
Engage in regular dialogue about the progress of agreed strategies and initiatives. Focus your assessment of success on the impact HR strategies have on business performance and potential. 
Even though it takes commitment and desire on the part of the CEO to build a strong partnership, the most important role rests with you. 
The credibility you earn through your approach and success plays a critical role in determining the influence you are able to have.
Only through earning trust and respect are you likely to create a relationship that allows you to influence the CEO and in turn have significant impact on the culture, capability, spirit and performance of your organisation.