Typical HR Department Hierarchy
In businesses large or small, those with multiple layers of authority within the human resources department are likely to have several different positions and classifications to fill. The positions range from HR representatives, who represent the lowest level of HR positions, to chief HR officers, who are members of the executive leadership team.
The title doesn't always determine the layers of hierarchy in the department. Small companies sometimes give their sole HR department contact the HR director title, even if he doesn't have employees to supervise.
Human resources assistants, coordinators and representatives generally are support roles in an HR department. They handle little information that has to do with confidential employee information, such as individual salary and wage information, or privacy-related information on workers' compensation claims or medical benefits. Their duties might include answering telephones and routing the calls to appropriate HR staff, ordering supplies and setting appointments for applicants and recruiters.
HR generalists and HR specialists perform a wide variety of duties. HR generalists typically have experience in all of the HR disciplines - safety and risk management, compensation and benefits, training and development, recruitment and selection and employee relations. HR specialists focus their expertise on one or two areas of HR.
With several years' exposure to HR processes, it's possible for an HR coordinator to be promoted to an HR generalist role, or even to a specialist role with discipline-specific training. In large organizations, an HR coordinator might report to an HR generalist. HR generalists and specialists usually report to an HR manager or a senior HR generalist.
In some organizations, a senior HR generalist monitors the work of HR coordinators, as well as the work of beginner HR specialists and generalists.
An HR manager assigns work to generalists and specialists in companies that don't have the senior HR generalist layer. In addition to monitoring the work of lower-level HR employees, an HR manager might be responsible for developing the HR department's strategic direction and implementing the functional steps required to achieve the department's strategic goals.
The HR manager is usually the highest level of authority for the department in small companies and some mid-sized organizations. In large corporations, including multinational companies, the HR manager reports to an HR executive, such as a director.
An HR director typically is a position that exists within large organizations. In this structure, an HR manager reports to the director. If there's another layer in the hierarchy, the HR director reports to the vice president of HR or a chief HR officer. In mid-sized companies that have HR directors, their responsibilities essentially are the same as an HR manager – they assign and monitor the work of HR coordinators, generalists and specialists.
Executive-level HR leaders participate in decision-making for the organization; they have what's referred to as a "seat at the table." HR executives may not have the expertise that an actual HR practitioner has, such as knowing how to conduct a compensation survey or programming human resources information systems.