Part 1: Lonely at the Top

In the last decade, however, these talent leaders have had some difficulty getting input into executive-level succession plans, said Stephen Miles, CEO and founder of The Miles Group, a talent strategy consultancy.

“You are likely dealing with a bevy of candidates, both internal and external, who have a strong industry knowledge and technical ability,” said Bob Tenzer, senior vice president of human resources at C3/Customer Content Channels, an outsourced customer management company. “Our concentration in HR is to focus on leadership skills.”

That focus offers talent leaders one clear way to assert themselves as a necessary part of the executive-level succession plan process. They have experience building and leveraging soft and hard skills thanks to programs created to identify high potentials as well as succession planning efforts at lower levels.

“For executives, it’s just much easier to look at the hard skills because there is a metric to look at,” said executive coach Leila Bulling Towne. “Soft skills feel very squishy, and it’s sometimes hard for executives to assess how something subjective like leadership or behavior can easily be quantified.”

Human resources can provide that bridge between soft and hard skills and raise awareness about the business scenarios where specific skills hold weight, as well as expertise on how to evaluate candidates for executive-level succession plans. Essentially, talent leaders can stimulate the conversation on how a company defines lasting leadership, and guide stakeholders in building a forward-looking leadership strategy that will fit into an organization’s overall strategy, Towne said.

But even as talent leaders assert their strength at assessing skills for potential hires, they need to be cautious, understand their audience and talk to the board in the metrics-centric language the board is used to hearing, said Laura Kerekes, a former vice president of human resources and current senior vice president at ThinkHR, a human resources consultancy.

Further, operating from a position of strength, being seen as a stakeholder with expertise and experience crafting the kinds of talent solutions a business needs is also important.

“The best way to get a seat at the table is not to constantly be asking for a title or to come to a meeting,” Kerekes said. “It’s more effective to use metrics and terms business leaders use to speak from a position of authority and demonstrate an understanding of the inner workings of the company.”

Part 2: Are They Ready?