The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

8 Practical Ways Higher Ed HR Leaders Can Build Trust

In times of uncertainty, employees turn to leaders they trust to guide the path forward. In their CUPA-HR virtual annual conference session, “Grabbing at Smoke, or Building Trust?,” Sheraine Gilliam-Holmes, executive director and chief HR officer at Austin Peay State University, and Donovan Johnson, compensation analyst at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a 2019-20 Wildfire participant, offered practical ways higher ed HR leaders can build trust with their teams and with stakeholders at their institutions. Here are some of the tips shared in the session:

  • Be credible in word and deed. Aligning words and actions is pivotal in building trust. Trust takes time to build, but it only takes one event to discredit or diminish trust completely.
  • Develop your people strategy. Take time to learn about the people in your organization and be strategic about developing relationships with them. Remember, influence is not just held by top leaders. You can lead from any seat you sit in.
  • Consistency is key. Consistency helps set apart your HR brand as being reliable and dependable — traits highly valued by other higher ed leaders.
  • Look for quick wins and low-hanging fruit. Is there an easy way to improve processes, create collaborations and enhance the HR brand? What can you accomplish by simply observing and listening?
  • Little things can make a big difference. For example, when in a conversation with an employee or stakeholder, mention a specific detail in the last conversation you shared with them. This will not only show them that you actively listen to them and value their ideas, but will also help you gain their trust.
  • Keep showing up and helping solve problems. Get in the trenches with your team and show them that you are someone they can count on.
  • Bring in expertise from previous jobs and experiences. This could be knowledge or a skill that you are confident in from a past role that will propel your confidence in your current role.
  • Inspire confidence and empower others. Simply showing someone you believe in them can do wonders in building trust.

Trust is not something that simply happens. “It is the result of carefully thought-out actions that build upon one another … in other words, trust is actionable,” says Gilliam-Holmes. Using these practical strategies to build trust among your team and with stakeholders at your institution will elevate your influence as a leader, foster a positive team environment, and increase morale and motivation.

To learn more about building trust in your higher ed HR role, watch the recorded session (available only to virtual annual conference attendees). All virtual conference recorded sessions are available for conference attendees to view through November 5.


The CUPA-HR office will be closed Fridays through August 19.