Top HR professionals employed by multinational companies earn an average salary of £220,000, according to research on leading companies.
The study, based on interviews with staff at 50 organisations including Microsoft, Daimler-Chrysler, Wal-Mart, Shell and Deutsche Bank, also reveals that not all HR leaders have a personnel background.
Examples include Microsoft's Chris Williams, who has an IT background, and Pearson's David Bell, who began his career in journalism. Commissioned by Cendant International Assignment Services, the study found change management is the most highly rated skill of HR professionals.
The survey found 53 per cent of top HR staff speak two languages while 17 per cent speak three.
On average, they spend 55 days a year travelling and 43 per cent have lived abroad.
John Arcario, of Cendant, said key issues identified include skills shortages, globalisation, work-life balance and outsourcing.
"This survey offers valuable insights into the global workforce issues that senior HR leaders are managing today."