The most influential UK thinker was named as David Denyer, professor of organisational change at Cranfield School of Management. The most influential international thinker was unveiled as Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L Arbuckle professor at Harvard Business School.
Other high-ranking HR leaders in the HR Most Influential Practitioner list included Marks and Spencer's HR director Tanith Dodge and BT's director of people and policy, Caroline Waters.
Special lifetime achievement awards were presented to David Fairhurst, chief people officer Europe at McDonald's, and Dave Ulrich, professor of business at Ross Business School, University of Michigan.
They join last year's lifetime achievement winner, the author Charles Handy, in HR magazine's Most Influential Hall of Fame.
The ranking was unveiled at a prestigious event at Claridge's last night, sponsored by research partner Ashridge Business School, HR and payroll company Ceridian, professional services firm KPMG and career management company 10Eighty.
Royles' leadership, integrity and insight were noted by HR magazine readers in ranking him the most influential practitioner, a tribute to his achievements in the highly complex and turbulent world of the NHS.
Royles provided leadership in taking forward negotiations on national issues on behalf of NHS HR, which has a potential impact on many thousands of staff and the future funding and budgetary capacity of the NHS. He was described as having "tenacity and drive" and "always enthuses and motivates".
One voter said: "Royles has led the HR community through choppy waters at a time of unprecedented change," while another respondent said: "He has given new energy to tackling the enormous workforce challenges in the NHS at a time of transformation."
Royles combines the qualities of being both a strategic thinker and pragmatic practitioner and those who voted for him highlight his role of modelling best-in-class business partnering.
With 1.4 million employees and about 70% of the £110 billion annual budget spent on the pay bill, the NHS is a big beast. From our survey results, it is clear there is admiration for people such as Royles who have the big jobs in the field.
Accepting his certificate for topping the 2012 ranking, Royles said: "I'm completely shocked and, to use a northern expression, I'm really chuffed.
"What a great profession we work in," he added.
Denyer jumped straight into the top spot of most influential UK thinker, thanks mostly to his "outstanding work on high reliability and safety leadership" and "pioneering, evidence-based management worldwide".
As well as his role at Cranfield, Denyer is management practices fellow at The Advanced Institute of Management Research (funded by the Economic and Social Research Council), a member of the International Evidence-based Management Collaborative and associate editor of the International Journal of Management Reviews.
Of all those in our UK Thinkers ranking this year, Denyer appears to have had the most profound practical effect.
One respondent to the Most Influential survey said: "Thanks to Denyer, I have changed the way that I approach organisational change within my organisation and it has provided fantastic results, in particular to the recent realignment of the business, making major contribution to our ROI."
Denyer said: "I'm passionate about the influence academia can have on practice. it's something that has been central to my work and I'm fortunate to work in an institution that shares those values."
He also added: "The people I've worked with – practitioners, managers, thinkers – have had a much bigger influence on me than I think I have had on them, so thank you to everyone who I've worked with."
McDonald's Fairhurst said: "I've started to think what I can do to give back to what is a great profession. One thing that springs to mind is the focus on youth and inspiring the influencers of the future."
After receiving his award, Ulrich said: "I feel proud to work in a profession in which people have ideas with great impact and I feel privileged to be a part of that."
Looking outside the UK to the sphere of international HR thinking, jumping up seven places to take the number one spot in 2012, Harvard's Kanter was described as nothing less than "one of the most powerful women in the world", according to one respondent to HR's Most Influential survey. Her work on change and empowerment are not just influential in the HR community but she is also influencing the global stakeholder agenda. Kanter has embraced social media to deliver her thoughts, with 28,000 Twitter followers. Those who voted for her regard her as a role model with a longevity and relevance that take some beating.
Commenting via a video link on receiving her accolade, Kanter said: "I'm delighted with the vote of confidence from HR professionals when there are so many people that contribute so much to this valuable profession."
She also added: "It's so important at this time of increasing global challenges to have strong HR executives and a focus on leadership of people."
Every year HR magazine compiles the HR Most Influential ranking: the definitive list of directors and thinkers who have the greatest influence in the field of people strategy.
The ranking is based on elements such as:
Challenges conventional thinking in HR
Brings credibility to HR, both inside and outside the business
Plays an ambassadorial role
Commands the respect of peers and key stakeholders
Adds value to the business
Is visionary and transformational
HR magazine's editor and publisher Siân Harrington said:"Business, change, leadership, engagement and transformation were the most common themes of influence in 2012. Those in our ranking are good at understanding, influencing and communicating with key stakeholder groups. They show bravery in tackling tough topics, add value to organisations and have the skills to lead change. All those on the HR Most Influential 2012 ranking are proof of the invaluable contribution HR makes to business today."
For the full rankings, as well as profiles of the Most Influential practitioners and thinkers, plus news, video interviews and lots more, visit our Most Influential website: www.hrmostinfluential.co.uk