Abstract Correlation between microstructure, hardness and strength was investigated in heat affected zone (HAZ) of dissimilar welding joints of newly developed rotor steels in terms of both the traditional micro-hardness testing and the nanoindentation technique. Relationships between micro-hardness and nano-hardness were obtained for HAZ of welds, where the mechanical properties were microstructure dependent. Lath width of the tempered martensites was selected as the characteristic microstructure size for correlating the micro-hardness. The detailed strength distribution in HAZ and the correlation with the characteristic microstructure size were discussed. A good agreement was observed for the correlated strength and the experimental results in both weld metal (WM) and base metal (BM), and therefore gave us confidence for the application of the proposed relationship between the hardness and the mechanical properties in HAZ of the dissimilar weld.