competence and competency

Are Competence and Competency the same?

Some dictionaries treat them as having the same meaning –

Business Dictionary1 – Competence

  1. A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation.

Competence indicates sufficiency of knowledge and skills that enable someone to act in a wide variety of situations. Because each level of responsibility has its own requirements, competence can occur in any period of a person’s life or at any stage of his or her career.

Business Dictionary – Competency

See Competence

Another source2 claims that there is a difference – that competence is about skills, standards and measurement whereas competency is about behaviour,  how the standards are achieved.

Since both behaviour and skills, (as opposed to knowledge), are actions the concepts have been confounded.

competency vs competence

This confusion is also evident in an on-line ‘research’ article that  defines competence models as being

  • a framework in which critical behaviours, skills, knowledge and attitudes for each role are described. 

and competency models as

  • the process and work results required for success in a role with the tasks, best practices and critical skills are mapped to the required work results. 

Since both focus on actions they also confound the 2 concepts.

Are competence and competency different?

competence 2

The Oxford dictionary has competence as a noun –  The ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

In contrast a competency is usually described as an action – a behaviour, skill or use of knowledge.

So competence is a state – the successful achievement of one or more competencies. 

How are competencies used?

Competencies are statements about the knowledge and skills required for success (competence) in a work or professional role.  

They can be split into various categories.  Common categories are

  1. Core competencies are those that apply across various roles with an organisation or profession – Communication and Teamwork are examples. They may also be values of the organization such as Customer Focus. 
  2. Functional Competencies are those that apply within a particular organizational function such as HR – example – Job Analysis
  3.  Professional Competencies apply to particular professions such as Accounting – Internal Audit is an example.
  4. Technical Competencies apply to technical and engineering type roles – an example is Root Cause Fault Analysis
  5. Clinical Competencies apply to healthcare roles – an example is Patient Confidentiality
  6.  Leadership Competencies are those behaviours and skills that are required to successfully lead a group or organization.

Competencies are normally structured into a heading and overall description with a group of  standards (behaviours) that are important in the particular organization.

Competencies become part of a competency model or framework.   A large organization will have many competency frameworks covering the various categories, functions and professional/technical disciplines.

How is Competence Used ?

levels of competence

Since competence is defined as the achievement of competencies,  organizations may choose to define levels of competence.  For example Entry Level, Foundation or Advanced.  These levels of competence usually have different competency definitions.

Most organizations or disciplines define a level of achievement of the competency set that is required if a person is to be deemed competent – usually a person is deemed competent if achievement is 80% or more.  For some critical competencies a 100% achievement is required.

Why are competencies important?

Competencies are important because they provide a role based success model. Job analysis identifies the knowledge and skills (procedural steps) that are needed for successful job performance. 

Typically education provides only an overall knowledge set that is often not directly relevant to a specific work environment.  Both research and experience show that educational learning does not transfer well to the workplace. 

Competency models are therefore critical to

  • ensure people can meet job requirements
  • improve productivity
  • ensure compliance with mandatory regulations
  • improve the quality of work output
  • reduce the risks of errors 
  • find staff with the right competencies for projects and roles

Who should be using Competencies

Any organization that has more than 50 people needs to set up systems for effective people management.   Key leadership tasks including staff capability and performance management can no longer reside in the heads of managers.

The larger the organization and the more knowledge intensive its activities, the more critical it is to have an effective competency management system.   Knowing how to do the job –  competence across a job competency set  –  is the essential pre-requisite of successful and efficient performance.

A competency management system will have a framework builder,  competency mapping,  flexible assessment platform and comprehensive reporting to identify competency levels, competency gaps, comparisons over time and  people-competency/skills matrices.

Since educational achievements and certifications are not the same as competence, competency assesments need to be done regularly to ensure competence is achieved and maintained.

The Centranum difference