Competency Models

Competency Models
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Welcome to Competency Models: Competencies for Development, Competencies for Assurance – What is the difference? In this session, we’ll provide definitions for the different competency models, how they’re used, and how they are used in your change management communications.

I found it beneficial to define the term competency in the beginning of a project to establish a common language and eliminate confusion. So, competency from Webster’s is ‘possession of sufficient knowledge or skill.’ 

Each implementation I’ve done, employees and managers will assume, ‘If I have all the competencies, I will be promoted.’ It is important to establish the difference between competency and performance. Competency is the possession of a skill. Performance is the application of the skill.

I had two vice presidents articulated this very well in business priority presentations. You may have all the skills, however, if you never show up to work you will not be considered for promotion. And the other was: Think of competency as the fuel to increase your performance. We all know individuals that are very competent. However, they can never get anything done. So competency supports and feeds performance. You have to apply it. 

You also want to identify competency models. Let’s start with competencies for assurance, or competency assurance. In this model, competencies are used to ensure someone can perform a skill. This is typically done through a process: 

  1. The employee attends a course to provide them with the knowledge.
  2. The employee then will take an exam to validate they have retained the knowledge. 
  3. They will demonstrate the skill while being observed by a qualified individual.
  4. They may need to demonstrate and be observed multiple times to ensure they’re applying the skill correctly. 


This competency model is used extensively for regulatory, safety, and industry requirements. The employee will not be allowed to perform the skill activity until they have been signed off on by a qualified individual. They must complete all activities tasked before being allowed to work independently. An example of this is the Department of Public Safety, the DPS, driver’s license process. You have the course, you have the exam, you get your learner’s permit, you continue practicing skills while being monitored. Then you have your final practical assessment where you’re actually driving with someone and then you get your license. 

Now competencies for development. These competencies are typically used in different discipline areas – engineering, project management, manufacturing and IT – to provide technical career growth. These competencies align with different roles and levels within the role. An example of these: Awareness and foundation, skilled, advanced and mastery. The definitions provide consistency and transparency of what skills are needed at each role level. Aligning these competency levels with learning resources provides for a great development plan. Let me give you a scenario. You would not expect a new graduate engineer to be defining a product’s life cycle on day five of their employment. However, you would expect this of a senior level engineer that has gone through the life cycle process several times. Your new graduate engineer would be introduced to your project life cycle through an onboarding new graduate training program to provide that awareness. Next, they would be put on a project with an experienced engineer to begin to apply the foundational knowledge. This would be the beginning of demonstrating the skill. Additional projects would continue the development of the skill. The business will determine the competency skill priority focus for the current and future needs. Competencies are evergreen and should continue to evolve. So example: The company has a competency software programming JavaScript skill level for their level two and above engineers. If they have adequate engineers that are competent in this skill, they may not make it a company priority for incoming engineers. However, if the company determines that they want to move to Python, then they can make this a priority competency for all incoming engineers and select other engineers to ramp up on Python.

This structure supports the business needs and priorities. It allows the business to allocate resources and money for the right training and development at the right time. Additional note here, this is not one or the other, an employee can have both types of competencies applied to the role – development and assurance. A manufacturing engineer will have project management competencies that they are developing and they will have safety competencies that they must have prior to going into a manufacturing plant. So, they will have both development and assurance. 

To recap: 

  1. By defining the terms competency, performance, your competency models, and how all are used, you will eliminate the employees’ concern of ‘If I do not have a competency, are you going to lay me off or demote me?’ or ‘If I have all the competencies are you going to promote me?’
  2. These definitions create your company’s language for what and how competencies will be utilized. 
  3. You can have both competencies for development and assurance for the different roles and at different levels.
  4. Remember to add your competency model and definitions to all your presentations. 


Ensure your executive team and sponsor can articulate the what and why of the model. This will have a strong impact.

Join us for our next session, Skill and Program Infrastructure. Missed the first episode in this series, Competency Basics, check it out here.

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