Competencies and Skills

The terms Skills and Competencies are used, virtually, interchangeably.  In fact, with many HR practitioners, Competencies seem to only relate to “Behavioural” competencies as defined in a Competency Dictionary.  But this really is not the case.  So, we make an attempt at defining the difference between Skills and Competencies, and providing some insight into the different types of Competencies and the level of criticality of Competencies in organizations.

These definitions were extracted from a number of different sources, but they all seem to say, more-or-less, the same thing:

  • Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.
  • The ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well
  • An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carry out complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and/or people (interpersonal skills).
  • A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results
  • A learned ability to bring about the result you want, with maximum certainty and efficiency
  • Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.

So, a Skill is something Learned in order to be able to carry out one or more job functions.


Again, these definitions were extracted from a number of different sources:

  • A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation.
  • Competencies refer to skills or knowledge that leads to superior performance.
  • Measurable skills, abilities and personality traits that identify successful employees against defined roles within an organization
  • A competency is more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context.
  • A measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully.
  • Competencies specify the “how” (as opposed to the what) of performing job tasks, or what the person needs to do the job successfully.

Competencies, therefore, may incorporate a skill, but are MORE than the skill, they include abilities and behaviors, as well as knowledge that is fundamental to the use of a skill.

An Example

An example of this in an IT context is “Programming”.  To effectively write a computer program one needs good analytical, logical, and interpretive ability as well as the skill to write the program in a specific language.  So, learning Java, C++, C#, etc. is a Skill.  But underlying the ability to use that skill effectively is analytical, logical and interpretive ability – those are Competencies.

The reason that we suggest this is because it is relatively easy to learn other programming languages once one knows one language well (and I talk from personal experience).  However, without the underlying Competence, it is virtually impossible to write an effective program – irrespective of the language.

Skills + Knowledge + Abilities = Competencies

Think of skills as one of three facets that make up a competency. The other two are knowledge and abilities.

To succeed on the job, employees need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, and on-the-job ability.

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