Skills OR Competencies….What’s the Difference?

As I coach people I often conduct a range of assessments to help them identify “where they are at” now and start to map out a journey to strengthen some key areas.

Often a discussion will involve “skills” and “competencies” – there are ways to strengthen both.

So, what is the difference between skills and competencies? 

Let’s look at communication as an example.  A person can become a good presenter through practice, learning from others, and education but in order to be a strong communicator one must rely on a combination of skills PLUS behaviour and knowledge.

A person can learn how to be a good presenter but only a strong communicator has advanced language skills, the knowledge of diverse cultures, and behaves patiently when communicating.

In short, skills are specific learned activities like mopping the floor, using a computer, and stocking merchandise, while competencies are skills + knowledge  + behaviour like problem solving, communication, or professionalism.

Competencies effectively fall in 3 groups:

  • Behavioural (or Life Skills) Competencies        Life skills are problem-solving behaviours used appropriately and responsibly in the management of personal affairs.  They are a set of human skills acquired via teaching or direct experience that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life.  Examples are: Communication, Analytical Ability, Problem Solving, Initiative, etc.
  • Functional (or Technical) Competencies          Functional Competencies relate to functions, processes, and roles within the organisation and include the knowledge of, and skill in the exercise of, practices required for successful accomplishment of a specific job or task.  Examples are: Application Systems Development, Networking and Communication, Database Analysis and Design, etc.
  • Professional Competencies                Professional competencies are competencies that allow for success in an organisational context.  They are the accelerators of performance or – if lacking in sufficient strength and quality – are the reason people fail to excel in jobs.  Examples are: Business Environment, Industry and Professional Standards, Negotiation, People Management, etc.