What is the Definition of a Competency?


What is the definition of a competency?

The NPS describes a competency as a “combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities in a particular career field, which, when acquired, allow employees of the NPS to perform a task or function at a specifically defined level of proficiency (The Learning Place: Competencies, http://data2.itc.nps.gov/hafe/training/competent.cfm, accessed 7/25/05).

Competencies correlate with job performance, can be measured against well-accepted performance standards, and can be improved through training and development opportunities.

Another way of looking at competencies: “Observable Behavior that is based on specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes that relate to performance” or “The ability of an individual to do a job properly. A competency is a set of defined behaviors that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviors in individual employees.” (ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals, 2008).

Competencies often describe the work: what are the tasks, results, and outputs required?

Examples of different approaches:

  • Task Approach: Defined by actions or specific tasks; e.g., Fights fire.
  • Results Approach: Defined by results such as rescued climbers, arrested violators. Add “ability to” and it becomes ability to rescue climbers, ability to arrest violators.
  • Output Approach: Something a person or team produces. Adding ability to makes it a competency; e.g., “ability to produce brochures”.

A competent athlete is one who uses skills and abilities to accomplish something desirable; passing accurately, defending the goal, leading to a winning season.

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