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Competence is a standardized requirement for an individual to properly perform a specific job. It encompasses a combination of knowledge, skills and behavior utilized to improve performance. More generally, competence is the state or quality of being adequately or well qualified, having the ability to perform a specific role.

For instance, management competency includes the traits of systems thinking and emotional intelligence, and skills in influence and negotiation. A person possesses a competence as long as the skills, abilities, and knowledge that constitute that competence are a part of them, enabling the person to perform effective action within a certain workplace environment. Therefore, one might not lose knowledge, a skill, or an ability, but still lose a competence if what is needed to do a job well changes.

Competence is also used to work with more general descriptions of the requirements of human beings in organizations and communities. Examples are educations and other organizations who want to have a general language to tell what a graduate of an education must be able to do in order to graduate or what a member of an organization is required to be able to do in order to be considered competent. An important detail of this approach is that all competences have to be action competences, which means you show in action, that you are competent. In the military the training systems for this kind of competence is called artificial experience, which is the basis for all simulators.


General definition

Competence is shown in action in a situation in a context that might be different the next time you have to act. In emergency contexts, competent people will react to the situation following behaviors they have previously found to succeed, hopefully to good effect. To be competent you need to be able to interpret the situation in the context and to have a repertoire of possible actions to take and have trained in the possible actions in the repertoire, if this is relevant. Regardless of training, competence grows through experience and the extent of an individual to learn and adapt. However, there has been much discussion among academics about the issue of definitions. The concept of competence has different meanings, and continues to remain one of the most diffuse terms in the management development sector, and the organizational and occupational literature (Collin, 1989).

General competence development

It is interesting to register competences, in HR it is much more important to have a policy for developing competences especially the general competences described below.

Dreyfus and Dreyfus has introduced a language of the levels of competence in competence development. The causative reasoning of such a language of levels of competence may be seen in their paper on Calculative Rationality titled, "From Socrates to Expert Systems: The Limits and Dangers of Calculative Rationality." The five levels proposed by Dreyfus and Dreyfus were:

  • Novice: Rule-based behaviour, strongly limited and inflexible
  • Experienced Beginner: Incorporates aspects of the situation
  • Practitioner: Acting consciously from long-term goals and plans
  • Knowledgeable practitioner: Sees the situation as a whole and acts from personal conviction
  • Expert: Has an intuitive understanding of the situation and zooms in on the central aspects

The process of competence development is a lifelong series of doing and reflecting. As competencies apply to careers as well as jobs, lifelong competency development is linked with personal development as a management concept. And it requires a special environment, where the rules are necessary in order to introduce novices, but people at a more advanced level of competence will systematically break the rules if the situations requires it. This environment is synonymously described using terms such as learning organization, knowledge creation, self-organizing and empowerment.

General competence

Within a specific organization or professional community, professional competence, is frequently valued. They are usually the same competencies you have to show in an interview for a job. But today there is another way of looking at it: that there are certain general areas of occupational competence required if you want to keep a job or get a promotion. For all organizations and communities there is a set of primary tasks that competent people have to contribute to all the time. For a university student, for example, the primary tasks could be:

  • Handling theory
  • Handling methods
  • Handling the information of the assignment

The four general areas of competence are:

  • Meaning Competence: You must be able to identify with the purpose of the organization or community and act from the preferred future in accordance with the values of the organization or community.
  • Relation Competence: You must be able to create and nurture connections to the stakeholders of the primary tasks.
  • Learning Competence: You must be able to create and look for situations that make it possible to experiment with the set of solutions that make it possible to complete the primary tasks and reflect on the experience.
  • Change Competence: You must be able to act in new ways when it will promote the purpose of the organization or community and make the preferred future come to life.

Occupational Competence

The Occupational Competence movement was initiated by David McClelland in the 1960s with a view to moving away from traditional attempts to describe competence in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes and to focus instead on the specific self-image, values, traits, and motive dispositions (i.e. relatively enduring characteristics of people) that are found to consistently distinguish outstanding from typical performance in a given job or role. It should be noted that different competences predict outstanding performance in different roles, and that there is a limited number of competences that predict outstanding performance in any given job or role. Thus, a trait that is a "competence" for one job might not predict outstanding performance in a different role.

Nevertheless, as can be seen from Raven and Stephenson,[1] there have been important developments in research relating to the nature, development, and assessment of high-level competencies in homes, schools, and workplaces.

Competency model

Competencies are characteristics which drive outstanding performance in a given job, role or function. A competency model refers to a group of competencies required in a particular job and usually number 7 to 9 in total. The number and type of competencies in a model will depend upon the nature and complexity of work along with the culture and values of the organisation in which the work takes place.

Since the early 70’s, leading organizations have been using competencies to help recruit, select and manage their outstanding performers after Dr David McClelland, Harvard Business School Professor of Psychology, found that traditional tests such as academic aptitude and knowledge tests, did not predict success in the job.

More recent research by individuals such as Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence and Richard Boyatzis, in The Competent Manager, have reinforced and emphasised the importance of competencies as essential predictors of outstanding performance.

A competence model, also known as a competency framework, uses the five competences described earlier. These will support the primary tasks and the job specific tasks. Together these tasks reflect the purpose of the job.

See also


  1. ^ Raven, J., & Stephenson, J. (Eds.). (2001). Competence in the Learning Society. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Shippmann, J. S., Ash, R. A., Battista, M., Carr, L., Eyde, L. D., Hesketh, B., Kehoe, J., Pearlman, K., and Sanchez, J. I. (2000). The practice of competency modeling, Personnel Psychology, 53, 703-740.


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