An old chestnut - competence, competency, capability.

In some ways this is asking for trouble. Following a request to define each of them, an internet search has thrown up about fifty definitions of competence, competency, capability, etc.

What does everyone think of the following definitions?



The potential to fulfil a requirement within a job role.



Work-related behaviours, based on skills (technical, non-technical and functional) and underpinning knowledge that realise capability.



The output of realised capability through application of competencies, measured on a continuum from novice to expert level. Higher levels of competence improve the predictability of good performance.



The level on the competence continuum where compliance with required minimum safe standards is achieved.



The lowest level on the competence continuum. Competencies are not sufficiently developed to realise capability without extensive instruction or supervision.



The level on the competence continuum where competencies are developed to an enhanced level, leading to improved efficiency and performance.



The level on the competence continuum where competencies are so advanced that improvements to methods of working can be suggested and optimal efficiency is often achieved.


Competence management system

A risk-based, cyclical process for documenting the development, maintenance and assurance of competence, through the identification, development, implementation and evaluation of standards and learning/assessment activities.


Please feel free to disagree (politely!) and suggest better versions.



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Hi Andrew,
First of all I like chestnuts, especially old ones, why some of my closest friends are..etc...
I am on a two day workshop called;  

Competency Based Training

Presented by Professor Thomas Garavan

He wrote this book.
Developing Managers and Leaders

by Thomas N. Garavan,Carole Hogan,Amanda Cahir-O'Donnell
I am working on developing a competency framework so after the two days and also after reading (flicking through) the book I will come back here and will give my findings.  I am sure I will know it all by then! :-)
Thanks, Barry. Look forward to your thoughts.

Hi Andrew,


A brave man indeed, but a great start!  All I would add is that capability (on an business level) is the potential to of an organisation to fulfill its growth needs within its chosen market.


Hope you get lots more comments.



Thanks, Jonathan. After reflection overnight I'm still not convinced about how individual capability varies from individual competence. If someone is capable of doing something, does that not mean that they are competent?


However, your definition of capability on a business level is a nice parallel with my attempt to define it on an individual level - as potential that hasn't necessarily been realised into competence.


So, perhaps the answer is that being capable is different from having capability?



Hi again Andrew.  Here's some more 'stuff' which I hope will be of use to you . . .


According to Leinwand and Mainardi's new book "The essential advantage" Capability is defined as:  "The ability to reliably and consistently deliver a specified outcome, relevant to your business (i.e. in support of your way of play).  This capability is ensured through the right combination of processes, tools, knowledge, skills and organisation, all focused on meeting the desired result.  The most important capabilities are distinctive; each of them represents and extraordinary competence that few can master."


Their book really looks at capability development and its importance in delivering long-term business success.  This then got me thinking about the other issue you raised; competence Vs. capability . . . . Here's my take for what it's worth . .


For any situation (business or personal), there are the known and the unknown situations.  Similarly there are known and unknown problems.  Our ability to deal with known problems in known situations is because of our competence.  However when we're faced with an unknown problem in an unknown situation, then it is our capability that delivers.  In short it's about can you do something well that you already know e.g. make toast Vs. could you do something you currently know very little about e.g. build a house?


Hope this is of help and do come back if you need anything else.



Hi Andrew,


Further to your comment re: If someone is capable of doing something, does that not mean that they are competent? 

Perhaps someone is capable if they can apply a skill set: they are competent if they also understand when to apply that skill set, repeatedly, to a minimum standard.


Cheers for now,


Hi Andrew,


Further to your definitions, some I found care of our pal Thomas Garavan:

Competency - Cluster of knowledge, skills, attitude, behaviour and self-confidence components that enable an individual to perform a task in real-time and real-life

Competent - The demonstration of proficiency that is consistant and for which the standard is clearly articulated and measureable


Hope these help.


I really like your take Jonathan. I believe it is all about application of what one knows and the extent to which it is used. Competance is the ability to deliver on one's own (probably linked to experience), whilst  capablility might require some supervision or guidance.

Thanks, everyone. Following all your replies with interest.

Gwyneth, can I ask you to expand on what you regard experience to be and how it affects competence? If you have the time and the inclination, of course! :-)


Hmmm. I guess from the point of say clinical practice, its about the number of times you do something before it becomes a 'comfortable' skill... maybe not quite second nature but something that you could do without needing supervision/input. Something that is embedded into a job role or  a frequent activity.  When second nature is achieved, competency moves to the ability to adapt the skill either for the outcome or the individual. There lyeth the danger....foot of the peddle...!!

I agree Gwyneth.  You get into the area of unconcious competence and you potentially have people ignoring operating procedures etc.  The little details start to drop away and then you have issues, particularly in regulated environments.  Authors drafting competency programmes should be aware of this and while the programmes should be detailed enough to enhance skill, knowledge and behaviour elements, they should not take away from the operating procedures and the task specifics therein


I liken it driving. Most have the capability to drive but need the help of the instructor. The test is to demonstrate your competence but immediatly after passing it is not  'comfortable competence' - that develops over time and with practical experience.  But at the same time, the more you drive the less you practice the exact specifics of the competence you were originally tested on - you 'find your own way'.  Would we all pass the driving test after several years?

You're right Dave and there should be no assumptions based on how long someone has been doing something or what they know. Its how its applied that counts and thats where the Competence Management System kicks in.



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