Competence vs. Competency

What's the Difference?

Competence and competency are two terms often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings. Competence refers to the overall ability or skill level of an individual to perform a specific task or job. It encompasses the knowledge, experience, and expertise required to successfully complete a task. On the other hand, competency refers to the specific behaviors, attributes, or qualities that contribute to an individual's competence. It focuses on the observable and measurable aspects of performance, such as communication skills, problem-solving abilities, or teamwork. While competence is a broader concept, competency provides a more detailed and specific understanding of the skills and behaviors that contribute to overall competence.


DefinitionThe ability to perform a task or job effectively.The combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors required to perform a specific task or job.
FocusIndividual's overall capability or capacity.Specific set of skills or abilities related to a particular task or job.
DevelopmentCan be developed and improved over time through learning and experience.Can be developed through training and practice.
MeasurementCan be measured through performance evaluations and assessments.Can be measured through competency assessments and evaluations.
ApplicationCan be applied to various tasks or jobs.Applied to specific tasks or jobs within a particular context.
ScopeBroader in scope, encompassing a range of skills and abilities.Narrower in scope, focusing on specific skills and abilities.

Further Detail


When it comes to discussing the attributes of competence and competency, it is important to understand that these terms are often used interchangeably. However, upon closer examination, there are subtle differences that set them apart. Both competence and competency are essential qualities in various fields, including education, business, and personal development. In this article, we will explore the definitions, characteristics, and implications of competence and competency, shedding light on their similarities and differences.

Defining Competence

Competence refers to the ability to perform a task or fulfill a role effectively. It encompasses the knowledge, skills, and experience required to achieve desired outcomes. Competence is often associated with expertise and mastery in a specific domain. It implies having a deep understanding of the subject matter and the capability to apply that knowledge in practical situations. Competence is typically acquired through education, training, and hands-on experience, and it is a fundamental requirement for success in any profession.

Characteristics of Competence

1. Knowledge: Competence is built upon a foundation of knowledge. It involves understanding the theories, principles, and concepts relevant to a particular field. A competent individual possesses a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter and can apply that knowledge effectively.

2. Skills: Competence is not limited to theoretical knowledge; it also involves the development of practical skills. These skills are acquired through practice, repetition, and experience. A competent individual can demonstrate proficiency in performing specific tasks or activities related to their field.

3. Experience: Competence is often enhanced through real-world experience. Practical application of knowledge and skills in various situations allows individuals to refine their abilities and adapt to different challenges. Experience provides valuable insights and helps individuals become more competent in their respective domains.

4. Adaptability: Competence is not static; it requires the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and evolving demands. A competent individual can quickly learn and adjust to new technologies, methodologies, or approaches. They are open to continuous learning and improvement, ensuring their competence remains relevant and up-to-date.

5. Problem-solving: Competence involves the capacity to analyze complex problems and find effective solutions. A competent individual can identify the root causes of issues, evaluate alternative options, and make informed decisions. Problem-solving skills are crucial for overcoming challenges and achieving desired outcomes.

Defining Competency

Competency, on the other hand, refers to the specific behaviors, skills, and abilities that an individual demonstrates in a particular context. It focuses on the practical application of knowledge and skills to achieve desired outcomes. Competency is often defined by a set of standards or criteria that outline the expected performance level in a specific role or task. It is closely tied to job performance and is frequently used in recruitment, performance evaluations, and professional development.

Characteristics of Competency

1. Contextualized: Competency is highly context-dependent. It is specific to a particular role, task, or situation. Different competencies may be required for different positions within an organization or different stages of a project. Competency frameworks are often developed to define the specific behaviors and skills needed for success in a particular context.

2. Performance-based: Competency is focused on performance outcomes. It emphasizes the ability to achieve specific goals or objectives. Competency frameworks often include performance indicators or criteria that allow individuals to assess their own performance and identify areas for improvement.

3. Measurable: Competency can be measured and evaluated. It provides a clear framework for assessing an individual's performance against predetermined standards. Competency assessments may involve self-assessment, peer evaluation, or formal evaluations conducted by supervisors or experts in the field.

4. Developmental: Competency is not fixed; it can be developed and improved over time. Individuals can identify their strengths and weaknesses in specific competencies and engage in targeted learning and development activities to enhance their performance. Competency development is often a key component of professional growth and career advancement.

5. Transferable: Competency can be transferable across different roles or contexts. While specific competencies may be required for a particular job, many competencies have broader applicability. For example, effective communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills are often considered transferable competencies that can be valuable in various professional settings.

Implications and Importance

Both competence and competency are crucial for success in various domains. Competence provides the foundation of knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to perform effectively, while competency focuses on the practical application and demonstration of those abilities in specific contexts. Understanding the distinction between competence and competency can have several implications:

1. Recruitment and Selection

Employers often use competency-based approaches in recruitment and selection processes. By defining the specific competencies required for a role, they can assess candidates' suitability based on their demonstrated competencies. This approach allows for a more objective evaluation of candidates' abilities and potential for success in the role.

2. Performance Evaluation

Competency frameworks provide a structured framework for performance evaluations. By aligning performance criteria with specific competencies, organizations can assess employees' performance objectively and provide targeted feedback for improvement. Competency-based evaluations can also help identify skill gaps and development needs.

3. Professional Development

Understanding the specific competencies required for career advancement can guide individuals in their professional development efforts. By identifying the competencies needed for their desired roles, individuals can focus on acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to enhance their competence in those areas.

4. Training and Education

Competency-based training and education programs can be designed to ensure learners acquire the necessary competencies for their chosen field. By aligning curriculum and learning outcomes with specific competencies, educational institutions can better prepare students for real-world challenges and enhance their employability.

5. Personal Development

Understanding the distinction between competence and competency can also be valuable for personal development. By assessing their own competencies and identifying areas for improvement, individuals can engage in targeted learning and development activities to enhance their performance and achieve their goals.


In conclusion, while competence and competency are often used interchangeably, they have distinct characteristics and implications. Competence refers to the overall ability to perform effectively, encompassing knowledge, skills, experience, adaptability, and problem-solving. On the other hand, competency focuses on the specific behaviors, skills, and abilities demonstrated in a particular context, emphasizing performance, measurability, and transferability. Understanding the differences between competence and competency can help individuals, organizations, and educational institutions better assess, develop, and utilize these essential attributes for success.

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