Capabilities vs. Competencies: What’s the Difference?

Competencies refer to what an employee offers in relation to knowledge, skills and personal attributes, while capabilities refer to a person’s direct ability to perform a task or job.

I recently received an invitation to join a task force reviewing how the federal government assesses training. We addressed the crucial topic of the business need for training during our discussion of the best methods to evaluate training. Everyone agreed that tying training to the organization’s goals makes it more relevant and valuable, and that training was essential to achieving the strategic needs of the agencies’ respective missions.

Some participants began discussing the need to reskill the federal workforce, while others discussed the competency models used by their respective agencies. I noticed that “skill” and “competency” are frequently used interchangeably. Still, I questioned whether there was a difference and, if so, whether it was significant enough to impact how we assess skills versus competencies.

I looked up the definitions of the two words in the American Heritage Dictionary during a pause in the conversation. A competency is “a skill or ability,” according to this dictionary, while a skill is “proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.” A recent blog post by Josh Bersin on capability academies prompted me to look up the word “capability.” A capability is defined as “a talent or ability that has potential for development or use” by the American Heritage Dictionary. ”.

These definitions appear to be equivalent, and we, a team of federal training specialists, used the terms similarly. But I gave Bersin’s definition of capability—”a combination of skills, knowledge, and experiences employees need to succeed—more thought. And your company typically owns, controls, and has exclusive access to these capabilities. What I like about this definition is how it distinguishes between broad social and behavioral skills, which are much more complex, soft, and experiential, and technical skills. ” These skills include emotional intelligence, coaching and mentoring.

Soft skills are popular training topics in many organizations. Many other federal agencies have also created competency models for leadership skills. My organization has compiled these soft skills into a collection of leadership competencies that we align our training programs around. I deduced from our discussion of how to evaluate leadership skills and competencies that they can be used regardless of the culture of the specific agency. Regardless of whether you work for the Department of Defense, a sizable Cabinet agency, or a much smaller agency, emotional intelligence competencies are the same.

Although skills and competencies may be the same across organizations, how we put them together to form capabilities has a significant impact. The set of skills required for a successful human resources (HR) department is different from the set of skills required for an information technology (IT) department. Through the use of their capabilities, the workforce advances the strategic mission of the company.

Soft skills have a longer shelf-life than technical skills. I gained knowledge of more than 30 programming languages and at least 10 development environments while working as an IT project manager. That equates to more than one new programming language being created each year and a new development platform being created every three years.

In contrast, I still apply a lot of what I learned while studying speech communication as an undergraduate in the middle of the 1980s for my work as a communication trainer. While technical skills and competencies change more quickly than soft skills over time due to changes in technology and the workplace, soft skills typically require more time and effort to master.

The secret is finding the right balance between technical and soft skills and competencies to create capabilities that meet the organization’s current and changing needs. I argued that the emphasis should shift from employees’ skills to an active demonstration of what the employee is capable of (capability models) as I listened to the discussion on developing competency models.

Focusing on capabilities has the benefit of ensuring that training achieves organizational strategic goals by emphasizing action rather than passively acquiring skills and competencies. While developing employees’ abilities is important, the most important thing is to help them become more capable in their work. Although competencies and skills are required for training employees, the real impact and value of training comes from what the employee does with it.

Dr. Bill Brantley, CPTM, works at the U. S. He oversees the career coaching program at the enterprise training division of the Patent and Trademark Office. He also studies organizational theory, project management, communication theory, and leadership theory and development. In addition to a doctorate in public policy and management, he also holds master’s degrees in political management, project management, and organizational leadership, performance, and change. Since 2000, he has served as an adjunct professor for the University of Louisville’s communication department, and since 2012, for the University of Maryland’s Project Management Center for Excellence.

What’s the difference between competencies and capabilities?

What are competencies?

The skills, knowledge, education, and personal qualities that an employee possesses and that have a positive impact on their capacity to carry out their duties are referred to as competencies. For instance, a skilled graphic designer is frequently adept at using design software to create graphics. An employee is more likely to positively impact their organization if they are competent in their position. Examples of factors related to competencies include:

When examining job descriptions, the requirements section frequently contains the competencies required for that position. Before submitting an application, make sure your skills match the requirements of the position.

What are capabilities?

The capacity and aptitude to carry out a specific task or fulfill the responsibilities of a specific role within an organization are examples of capabilities. Employees may perform poorly and produce less if they lack the necessary skills to do their jobs. While some employers may seek to hire someone who already has the skills necessary for a particular role, other employers may aim to help an employee develop the skills necessary to carry out their role effectively.

Managers can more effectively assign tasks to specific people based on their abilities by being aware of their employees’ capabilities. Performance and output can be improved by distributing the right tasks to the appropriate individuals. Being able to rely on their team members to do their jobs well while pursuing a common goal can be especially beneficial for team leaders. An employee contributes more to completing tasks for the company the more competent they are in their role. Being competent in a position has a number of benefits, including:

Why is it important to understand capabilities and competencies?

Understanding the distinctions between competencies and capabilities will help managers decide whether a candidate is qualified for a position and what tasks to assign. Knowing these two terms can also help managers identify potential trouble spots for staff members and map out a plan for raising standards and productivity. Knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses also enables you to build a more cohesive team environment where everyone is contributing to the best of their abilities.

Capabilities vs. competencies

Some differences between these two terms include:

Examples of capabilities and competencies

Examples of abilities and competencies in the workplace include the following:


Here are a few illustrations of skills related to employees and their job responsibilities:

To manage client communications, a business hires a new communications manager. The new employee must have strong communication skills in order to fulfill this role effectively. Without effective communication skills, the employee might find it challenging to interact with customers and handle problems.

To maintain the business’s files and customer information, a company hires a new front office manager. To successfully manage the front office and maintain files in an orderly and understandable manner, the new employee will need strong organizational and attention to detail skills.


These are some instances of how workplace competencies might appear:

A company employs an expert as a computer technician to assist the business in maintaining the functionality and security of its computers. The new employee must have the technical knowledge required to operate these computers and carry out the tasks in order to successfully complete the duties.

A company adds a new worker to its customer service department. They need to be proactive and have strong customer service skills in order to be successful at their job. Employees frequently acquire these skills through training or education, such as by enrolling in customer service courses for their business degree.


Are core competencies and capabilities the same?

Knowing Your Core Competencies A successful company knows what it can do better than anyone else and why. Its core competencies are the “why. Core capabilities and distinctive competencies are other names for core competencies. Core competencies lead to competitive advantages.

What is the difference between skills competencies and abilities?

A company’s core competencies are its “defining strength,” which are its capabilities, knowledge, skills, and resources. “A company’s core competency is distinctive, making it difficult for other organizations, whether they are current rivals or new entrants into its market, to replicate it.

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