How do you create a competency model that balances technical and leadership competency development?

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In our experience, competence in a role, no matter how technical, is often characterized by leadership and soft skills.  That is, achieving the minimum level of proficiency may be mostly technical, but higher levels of proficiency require “more”. 

Here’s an example.  The role is an engineer.  One of the skills in which an engineer needs to have proficiency is troubleshooting product issues. 

  • At the target level of proficiency, that requires defining the problem, using problem solving tools, and fixing the issue. 

  • At higher levels of proficiency, the engineer is frequently engaged by others for support.  They are enlisted to participate in teams for systemic issues.  They capture and share best practices and lessons learned, monitor the industry/their field for new approaches, and find innovative ways to troubleshoot more quickly.  They utilize systems thinking – understanding the impact of the issue on the organization and enlisting the support of those affected when needed to create more holistic and innovative solutions. 

Often, increase in proficiency manifests itself in the scope. 

  • At the target level of proficiency, the focus is on the team. 

  • At higher levels of proficiency, the focus moves to the department, then to the organization. 

Importantly, it is the 4th Industrial Revolution skills such as collaboration, influencing, critical thinking, data analysis, and learning agility, that separate good from great. 

  • For example, at the target level of proficiency, you need to collaborate with and influence your team.  You apply critical thinking to understand interrelationships between what you and team members are working on.  You perform data analysis at a micro level, on a team data set.

  • At higher levels of proficiency, you need to collaborate with and influence your department and the organization.  You apply critical thinking to understand interrelationships between what your team or department is working on and the organization’s objectives, considering broader industry trends and how they will impact them.  You analyze data from a macro level, comparing your data with other teams’ data, the organization, the industry.

We favor incorporating leadership and soft skills into the behavioral examples of technical skills because it helps those in the role to understand the connection.  You may also have a few leadership or other or soft skills independently as part of your model as well, such as learning agility.

If you develop your competencies with the use of high performers, include the question, “What separates how you do this from how others do it?” and you will naturally identify the blend of behaviors into each technical skill.