Skills vs. Competencies:
What's the difference?

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Competency vs. Skill Matrix

In teaching and workplace training, we frequently encounter two terms that seem interchangeable at first, but as we work to refine our craft, we find they are really quite different. You already know we are talking about “skills” and “competencies.” In a recent article, we discussed the differences and similarities between these two ideas. 

We have also covered the characteristics and benefits of skill matrices. Here, we will go into the differences, similarities, and overlapping areas between a competency matrix and a skill matrix. 

This is important because we want to understand how the learner learns. But we also want to gain a better understanding of what it is we are doing when we attempt to track skills and competency and teach them.

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of skills and competency which is usually adequate. But we are going to examine these terms as they relate to skills and competencies matrices to understand what really separates these two key ideas.

The difference between competencies and skills

As discussed in our article on skills and competencies, a competency is a capability and a skill is usually a learned task. For example, a competency can develop from a talent or habit or can be made up of one or more skills. A skill, by contrast, is an ability that is learned. Skills can also be enhanced by talent or interest. It might help to think of competency as a category that can include skills and skillsets. In skill and competency matrices, we can track these two things separately or together, depending on your needs.

Knowledge, skills, and competencies

Knowledge does not impart a skill, but it can, just as a skill can create a competency. But, this isn’t always necessarily the case. To possess a competency, one must have some kind of knowledge or skill. Because these things are not the same, we can track them in different matrices. We can also track ways in which they are different and ways in which they overlap.

The difference between competency and skill matrix

Typing is better described as a skill than a competency. Writing is better described as a competency than a skill, though one can certainly contribute to success in the other. To track skills in typing and writing, we would do best to track them on different charts, or at least, in different categories. With skills matrix software, the overlap between these two areas and people who might work well toward a similar goal can be matched and paired according to the needs of your organization.

Competency Meaning

Before we get into exactly what a competency matrix is, we need to understand the real meaning of “competency.”

Competency meaning: Knowledge, behaviors, or tendencies that lead an individual to be successful in a given activity.

To understand the word fully, we need to realize that the word “compete” is a close relative. A person can be skilled and knowledgeable and still lack the ability to perform with competence. Our concept when designing the skills/competence matrices was to give you a way to build competence in your workforce through a robust analysis of skills, knowledge, and performance. 

Another important competency synonym to consider is “ability.” Of course, in business, we must remain competitive, so the word “compete” helps us to grasp this. Employee core competencies need to rise to the level of competitiveness in order to actually be competent. The good news is that skills and competence matrices give you the tools you need to find the path to develop employee competence rather than passively waiting for it to emerge at a critical moment.

Competency Examples

You may have noticed that the idea of competency is still fairly cloudy. This is due to the fact that a competency can exist with or without skills. It can be made up of one or multiple skills, talents, knowledge, inclinations, or even an inborn disposition. Competencies start to shine when we emboss them with critical skills and knowledge. For clarity, let’s look at a few more competency examples.

Leadership: Another competency made up of skills, knowledge, and talent, leadership is necessary for every endeavor involving teams. A good leader can set expectations, define goals, and motivate teams through their personality and passion. 

Design: The ability to conceive of a device, product, or service which meets a need that remains unfulfilled is a competency of the highest value. It is something people like Steve Jobs excelled at. If you have someone who is competent in design, helping them to gain engineering skills would be a great boon to their abilities.

Communication: Making people understand complex concepts and ideas is a competence made up of a number of skills and talents. With the addition of some psychology and marketing skills, communication is among the list of the most powerful types of competencies with examples like narrative storytelling, motivational speaking, and the like.

Core competencies examples

According to Investopedia, core competencies are abilities and resources that make up strategic advantages in the business world. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Responsibility
  • Focus
  • Adaptability
  • Conscientiousness

Examples of core skills

Until now, we’ve focused largely on competencies. This is due to the fact that a competency can be a skill, can be made up of multiple skills, or can even exist in the absence of skill. But in the workplace, skills are non-negotiable. And, skills may be viewed as a basic metric of capability.

  • Team Building
  • Writing Skills
  • Strategic Management
  • Speaking and Listening Skills
  • Data Management
  • Persuading and Influencing Team Members
  • Planning and Organization
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Skills vs Competencies Examples

Competency matrix

This is a tool for tracking, comparing, and managing the various competencies possessed by members of your team. It can be used to spot gaps in knowledge, warn us about the risks associated with these gaps, and fill these gaps. Competency matrix software automates much of this process and saves you a lot of pencil erasers.

Employee skill matrix chart

Like a competency matrix, an employee skill matrix chart is a tool for tracking, comparing, and managing the various skills possessed by members of your team. It can be used to spot skill gaps, warn us about the risks associated with these gaps, and help us to fill these gaps.

A look at skills and competencies together

  • The competent salesperson who develops the skills of logic and rhetoric. Here we contrast competence in selling products with the skills of mastering modes of speech and persuasion
  • The competent writer who develops the skill of persuasion. Here we contrast competence in writing sentences and drafting essays against the skill of knowing what really persuades people.
  • The competent manager who learns the social skill known as mirroring. Here, we consider the competence in managing employees in contrast to the skill of putting people at ease by subtly showing them that you are on their side.

While it can be challenging to tease out the differences between skills, competencies, and knowledge, it can be done. To make this as simple as possible, it’s important to use our organization’s categorizations consistently and transparently to be effective. And, skill and competency matrices can help us to do that.

Improve Skills and Competencies with Lessonly

If you find gaps in your competency matrix or skills matrix, Lessonly can help. Our enablement software makes continuous training and coaching possible for all customer-facing teams. With Lessonly, trainers and managers can easily create, deliver, and track training on key skills and competencies for entire teams and individual employees so everyone has what they need to succeed in their roles. Our powerful solution also enables team members to apply newly learned knowledge and hone skills through interactive practice exercises. The result is a 76% improvement in performance. See how teams train faster with Lessonly.