Understanding general and technical competencies

November 6, 2015 Kelly

Diverse team discussing about technical competence

If you’re exploring competency-based talent management for your organization, you’ll have noticed that competencies are divided into two main types: “general” and “technical.” But what’s the difference between them, and how should each type be used within your HR strategy? 

In this post, we'll look at the following points:

  • The definition of general and technical competencies
  • Using general and technical competencies in your competency architecture 
  • Applying a job position to your competency architecture


(Want to learn more about competencies? Click here to download our Competency Toolkit today: free, curated resources to help you on your learning journey.)


What Are General and Technical Competencies?

To begin with, general and technical competencies are not an “either/or” proposition. Every organization—and every employee—requires some combination of both technical and general competencies in order to thrive.


General competencies describe the combination of abilities, motivations, and traits required to perform effectively in a wide range of jobs within the organization. Also known as soft skills, or behavioral competencies, general competencies are an integral part of on-the-job success in virtually every context and every occupation.

Examples of general competencies include “interactive communication,” “social responsibility,” and “achievement orientation.” As you can see from these examples, candidates who demonstrate these soft skills are more likely to deliver value to the organization and perform well whether they are being considered for a position as salesperson, a CTO, or a safety engineer.

But general competencies only tell half the story. While your organization may want a safety engineer who is an effective communicator with strong sense of social responsibility, you also need to know that he or she has the knowledge and experience to plan effectively for emergencies and crises, conduct environmental assessments, and perform other highly technical tasks. This is where technical competencies come into play.


What are technical competencies?

Technical competencies describe the application of knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively in a specific job or group of jobs within the organization. These types of competencies are closely aligned with the knowledge and skills or “know-how” needed for successful performance.

Every job profile needs a combination of general and technical competencies in order to capture the complete picture of the ideal candidate. To determine the right combination, you need to understand how these two types of competencies fit into the organization’s competency architecture. 

Applying Competencies within Your Competency Architecture

When building your architecture, you’ll find that general competencies lend themselves to the core layer of the architecture, which defines the key values and strengths that are shared by every employee across the organization.

An organization’s core competencies will apply to the full spectrum of jobs—from entry level to leadership, and from more generally skilled to highly technically skilled employees in every department. This universal competency layer creates cohesion and a shared culture across the organization.

For the job-family layer of the architecture (which connects related jobs that have common functions and form a logical career path), both general and technical competencies may be required. However, because these competencies are shared by every employee within the job family, it’s more likely that these will be general competencies.

Even within a highly technical job family, such as an IT division, different jobs will require different sets of technical competencies. A system administrator, for example, will need to demonstrate a technical competency for “quality management and assurance,” while a programmer in the same division will not.

It’s generally at the job-specific layer of the architecture that technical competencies are used most frequently. Specific jobs within the organization will be defined by a unique set of technical skills, with even small upward or lateral career moves within the same job family requiring the employee to acquire and demonstrate new skills and proficiency levels.


Applying A Job Position to Your Competency Architecture

Now that we’ve examined the three architectural layers, we can put them all together taking the example of our system administrator and see what a typical distribution of general (G) and technical (T) competencies might look like in a completed job profile:

  • Core layer [shared by the organization]:
    achievement orientation (G), client focus (G), continuous learning (G)
  • Job-family layer [shared by every employee within the job family]:
    problem solving (G), attention to detail (G)
  • Job-specific layer [unique to this specific job]:
    quality management and assurance (T), processes methodologies, tools and expertise (T), quality focus (G)


Need help implementing your technical competencies? Curious about how easy it is to map competencies to your job descriptions?

The best way to find out is to schedule your no-obligation demo. But if you're not quite ready to see our software in action, you can check out our free Competency Toolkit to get started.

Want to learn more about using competencies? Get started with our Competency Toolkit:
Download your Competency Toolkit using the form below.



Post last updated: May 27, 2019.

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