Human Resources

Skills and Competencies: Striking the Right Blend and Balance

July 31, 2023
6.5 minutes

Organizations face a delicate challenge: finding the perfect equilibrium between assessing, managing and prioritizing skills and competencies that are important to them. While skills represent the tangible and measurable abilities that employees bring to the table, competencies embody the intangible qualities that shape their behavior, adaptability, and overall success. But in the pursuit of building a highly effective and dynamic workforce, does one outweigh the other, or is there a winning combination that unlocks the true potential of employees? 

Let’s delve into the skills and competencies, uncovering the benefits of each and how to strike the right balance between them. 

What are skills and competencies?

Skills and competencies are related terms but have distinct meanings, particularly in the context of the workplace and professional development. 

Skills are specific and quantifiable abilities.

Competencies are more comprehensive and encompass a broader range of attributes that contribute to overall job performance. 

Both are essential in professional development, but competencies focus on the bigger picture and how well an individual can perform in a given role, while skills concentrate on the specific abilities needed to complete tasks.

Here's a breakdown of the differences:


  • Skills refer to specific, measurable abilities and knowledge that an individual possesses. These abilities are often learned and developed through education, training, and practice.

  • Skills are usually task-oriented and can be easily demonstrated or assessed. They are practical and can be applied directly to perform specific tasks or functions.

  • Examples of skills include technical skills (e.g., coding, graphic design), soft skills (e.g., communication, teamwork), and functional skills (e.g., project management, problem-solving).


  • Competencies are broader than skills and encompass a combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and attitudes that enable a person to perform effectively in a particular role or job.

  • Competencies are not as easily measurable or tangible as skills. They often involve a mix of personal attributes, behaviors, and contextual understanding that contribute to overall job performance.

  • Competencies are typically aligned with the organizational values, mission, and goals, and they reflect the core qualities that make an individual successful in a specific role or within a specific industry.

Skills vs Competencies: Where to focus?

Balancing skills and competencies within an organization is crucial for fostering a well-rounded and high-performing workforce. Both  skills and competencies are valuable, and finding the right balance between them depends on the organization's specific needs and goals. Here are some guidelines to help strike the right balance:

1. Define job requirements: Clearly outline the  skills and competencies required for each job role within the organization. Understand the essential qualities, attitudes, and behaviors (competencies) that contribute to success in the role, as well as the specific abilities (skills) needed to perform tasks effectively.

2. Prioritize core competencies: Identify the core competencies that align with the organization's values and long-term objectives. These are the fundamental qualities that all employees should possess, regardless of their roles.

3. Tailor competencies to roles: While some competencies are universal, others may be more role-specific. Tailor competencies to the specific demands of each position, considering the different responsibilities, functions, and levels of the organization.

4. Emphasize a growth mindset: Encourage employees to develop both  skills and competencies continuously. Provide opportunities for training, professional development, and upskilling to improve performance and adapt to changing organizational needs.

5. Balance technical and soft skills: Recognize the importance of technical skills (hard skills) necessary for performing specific tasks, as well as soft skills (interpersonal and communication skills) that foster collaboration, leadership, and teamwork.

6. Assess existing skills and competencies: Regularly evaluate the skills and competencies of employees to identify areas where improvement or development is needed. Use performance evaluations, feedback, and self-assessment to gauge proficiency levels.

7. Support a learning culture: Foster a culture that values learning and growth. Encourage employees to acquire new skills and competencies, and provide resources, mentoring, and support for their development.

8. Adapt to changing needs: As the organization evolves and faces new challenges, reassess the balance between  skills and competencies. Be flexible in adjusting the focus to meet the demands of the evolving business landscape.

9. Promote cross-functional development: Encourage employees to explore and develop  skills and competencies beyond their immediate roles. This can lead to a more versatile and adaptable workforce.

10. Align with the organization's strategy: Ensure that the balance between skills and competencies aligns with the organization's strategic goals. Both should support the mission and vision of the company.

By considering these guidelines, an organization can effectively balance skills and competencies, leading to a more agile, competent, and successful workforce.

Drawbacks of a pure competency approach

While a pure competency approach that doesn't consider skills can offer valuable insights into an individual's broader qualities and behaviors, it also has some significant drawbacks. Here are some of the drawbacks of solely relying on a competency-based approach without considering skills:

  • Lack of Practical Application: Competencies are often more abstract and theoretical in nature, focusing on behaviors, attitudes, and values. Without considering skills, it becomes challenging to assess how effectively an individual can apply those competencies in real-world situations and tasks.

  • Limited Task Performance: Skills are essential for executing specific tasks and functions efficiently. Ignoring skills may result in employees who possess desirable competencies but lack the ability to perform critical job functions effectively.

  • Reduced Role Suitability: Different roles require different sets of skills. A purely competency-based approach may overlook the role-specific skills necessary for success, leading to poor job fit and performance issues.

  • Imprecise Hiring and Selection: When recruiting new talent, skills are often crucial factors to consider. Focusing solely on competencies might lead to hiring candidates who have the right behaviors and attitudes but lack the necessary skills to contribute effectively to the organization.

  • Ineffective Performance Evaluation: Without evaluating skills, performance assessments may not accurately reflect an employee's ability to meet job requirements and perform specific tasks.

  • Inability to Adapt to Technical Advancements: Many roles require employees to possess up-to-date technical skills to remain relevant and competitive. Neglecting skills can hinder an organization's ability to adapt to technological advancements and industry changes.

  • Missed Opportunities for Growth: Skills can be developed and improved through training and learning initiatives. A competency-only approach might overlook opportunities to enhance employees' capabilities and productivity.

  • Reduced Team Effectiveness: While competencies influence interpersonal dynamics, skills are vital for team members to collaborate effectively and complete tasks efficiently. Overlooking skills might lead to unbalanced teams with overlapping competencies but critical skill gaps.

  • Negative Impact on Innovation: In fields where innovation and technical expertise are crucial, neglecting skills could hinder an organization's ability to stay at the forefront of their industry.

  • Unrealistic Job Expectations: By focusing solely on competencies during recruitment or promotion, organizations may inadvertently set unrealistic expectations for job performance, leading to dissatisfaction and frustration among employees.

While competencies are important for understanding an individual's attitudes and behaviors, skills are equally vital for assessing their ability to perform specific tasks and contribute effectively to the organization's success. A balanced approach that considers both  skills and competencies ensures a comprehensive evaluation of employees and helps build a competent and high-performing workforce.

The Balance

The relationship between skills and competencies is the cornerstone of a thriving and future-ready workforce. While skills offer the foundation for task execution and technical prowess, competencies provide the essential framework for adaptability, growth, and interpersonal effectiveness. Harmonizing the two empowers organizations to foster a culture of continuous learning, where employees can evolve both professionally and personally. By recognizing the unique value that each aspect brings to the table, organizations can create an environment that encourages innovation, collaboration, and exceptional performance. Embrace the journey of holistic development, embracing the power of blending skills and competencies, and watch as your organization achieves new heights of success in the dynamic and competitive landscape of today's world. Remember, it is the fusion of skills and competencies that will drive your organization forward into a future that is both prosperous and transformative.

Similar posts

Read more great content from the tilr blog!

Get a live demo of tilr!

See what has leading business and talent leaders raving!
Get a Demo!
circle check box
Live 1:1 demo
circle check box
No pressure