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Professional Competencies

To continue where the article entitled THE ABILITY TO ACT… AT THE HEART OF PERFORMANCE AND EXCELLENCE left off, let’s begin by defining the term “competence” in a professional context:  the notion of competence means to demonstrate having the ability – that is the knowledge, skills and attitudes – to mobilize and leverage the different kinds of knowledge required to carry out a professional activity, enabling an individual to successfully perform their role and responsibilities. These competencies are the tools that enable you to be effective and to achieve your desired goals.

Just like two sides of a coin, these competencies fall into two broad categories: operational competencies and relational competence.

Operational Competencies

This is the “technical” component. These are task-related competencies, therefore specific to a particular profession, and they include:

  • Knowledge is the set of theoretical, technical or tactical professional knowledge, including procedures, data, rules, standards, requirements, methods and tools. These are the intellectual skills learned through study and acquiring information, which are required to exercise a profession.
  • Know-how is the set of practices related to having strong operational vision, technical skills, knowledge of the methods, and mastery of the practical skills (experience, practicality, efficiency) required to perform a task depending on the situation and the environment.

These skills help us do our jobs efficiently.

Relational Competencies

This is the “human” component. These are the competencies relating to people, which are useful in all professions, in principle. They are sometimes called “soft skills”, and are the set of professional qualities such as attitudes, aptitudes and behaviours that a person demonstrates when performing a task, and they include:

  • Know-how-to-be, which is the set of emotional skills involving attitudes like assuredness, autonomy, enthusiasm, integrity, and self-control, which enable a person to enter into a relationship with themself.
  • Know-how-to-interact is the set of social skills such as respect, courtesy, diplomacy and empathy, enabling you to enter into relationships with others, including co-workers, customers and suppliers.

These competencies enable us do our work in an enjoyable way.

They are called personal competencies, or intra-personal and interpersonal skills, or even “soft skills”. They are indeed competencies, but they are not soft!

Relational competence is a professional competence in its own right and it is desirable to develop it on equal footing with the intellectual and technical competencies.   

But it is not only the operational skills (which make you efficient) or the relational skills (which make you pleasant) that guarantee professional effectiveness.


We agree that operational competencies are essential, that hiring coders who do not know how to code, doctors who do not know how to treat or chefs who do not know how to cook, is a quick path to failure. These skills are the backbone of the HR process. But how do you explain why organizations that hire people with similar operational skills end up with very different results?

By distorting the term “professional competencies” and by focussing on seemingly “essential” skills, we have diminished the value of competencies that really matter. Most of the textbooks that students consult, and the tests and exams that they do, relate to these operational competencies – it’s simply copy and paste!

When we call other skills “soft” and imply that they are optional, we give them little respect and importance.

It turns out that the difference between successful organizations and struggling organizations are the attitudes, aptitudes and skills of the people doing the work, which are sometimes difficult to measure.


When we consider which competencies are useful to an individual to maximize their professional effectiveness (Knowledge, Know-how, Know-how-to-be and Know-how-to-interact), there is much less opportunity to learn them.

We learn Knowledge and Know-how in the school classrooms, in an institutional way and through experience, but we are not taught to affirm ourselves, to inspire confidence, to influence, to communicate and to collaborate with others. These behaviours are therefore acquired in varying degrees, often quite informally, by imitation or by learning on the job.

Traditional schools focus on acquiring knowledge and intellectual development, but neglect coursework on relational competencies. Training individuals to understand and apply interpersonal skills can help them improve their professional and social lives.

Current employers and customers demand more than just operational competencies, hence the importance of investing in this kind of learning for better professional effectiveness, or to realize a person’s full potential.


We have all, at one time, worked with someone who was extremely efficient because they relied on their knowledge and know-how. These people can be brilliant, hardworking, meticulous and confident. Despite these competencies, working with these people can sometimes be unpleasant. They can be perceived as being arrogant, impatient, contemptuous, cold or closed-minded. Working with them can sometimes leave an after-taste.

Similarly, we have all had the opportunity to work with extremely pleasant people, who rely on their emotional and social skills. They are receptive, sociable, caring, pleasant and attentive… But it can a struggle to get something from them promptly, to make them respect deadlines, to follow their logic while they speak and to find yourself pulled into their disorganized worlds.

When we consider the duality of these two dimensions, we realize that when our strengths are overexploited or misused, they can become weaknesses as they can limit opportunities for agreement and professional effectiveness.

Trucs & Astuces #351 - L’importance de la gestion ...
Les compétences professionnelles

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