What do we mean when we use these words? Are they the same or different? Are they interchangeable or are they completely different? People often speak of skills in the same breath as competencies but in reality they are not one and the same and yes, it does matter.

We will have a look at what the words actually mean, and then consider how they can add substance and value in the writing of CV’s, performance management and in general.

When we reference the word skill we are referencing ‘the ability to do something well; expertise.’ “difficult work, taking great skill” or we are training someone in a particular set of skills so that they can practice it competently! But we will return to that later.  

More on skills first.

Skills are the expertise or talent needed in order to do a job or task. Skills are what makes you confident and independent in life and are essential for success. … It might take determination and practice, but almost any skill can be learned or improved.

There are also hard and soft skill’s and these are equally important and are measurable, we can learn both and we can demonstrate are competence in any given situation. Assessment centres often use role play, in-tray exercise’s, scenario’s and various other methodologies to establish levels of attainment with accuracy, validity, reliability and ability to transfer the skills and utilise them in other situations.

We all have a combination of hard and soft skills to a greater or lesser degree and the ability to know when and how to use them, some of us more than others, which is one reason why some people are able to engage with colleagues more effectively than others. Soft skills are also known as people skills and interpersonal skills which interface with both social and emotional intelligence.

There are numerous examples on the world stage of leaders who have people skills and those that are sadly lacking!

Based on expertiseBased on behaviour
Universal meaningContextual meaning
Transferable across rolesAspirational within a role
Tracking inputs that lead to specific business outcomesMixing together knowledge. Skills, actions. And attitudes


To my way of thinking you may have skills but are you competent with them, can you use the skills and have you maintained your competencies? A competency can be defined as observable abilities, skills, knowledge, traits defined in terms of the behaviours needed for successful job performance. An oft used abbreviation here in GCC is KSA, which also of course means Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and thereby is a useful example of jargon and abbreviations! In the language of performance, it is most frequently – Knowledge, Skills and Abilities.

As with listening and hearing, there are different levels with competencies related to the conscious and unconscious mindset and the engagement of the person in any given situation.  Believe it or not, people will choose to misrepresent their competencies in order to avoid responsibility and attention or to secure the same. Faking incompetence is less risky than failing competence as the penalties are far higher when you are found out and fail than your being promoted or given responsibility and can then not deliver. It is extremely important to maintain and raise levels of competency for any job as trends change, new technologies, alternative approaches leading to more efficiency and effective work behaviour. In many professions it is an absolute prerequisite to be able to demonstrate ongoing improvements and standards. with continuing education, particularly when life, health and safety are paramount in the course of the work that is being carried out. Health professionals have ME’s [continuing medical education] minimal levels that must be attained in order to continue to practice the profession. Similarly, international safety standards [ISO] have cycles of three years and they have to be renewed from the beginning.

So the long and the short of it is yes, there is a difference and they cannot be considered as one and the same, they are not and should not be confused.

If you have any questions related to this topic do feel free to contact us and we can expand or engage with you to work with your organisation related to competencies in your job descriptions or with your performance appraisal and how you match competencies and measure them.