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Competency Dictionary Spencer.pdf

What is a Competency Dictionary and How to Use It?

A competency dictionary is a tool that defines the key competencies required for effective performance in a specific job, role, or organization. It describes the observable behaviors, skills, knowledge, and attributes that are associated with each competency. A competency dictionary can help individuals and organizations to identify their strengths and areas for improvement, as well as to align their goals and actions with the desired outcomes.

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One of the most widely used and validated competency dictionaries is the one developed by Spencer and Spencer (1993), based on the work of Boyatzis (1982). They define competency as "an underlying characteristic of an individual that is causally related to criterion-referenced effective and/or superior performance in a job or situation" . They identified 20 generic competencies that can be applied to various jobs and situations, such as achievement orientation, analytical thinking, customer service orientation, initiative, teamwork, and self-confidence. They also provided behavioral indicators and proficiency levels for each competency, as well as methods for assessing them.

How to Use a Competency Dictionary?

A competency dictionary can be used for various purposes, such as:

  • Job analysis and design: A competency dictionary can help to identify the essential competencies for a specific job or role, and to create clear and realistic job descriptions and expectations.

  • Recruitment and selection: A competency dictionary can help to design effective selection tools and processes, such as interviews, tests, simulations, and assessment centers, that measure the relevant competencies of the candidates.

  • Performance management: A competency dictionary can help to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals and standards for performance evaluation, feedback, and recognition.

  • Training and development: A competency dictionary can help to identify the learning needs and gaps of the employees, and to design and deliver appropriate training programs and interventions that enhance their competencies.

  • Career planning and development: A competency dictionary can help to assess the current and potential competencies of the employees, and to guide them in choosing and pursuing their career paths and opportunities.

A competency dictionary is not a static or fixed document. It should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect the changing needs and demands of the job, role, or organization. It should also be customized and adapted to suit the specific context and culture of the organization.


  • [Spencer L.M., Spencer S.M. (1993). Competence at Work: Models for Superior Performance. New York: John Wiley & Sons].

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