The ICF Core Competencies were developed to support greater understanding about the skills and approaches used within today’s coaching profession as defined by ICF. These competencies and the ICF definition of coaching were used as the foundation for the development of the ICF Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
The Core Competencies are grouped into four domains according to those that fit together logically based on common ways of looking at the competencies in each group. The groupings and individual competencies are not weighted – they do not represent any kind of hierarchy and are all core and critical for any competent coach to demonstrate.
The updated ICF Core Competencies were released in November 2019, marking its first update since the competencies’ creation in 1998. The updated Core Competencies will be integrated in ICF-Accredited Coach Training Programs curricula beginning in January 2021. Then, updated Credentialing assessments reflecting the revised Core Competencies will launch in the second half of 2021.
To learn more about the updated ICF Core Competencies, please watch the Updated Core Competency Video Series found here.
Below, you will find both the current and updated ICF Core Competencies, as well as their respective translations. As you explore them, please keep in mind the above implementation timelines for 2021.
Current and Updated ICF Core Competencies
Current ICF Core Competencies
A. Setting the Foundation
1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards—Understanding of coaching ethics and standards and ability to apply them appropriately in all coaching situations.
Understands and exhibits in own behaviors the ICF Code of Ethics (see Code, Part III of ICF Code of Ethics).
Understands and follows all ICF Ethical Guidelines.
Clearly communicates the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions.
Refers client to another support professional as needed, knowing when this is needed and the available resources.
2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement—Ability to understand what is required in the specific coaching interaction and to come to agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship.
Understands and effectively discusses with the client the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship (e.g., logistics, fees, scheduling, inclusion of others if appropriate).
Reaches agreement about what is appropriate in the relationship and what is not, what is and is not being offered, and about the client’s and coach’s responsibilities.
Determines whether there is an effective match between his/her coaching method and the needs of the prospective client.
B. Co-Creating the Relationship
3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client—Ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.
Shows genuine concern for the client’s welfare and future.
Continuously demonstrates personal integrity, honesty and sincerity.
Establishes clear agreements and keeps promises.
Demonstrates respect for client’s perceptions, learning style, personal being.
Provides ongoing support for and champions new behaviors and actions, including those involving risk-taking and fear of failure.
Asks permission to coach client in sensitive, new areas.
4. Coaching Presence—Ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.
Is present and flexible during the coaching process, dancing in the moment.
Accesses own intuition and trusts one’s inner knowing—”goes with the gut.”
Is open to not knowing and takes risks.
Sees many ways to work with the client and chooses in the moment what is most effective.
Uses humor effectively to create lightness and energy.
Confidently shifts perspectives and experiments with new possibilities for own action.
Demonstrates confidence in working with strong emotions and can self-manage and not be overpowered or enmeshed by client’s emotions.
C. Communicating Effectively
5. Active Listening—Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.
Attends to the client and the client’s agenda and not to the coach’s agenda for the client.
Hears the client’s concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and is not possible.
Distinguishes between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language.
Summarizes, paraphrases, reiterates, and mirrors back what client has said to ensure clarity and understanding.
Encourages, accepts, explores and reinforces the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.
Integrates and builds on client’s ideas and suggestions.
“Bottom-lines” or understands the essence of the client’s communication and helps the client get there rather than engaging in long, descriptive stories.
Allows the client to vent or “clear” the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to next steps.
6. Powerful Questioning—Ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.
Asks questions that reflect active listening and an understanding of the client’s perspective.
Asks questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action (e.g., those that challenge the client’s assumptions).
Asks open-ended questions that create greater clarity, possibility or new learning.
Asks questions that move the client toward what they desire, not questions that ask for the client to justify or look backward.
7. Direct Communication—Ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.
Is clear, articulate and direct in sharing and providing feedback.
Reframes and articulates to help the client understand from another perspective what he/she wants or is uncertain about.
Clearly states coaching objectives, meeting agenda, and purpose of techniques or exercises.
Uses language appropriate and respectful to the client (e.g., non-sexist, non-racist, non-technical, non-jargon).
Uses metaphor and analogy to help to illustrate a point or paint a verbal picture.
D. Facilitating Learning and Results
8. Creating Awareness—Ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information and to make interpretations that help the client to gain awareness and thereby achieve agreed-upon results.
Goes beyond what is said in assessing client’s concerns, not getting hooked by the client’s description.
Invokes inquiry for greater understanding, awareness, and clarity.
Identifies for the client his/her underlying concerns; typical and fixed ways of perceiving himself/herself and the world; differences between the facts and the interpretation; and disparities between thoughts, feelings, and action.
Helps clients to discover for themselves the new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, moods, etc. that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what is important to them.
Communicates broader perspectives to clients and inspires commitment to shift their viewpoints and find new possibilities for action.
Helps clients to see the different, interrelated factors that affect them and their behaviors (e.g., thoughts, emotions, body, and background).
Expresses insights to clients in ways that are useful and meaningful for the client.
Identifies major strengths vs. major areas for learning and growth, and what is most important to address during coaching.
Asks the client to distinguish between trivial and significant issues, situational vs. recurring behaviors, when detecting a separation between what is being stated and what is being done.
9. Designing Actions—Ability to create with the client opportunities for ongoing learning, during coaching and in work/life situations, and for taking new actions that will most effectively lead to agreed-upon coaching results.
Brainstorms and assists the client to define actions that will enable the client to demonstrate, practice, and deepen new learning.
Helps the client to focus on and systematically explore specific concerns and opportunities that are central to agreed-upon coaching goals.
Engages the client to explore alternative ideas and solutions, to evaluate options, and to make related decisions.
Promotes active experimentation and self-discovery, where the client applies what has been discussed and learned during sessions immediately afterward in his/her work or life setting.
Celebrates client successes and capabilities for future growth.
Challenges client’s assumptions and perspectives to provoke new ideas and find new possibilities for action.
Advocates or brings forward points of view that are aligned with client goals and, without attachment, engages the client to consider them.
Helps the client “Do It Now” during the coaching session, providing immediate support.
Encourages stretches and challenges but also a comfortable pace of learning.
10. Planning and Goal Setting—Ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with the client.
Consolidates collected information and establishes a coaching plan and development goals with the client that address concerns and major areas for learning and development.
Creates a plan with results that are attainable, measurable, specific, and have target dates.
Makes plan adjustments as warranted by the coaching process and by changes in the situation.
Helps the client identify and access different resources for learning (e.g., books, other professionals).
Identifies and targets early successes that are important to the client.
11. Managing Progress and Accountability—Ability to hold attention on what is important for the client, and to leave responsibility with the client to take action.
Clearly requests of the client actions that will move the client toward his/her stated goals.
Demonstrates follow-through by asking the client about those actions that the client committed to during the previous session(s).
Acknowledges the client for what they have done, not done, learned or become aware of since the previous coaching session(s).
Effectively prepares, organizes, and reviews with client information obtained during sessions.
Keeps the client on track between sessions by holding attention on the coaching plan and outcomes, agreed-upon courses of action, and topics for future session(s).
Focuses on the coaching plan but is also open to adjusting behaviors and actions based on the coaching process and shifts in direction during sessions.
Is able to move back and forth between the big picture of where the client is heading, setting a context for what is being discussed and where the client wishes to go.
Promotes client’s self-discipline and holds the client accountable for what they say they are going to do, for the results of an intended action, or for a specific plan with related time frames.
Develops the client’s ability to make decisions, address key concerns, and develop himself/herself (to get feedback, to determine priorities and set the pace of learning, to reflect on and learn from experiences).
Positively confronts the client with the fact that he/she did not take agreed-upon actions.
1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice Definition: Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.
Demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
Is sensitive to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs
Uses language appropriate and respectful to clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values
Maintains confidentiality with client information per stakeholder agreements and pertinent laws
Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions
Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate
2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset Definition: Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.
Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices
Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach
Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching
Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others
Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients
Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions
Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions
Seeks help from outside sources when necessary
B. Co-Creating the Relationship
3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements Definition: Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals. Establishes agreements for the overall coaching engagement as well as those for each coaching session.
Explains what coaching is and is not and describes the process to the client and relevant stakeholders
Reaches agreement about what is and is not appropriate in the relationship, what is and is not being offered, and the responsibilities of the client and relevant stakeholders
Reaches agreement about the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship such as logistics, fees, scheduling, duration, termination, confidentiality and inclusion of others
Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to establish an overall coaching plan and goals
Partners with the client to determine client-coach compatibility
Partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session
Partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address or resolve to achieve what they want to accomplish in the session
Partners with the client to define or reconfirm measures of success for what the client wants to accomplish in the coaching engagement or individual session
Partners with the client to manage the time and focus of the session
Continues coaching in the direction of the client’s desired outcome unless the client indicates otherwise
Partners with the client to end the coaching relationship in a way that honors the experience
4. Cultivates Trust and Safety Definition: Partners with the client to create a safe, supportive environment that allows the client to share freely. Maintains a relationship of mutual respect and trust.
Seeks to understand the client within their context which may include their identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs
Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one’s coaching to the client
Acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process
Shows support, empathy and concern for the client
Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions
Demonstrates openness and transparency as a way to display vulnerability and build trust with the client
5. Maintains Presence Definition: Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident
Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client
Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process
Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client
Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process
Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing
Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection
C. Communicating Effectively
6. Listens Actively
Definition: Focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression
Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating
Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding
Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating
Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors
Integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated
Notices trends in the client’s behaviors and emotions across sessions to discern themes and patterns
7. Evokes Awareness
Definition: Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy
Considers client experience when deciding what might be most useful
Challenges the client as a way to evoke awareness or insight
Asks questions about the client, such as their way of thinking, values, needs,
wants and beliefs
Asks questions that help the client explore beyond current thinking
Invites the client to share more about their experience in the moment
Notices what is working to enhance client progress
Adjusts the coaching approach in response to the client’s needs
Helps the client identify factors that influence current and future patterns of behavior, thinking or emotion
Invites the client to generate ideas about how they can move forward and what they are willing or able to do
Supports the client in reframing perspectives
Shares observations, insights and feelings, without attachment, that have the potential to create new learning for the client
D. Cultivating Learning and Growth
8. Facilitates Client Growth
Definition: Partners with the client to transform learning and insight into action. Promotes client autonomy in the coaching process.
Works with the client to integrate new awareness, insight or learning into their worldview and behaviors
Partners with the client to design goals, actions and accountability measures that integrate and expand new learning
Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions and methods of accountability
Supports the client in identifying potential results or learning from identified action steps
Invites the client to consider how to move forward, including resources, support and potential barriers
Partners with the client to summarize learning and insight within or between sessions
Current ICF Core Competencies Comparison Table by Credential
The following Core Competencies Comparison Tables are based upon the current ICF Core Competencies and show the varying levels of Core Competencies skill required for each credential. These tables were adapted from the minimum skills requirements document for each level of credentials. Download a PDF of the table in your preferred language below.
More on the Development of the Updated ICF Core Competencies Model
Since 1998, the ICF Core Competencies have provided a vital foundation for the coaching profession.
When we first created the Core Competencies and developed the ICF Code of Ethics, we set the standard in the coaching field. The ICF Core Competencies were first identified and articulated by eight pioneers in our profession, all of whom were committed to creating greater understanding about the knowledge and skills needed for effective coaching.
In any profession, it is best practice to perform a job analysis regularly to ensure a competency model remains a valid and accurate reflection of professional practice. ICF last conducted a job analysis in 2008, and our profession has since grown and evolved significantly.
Over the past 24 months, we’ve been engaged in rigorous job analysis research. From start to finish, more than 1,300 coaches—both ICF Members and non-members—from around the globe have participated in this process. These coaches represented a diverse range of coaching disciplines, training backgrounds, coaching styles, and experience and credentialing levels. No other coaching certification body has undertaken this level of research, and we’re incredibly proud of the quality, integrity and validity of our evidence-based approach to credentialing and to the value it brings to ICF credential holders.
While the empirical data we collected through the job analysis process validated that much of the original ICF Core Competency model remains relevant and reflected in current coaching practice, this new competency model offers a simpler, more streamlined structure and integrates consistent, clear language.
Watch a Video Discussion of the Updated ICF Core Competencies Model
On December 10, 2019, ICF staff hosted a pair of webinars taking a more in-depth look at the updated ICF Core Competency model. Download the slides and view the recordings below.