What is Competency?

Feb 18th, 2017 | By | Category: Equipment, Military/LE, News, Psychological, Sociological, Strategies, Tactics

Competency is the manifestation of one’s ability to identify the pertinent from the distractions. There is something romantic and deeply American in being competent. Be it a “Rick Blaine,” who’s sketchy past in “Casablanca”, positioned him to be able to navigate through a minefield of intrigue, as a simple bar owner who was a center of influence to everyone around him. He was the guy who could get things done and understood what was going on around him to great effect. Or a Chief Tecumshe, the battle hardened American Indian leader, who envisioned an independent Native American Nation in the Ohio Valley area of the U.S. Through force of will, intellect and competency he cobbled together a Native American confederacy allied with the British during the War of 1812. What a range of skills and experience must he have had to unite several deferent tribes, defy the United States of America and go to war with them on the side of the British, who were the most dominant and ruthless world power known to man. I dare say this was defiantly an exhibition of competency and balls.

For the entirety of my adult life I have been blessed with multiple opportunities to be exposed to competent people. This exposure to a wide cross section of successful and competent people illustrated some core characteristics that they all had in common. What I saw repeatedly were individuals that possessed not only physical traits, as some of these people were not particularly athletic, they also possessed things that were harder to determine at first. Some common themes were mentally agile, they had a knack for details, no tolerance for fluff and had a drive to be good at what they were doing. Some had egos but most relished the idea of achieving perfection and were competing with themselves more than the guy standing next to them. They seemed to focus on a bigger picture, one that was custom to the vision that they alone could see. They would wrestle with their own short comings and find creative solutions to negate a shortfall in talent or ability to rise above or reach a goal. The mean results of their efforts usually exceeded the standards they were trying to meet. Seeing such positive results time after time, prompted me to follow in their footsteps and strive to be competent in my chosen craft.

Last month we explored the concept of “competency” by modeling it. Still not satisfied, we have continued to explore the idea of what competency really is. The idea itself is simple, but measuring it and labeling someone as competent can be subjective and diffuse in its application and extends far beyond the exercise of firearms training.  One person’s vision of the “right stuff” can be very different from another person’s, but most of the time we know it when we see it. What are the differences between two individuals who follow the Competency Model we previously discussed to the letter with varying degrees of success? Is it individual talent or luck that sets them apart, or someone’s subjective interpretation of their performances?

One can think the difference is the application of a competency based training or education process and that is a key component of our discussion. The education we are seeking, is one that is based on a demonstrable hierarchy and begins with a general “knowing of” or an “Awareness” that there is a skill or block of information out there that needs to be understood. However, at this stage simply knowing that it exists is akin to ignorance, and attempting to dabble in this area is sure to bring disaster or failure. For example, we are all aware of the fact that the United States Constitution exists and that it plays a huge part in our lives here in America, but if we begin to espouse its virtues without even knowing there are 27 amendments of which the first 10 make up the Bill of Rights, we trend towards being foolish and who wants to play the fool.

Having recognized that we have a gap in our education we begin to deliberately pursue and catalog baseline information and experience as we move into the “knowing” phase of the Competency Hierarchy. At this phase, we may even seek coaching to augment our individual pursuit of facts and skills. Coaching or mentoring acts as a force multiplier in our efforts to collect our required material in an expedient manner, and will greatly improve our efficiency correlating information into a useable format. Continuing with our example of understanding the U.S. Constitution, we now know that the first ten amendments deal with protecting our individual liberties from Governmental overreach into our daily lives. We have come to learn that the 1st Amendment deals with Freedom of Religion, the 2nd, Right to Bear Arms, 3rd Quartering of Soldiers, 4th Search and Seizure, 5th Due Process of the Law, 6th Rights of the Accused, 7th Trial by Jury, 8th Protection from Cruel and Unusual Punishment, 9th Rights of Other People and the 10th Defines the Powers of the States.

Now that we have acquired this information, and can articulate a reason for its possession we have gained a certain degree of proficiency and comfort working with the material. This translates into a working knowledge that allows us to speak to, or perform a task with a degree of authority. This doesn’t make us an expert in Constitutional Law, using our current example, but it does give us a degree of competency that we can establish frames of reference. For instance, the 3rd Amendment, in the United States the government is forbidden from quartering soldiers in private residences. However, in the United Kingdom, the government still quarters its troops in private residences, all be it nowadays with land owner’s permission along with some compensation.

The ability to frame information/ experience and place it into context is the real measure of Competency. Once we gain “Understanding” we gain the ability to apply the body of work we have created in an instinctive manner. We now possess skills that allow us to cherry pick pertinent proficiencies and information from a broad scope of capabilities and apply them in creative and insightful ways that go beyond any one task. 


Characteristics of Competent People:

“Competency” in simple terms, is one’s abilities to know and understand the expectations of other people within our relevant “organizations and communities” and consistently meeting those obligations. Most of the time no one will ever ask you if you accept these expectations, these are implied by you simply occupying the space within the community you find yourself in. You will have two options, one, you can do the bare minimum to meet the expectations, or two, you can accept the opportunities in front of you and excel and broaden your perceived worth to your peers.

The road less traveled is the latter. This path is fraught with several pitfalls that if we allow them to, will frustrate us and cause us to lose sight of our intended goal. The type of person this route appeals to the most is not really, the person who seeks fame and fortune, all though this is often the byproduct of excellent performance, but the one who is committed to gaining knowledge and experience for sake of achieving that knowledge and experience. Be careful here, I know we are sounding “Zen like’ and uber altruistic, the point is seeking competency is a good thing and there isn’t anything wrong with reaping rewards for our hard work, just don’t lie to others or yourself about why you are doing this. People can smell a fake and the beauty you are trying to create will be missed.

Competent people usually find themselves driven and committed to seek knowledge and experience that is often disguised as adventure. For example, many successful people learn to fly or sail and even shoot to expand their capabilities and exercise their minds. The satisfaction gained from knowing and possessing that knowledge and experience makes them more resilient, capable and dangerous if needed. These adventures often start off as an unconscious pursuit of self-fulfillment to breed confidence and proficiency, not for selfish reasons, but for a broader sense of purpose that organically manifests itself in time. With every expectation met or exceeded, confidence grows as they search for the boundaries of their potential and capabilities.  This is the core reason I embarked on the path of becoming a Special Forces soldier. I was only vaguely aware of the prestige of holding that title. What was most appealing, was seeing a group of guys who calmly and coolly went about their daily business with flare but still in a professional manner often in strange and far off places by themselves. In these locations, they would find themselves in situations where their mental agility blended with physical strength to solve problems in a crucible where failing meant someone died or a battle was lost.  I just knew that if I could get there, the adventure and experience would teach me things that few would ever get to experience, things that would serve me well where ever I may find myself.

I would learn to become a center of influence, and be of assistance to help others should they desire it. I could be counted on to have an answer or know where to get it, to lead or be led. But the most important thing I learned was “Critical Thinking”!

The ability to think critically, is well critical. It gives the competent person “vision” or the ability to anticipate an issue and take steps to mitigate problems. This mental flexibility is honed by experience and knowledge. This is what we can collectively call “situational awareness”, which is a core competency. Developing situational awareness gives us flexibility in our thoughts and actions. As we find ourselves dealing with any number of situations be it, tactical or business, an inability to know what is going on around us is a kiss of death.

People who are most often associated with being competent are aware of the tools they possess and what tools they can use to solve a problem. Competent individuals instinctively know when to be surgical in solving a problem and when to use a sledge hammer and they can adeptly use each tool at will. Here once again we find ourselves reaching back to our tools of knowledge and experience. These are the force multipliers of competency that give us a clear frame of reference as to the magnitude of an issue. Competent people possess a broad range of knowledge and experience, which serve as tools in out tool box. They at times instinctively chose a course of action that is appropriate and fits the situation that they are in. Lastly, competent people use common sense. They can tell when a position has become untenable and will not be afraid to change their course to save the whole.

What we as men are hard wired to do, is to be leaders, protectors and providers for our families and communities. Past generations of men were trained to do just that. Classily trained men were taught the arts, statesmanship as well as martial skills to fulfill those exact expectations. It is up to us as men and women who recognize the expectations of our society to step forward and become competent contributors to those around us. If we do this, we will find that we have lead a life that has meaning on many levels.


Shane Iversen is Director of Training and Lead Instructor at CSAT MTT (www.csatmtt.com).  He has over 25 years’ military experience as well as 11 years as a Dallas Police Officer. He started his military career in the US Marines where he served as a mortar man, Forward Observer and Scout Sniper. In 1992 he began his career in Army Special Forces as a Weapons Sergeant and most recently retired from the 19th Special Forces as a Team Sergeant. Since September 11, 2001, Shane has had multiple combat tours with the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as worked as a contractor for various US Government Agencies in both Theaters.  He brings firsthand knowledge of the latest Tactics, Techniques and Procedures being used in the War on Terror.




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