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DOE Competencies

Definition of a Competency

Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines a competency as a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics that are needed to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully.  Competencies are developed, attained, and sustained through training, rotational and developmental assignments, experience (both professional and personal), education, and self development.  Attainment of a certain level of competency is assed based on demonstrated abilities to apply the competency in different situations and/or circumstances.  Attainment is based not just on performance in a role over time, nor is it necessarily directly tied to grade.

Competencies are the personal and professional attributes that are critical to successful performance.  Experience and training that strengthen and demonstrate the competencies will enhance an employee’s overall qualifications for career advancement.   As such, a Competency-Centric Learning and Development Framework addresses DOE’s talent challenges to develop a “continuously high performing competent organization” while promoting value-added, needs-driven training.  A key element of the competency-centric approach is to identify competency gaps and align them with learning and development opportunities.

Proficiency Levels

Proficiency level illustrations are provided with each competency to provide examples of on the job behavior which would support a rating at that grade level or pay plan.  However, these are only examples, other observed behaviors can also fit the definition.  Further, the person being assessed does not have to show all the behaviors – one can be sufficient to fit the definition.
There intent is to show a natural progression from the awareness to expert level as individuals advance in their careers.  The proficiency levels are not to be viewed as “grades.” The goal is for individuals and their direct supervisors to make consistent determinations against the proficiency level associated with their grade level. 

The behaviors below define each of the “underlying competencies” for the proficiency levels for which they apply.  The descriptions of the “underlying competencies”, when grouped together for the applicable competency, reflect the behaviors, knowledge, skills, and requirements for the fundamental competencies and each of the five leadership qualifications at the applicable proficiency levels.

Proficiency Level Definitions
Profeciency Level

Apply to each competency in conjunction with competency-specific proficiency level illustrations

  • Requires close and extensive guidance
  • Limited knowledge of, or an understanding of fundamental techniques and concepts
  • Focus is on learning
  • Focus is on developing through on-the-job experience
  • Understands and can discuss terminology, concepts, principles, and issues in this competency area
  • Utilizes the full range of reference and resource materials in this competency area
  • Focus is on applying and enhancing knowledge or skill
  • Applies this competency area to situations occasionally while needing minimal guidance to perform successfully
  • Understands and can discuss the application and implications of changes to processes, policies, and procedures in this competency area
  • Recognized within your immediate organization as "a person to ask" when difficult questions arise regarding this skill
  • Focus is on broad organizational/professional issues
  • Consistently provides practical/relevant ideas and perspectives on process or practice improvements which may easily be implemented
  • Capable of coaching others in the application of this competency by translating complex nuances relating to the specific competency area into easy to understand terms
  • Participates in senior level discussions in this competency area
  • Assists in the development of reference and resource materials in this competency area
  • Known as an expert in this area and can provide guidance, troubleshoot, and answer questions related to this area of expertise and the field where the skill is used
  • Focus is strategic
  • Demonstrates consistent excellence in applying this competency area across multiple projects and/or organizations
  • Considered the “go to” person in this area within DOE and/or outside organizations 
  • Creates new applications for and/or leads the development of reference and resource materials for this competency area
  • Able to diagram or explain the relevant process elements and issues in relation to organizational issues and trends in sufficient detail during discussions and presentations, to foster a greater understanding among internal and external colleagues, stakeholders, and customers


Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs)  Compared to Competencies

For a number of years, federal jobs have been described in terms of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) which typically focus on technical capabilities for the job.  Research has shown that competencies go beyond the technical requirements and also include the “soft skills” that are so critical to an individual’s success on the job.  Thus, competencies define the “whole person” and provide the important distinctions for job performance among all employees while also tapping into a more qualified talent pool.  The federal government has begun to adopt the use of competencies – a practice used by the private sector as well as state and local governments – to define the job requirements and proficiency levels.

To further clarify the differences between the traditional KSAs and competencies, users of the competency model should think of KSAs as a subset or part of competencies.  The remaining subset or part is comprised of those skills, behaviors and characteristics (called “soft skills”) that motivate the person and impact on his/her accomplishment of the technical job tasks.   Competencies are often a simpler, broader way of describing the traditional KSAs and soft skills.  Examples of how a user would define traditional KSAs in competency terms are:

KSA Descriptions Competencies
Ability to draft written technical documentsto support findings Written Communication
 Ability to manage and resolve conflicts in a constructive manner Conflict Management
Ability to define a long-term view of an organization and formulate appropriate goals and objectives
Knowledge of marketing opportunities for expansion of an organization’s services 
Ability to persuade others and build consensus through “give and take" Influencing/Negotiating


DOE Competency Model

A competency model is a collection of competencies that together define successful performance in a particular work setting. At DOE, a competency model has been developed for all employees in the organization (General) and for employees in specific occupations (Occupational: ie Engineering, Human Capital, etc.). 

Types of Competencies

General Competency Model: A general competency model is a collection of competencies that were developed for all DOE employees and considered pertinent to the organization’s successful performance. These individual competencies are defined and supported by examples of job behaviors.
Occupational Competency Model: An occupational competency model is a collection of competencies developed for all employees within a specific occupational series and considered pertinent to success in that profession. Not every competency in the occupation specific model may be relevant to an individual’s position

Competency Assessment

A competency assessment is a systematic method to identify individual, department, and organizational competency proficiencies that can be used for Workforce Planning, and to assist individuals, departments, and the organization in identifying potential skills gaps.