ICF releases Updated Core Competency Model

On November 14, 2019, the International Coach Federation (ICF) widely released their Updated Core Competency Model (I’ll refer to as UCCM in this article). The timing of my monthly newsletter, being the 15th of each month, allows me to share this exciting news with you, and give you some of my thoughts as I’ve had this model to ponder over for 6 weeks now.

Read further below what SME role I played in this process.

The release of the UCCM follows a rigorous, 24 month coaching practice analysis, gathering data from 1300 global coaches. The result being the first update to the ICF Core Competencies since they were created nearly 25 years ago!

This is a significant advancement for our profession, as the updated core competencies reflect what we’ve learned as coaches, assessors, trainers and mentors over the past two decades.

PCC Markers – a body of knowledge

The PCC Markers were released in 2014 and provide us with 47 indicators of coaching behaviors at the Professional Certified Coach (or mid-skill level). These markers have significantly shaped our knowledge of coaching behaviors since, and evolved the ICF assessing system to be more robust for PCC credentialing.

The PCC markers brought Partnering to the foreground as a key coaching behavior, as well as clearer indicators of what a Coaching Session Agreement conversation consists of, which wasn’t articulated in the original Core Competencies. I write more on the differences in the new model further below.

SME Role

I was honored to be part of one volunteer task force of Subject Matter Experts in this process. At first it felt overwhelming… My role was to take a huge spreadsheet containing all the possible Tasks a coach engages with and prioritize them by linking specific KSAOs (knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics) required to perform coaching tasks. (Task here is defined as “the behaviors and mental processes coaches engage in during the coaching process.”)

The output of my SME group was then passed on to the next SME group. Here’s a 12 minute video ICF released which includes that group of SMEs.

What a huge effort by a globally diverse group of SMEs! I’ll claim my Australian roots along with living in the United States as some diversity included too. 😊

Engaging with this project gave me insight into how the huge amount of data which had been collected from the global coaching practitioner population, was being used. Because of my SME role (along with having an ICF approved CCEs program for The Mentor Coaching Group), I’ve already had 6 weeks to ponder the Updated Core Competency Model. I’ve considered the evolution, including similarities and differences.

I’m delighted to share with you the official document from the ICF, which you can download here.

There are now 8 core competencies instead of 11. Here is how they map. I’ll comment on the changes further below.


The UCCM is now in alignment with what we’re already doing to teach, mentor and assess using the PCC Markers, and what our knowledge is of MCC skill level. ACC skill level still requires some work for assessing purposes. The ICF has announced that the integration of changes to assessing the ACC, PCC and MCC credentials will occur during 2020, with implementation expected in early 2021. As an ICF Assessor at all three of credential levels, I’ll be seeking clarification as it becomes available so I can continue to be on the leading edge of ICF core competency skill demonstration. This is another significant year of work ahead for ICF, and volunteer SMEs.

Observations – what’s different in the Updated Core Competency Model

1 – Demonstrates Ethical Practice.

The definition of this Core Competency is, “Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.”

This is similar to the current core competency, with the addition of a more inclusive and broader respect for “cultural, systemic and contextual awareness.” 

Sub-point 2 of the competency now reads as:

“2. Is sensitive to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs.”

This fits with what we are witnessing generally in most of the world, and are aspiring to include; that all human beings want to be valued for who they are and to align behavior with that ideal. In this case, as Coach Professionals.

There’s also sub-points in other core competencies which relate to awareness and respect for client context. More below.

2 – Embodies a Coaching Mindset.

The definition of this new core competency is,  “Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.”

There is overlap with the current core competency of Coaching Presence which is defined as, “Ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.”

A distinction is that “Embodies a Coaching Mindset” is the ongoing presence of the coach, and the coach is engaging in their ongoing development.

Two sub-points I’d like to highlight are:

“2. Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach.”

“3. Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching.”

“Sub-point 2. Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach.”

For me, sub-point 2 highlights the coach continuing to develop their coaching skill competency. Which is where the ‘path of development’ from ACC to PCC to MCC skill level fits. For me, it’s an ongoing glitch in the ICF credential renewal process that PCC and MCC coaches do not have to engage in any examination and growth of their coaching skills. You can participate in the required 40 hours of CCEs (Continuing Education Units) for each 3 year renewal cycle, without ever examining your coaching skills against the core competencies.

My Mentor Coaching Programs provide robust coaching skills development along this path of development as I believe strongly in ongoing development of the Coach. There is nothing more informative about your coaching skill level than listening to, reflecting on and reviewing your actual coaching with a qualified Mentor Coach.

“Sub-point 3. Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching.”

Sub-point 3 recognizes the ongoing responsibility to our own development as a human being, who is engaged in supporting other human beings in their work and life contexts, so they can be more fulfilled, happier, confident people. A coach who isn’t engaged in their own ongoing practice of self-development, has limited capacity to recognize the growth available for their client.

If we can’t embrace our ‘full’ selves, how can we embrace our client fully? We all have a shadow side, a light side, and everything in between. We have normal range of human emotions. None of us is a perfect human, yet we are all uniquely perfect in our own way.

Having an ongoing reflective practice, where we are quiet and reflect on ourselves; to me this is fundamental requirement for any coach. So it’s great to see it explicitly named as part of “Embodies a Coaching Mindset.”

As mentioned in UCCM #1 above, there’s another sub-point in this core competency #2 which reminds us that coaches operate in many relational contexts and to be aware of such.

Sub-point 4 is, “Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others.”


3 – Establishes and Maintains Agreements.

The definition is, “Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals. Establishes agreements for the overall engagement as well as those for each coaching session.”

This new version of this core competency recognizes the importance of the various agreements coaches engage with, from the overall coaching engagement agreements between various stakeholders, to the specific client-driven agenda for each coaching session.

For the first part of that definition, there’s overlap with the current core competency of Planning and Goal Setting. What’s been missing though is the reality of how each coaching session is a client-driven agenda. This is recognized in this new definition.

It’s worth re-stating that each coaching session is supposed to be a client-driven agenda, not a coach-driven agenda. This is one key distinction which sets coaching apart from consulting, training, mentoring and other approaches. We invite and allow our client to determine the direction and focus of each coaching session.


There is a huge emphasis in this updated Core Competency on Partnering.

The definition begins with “Partners with the client….” There are 11 sub-points, of which 7 begin with “Partners with….”

This highlights the significance of partnering as a key coaching behavior, which is aligned with the ICF definition of coaching which is; “Coaching is Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

4 – Cultivates Trust and Safety.

The definition is, “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.”

This core competency also includes recognition of client context with sub-point 2,“Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one’s coaching to the client.”

There’s an emphasis on Safety for the client in the coaching relationship. This shifts the language from Intimacy in the current core competency; recognizing that concept can have other meanings. The idea is our client is to feel safe to share freely.

Key wording to highlight; coach adapts to the client. Rather than having the client adapt to the coach.  When the coach leads the client with their system, approach, methodology, this is more a training approach, not a coaching approach. Partnering with the client recognizes our client as being ‘responsible for their own choices.’

Note: We may bring a particular approach to how to coach the client. Yet it still needs to keep the client ‘in the spotlight’ (here’s an article I’ve written on that concept).

5 – Maintains Presence.

The definition is, “Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.”

This is similar to the current Coaching Presence definition. The difference between Maintains Presence and the new core competency #2: Embodies a Coaching Mindset, is the context. Maintaining Presence in the coaching session environment, and #2 is the overall and ongoing development of the presence of the coach. At least that is how I understand it for now. As I work with the updated core competencies and gain further distinctions, I’ll be writing blog articles.

6 – Listens Actively.

The definition is, “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.”

This is a similar definition to the current core competency of Active Listening. Yet again, there is emphasis though on respecting the client uniqueness.

Sub-point 1 is, “Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating.”

7 – Evokes Awareness.

This is the most significant change from the current Core Competencies (besides the inclusion of “Embodies a Coaching Mindset.”)

The definition is, “Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy.”

This new competency encapsulates three current core competencies of Powerful Questioning, Direct Communication and Creating Awareness.

There’s recognition in this blending that there are a range of coaching skills which a coach uses so there is possibility of awareness to emerge for the client.

8 – Facilitates Client Growth.

The definition is, “Partners with the client to transform learning and insight into action. Promotes client autonomy in the coaching process.”

This new competency captures three current core competencies of Designing Actions, Planning and Goal Setting, Managing Progress and Accountability.

There’s that wording again; Partners with..… It is the client who is responsible for what they do with their awareness, and learning. And the idea of promoting client autonomy. It’s for the client to decide what actions to take forward beyond the coaching session. The coach works with and supports the client in their growth process. That includes supporting to design their best actions, as well as acknowledging and celebrating progress and successes.

Observations – what’s lost in the Updated Core Competency Model

At this early stage of digesting this new model, I have one concern. It’s the loss of the separate Core Competency of Powerful Questioning.

For me, the ability to craft open-ended questions which hold potential for awareness to emerge in the client; this is a core difference of what makes coaching really powerful to other approaches.

The more we customize questions using client specific language, the deeper into the client world we go, which positively impacts other core competencies as the client knows we really are “Listening Actively.”

At the same time, I’ve assessed ICF for ACC and PCC credentials in particular, where standard questions are asked, without other coaching skills such as offering observations, insights and feelings. This can be disconnected to what client is offering, or sound like an interrogation – question after question after question being asked.

At MCC skill level, there is more depth of questions that draw out client self-knowledge, and especially about themselves (Who they are) so they can more easily resolve their situation (What they want).

It will only be over a period of time that the impact of losing this Core Competency will be seen, and if the power of questions is lost.

In Closing…

I’m personally excited and delighted by the release of the Updated Core Competency Model. It’s been a long time in the making, and much needed. The current core competencies still are in the majority, represented in the UCCM. And with upgrades that bring our coaching competency knowledge into the present, and hopefully another 25 years into the future.

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC


Are you ready to upgrade your coaching skills, and prepare for your next ICF credential?

The Mentor Coaching Group Program is an ICF approved individual / group program with 24 Core Competency CCEs on offer, including 10 hours of mentor coaching.

I offer a rich, experiential mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for participants. You can read some testimonials from real people, FAQs, or find out more about The Mentor Coaching Program here

I’m a long term, experienced and active MCC Assessor. I’ve been trained by the ICF to assess using the PCC Markers. I regularly assess for ICF MCC, PCC and ACC credentials, and was one of 15 coaches on the core global team involved in the 2020 update of the PCC Markers to align with the ICF Updated Core Competency Model.

One of the unique offerings for my clients is access to an extensive, exclusive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching session recordings, many of which have passed the ICF credential exam process. These are an incredibly valuable self-learning tool, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions at each skill level.

I offer other products including The Upgraded Target Approach: Clarifying the ICF Core Competency Model, as well as Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level. And a very unique opportunity to hear 15 consecutive coaching sessions with one of my clients in the Butterfly on the Wall Coaching Series You can learn more about these here


7 thoughts on “ICF releases Updated Core Competency Model

  1. Thank you so much Carly for all you do for our profession and for always sharing your wisdom and insights. Much appreciated!

      1. Brilliant thanks Carly,

        May I please share this with my students? It provides such a rich insight into the nuances and distinctions of the new model.

        Big hugs

        1. Hi Belinda!

          Yes, certainly. As long as you keep the article in tact, and put a link to my actual article.

          Warmly, Carly

Comments are closed.