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 serve as the foundation of the Credential process, including the ICF Credentialing Exam. 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 ICF Core Competencies are organized into four domains based on commonalities and interdependencies between competencies within each domain. There are no domains nor individual competencies that are weighted—they do not represent any kind of hierarchy. Rather, each competency is considered core and critical for any competent coach to demonstrate.
The ICF Core Competencies were originally created in 1998, consisting of 11 Core Competencies. In November 2019, ICF released an updated version of the competencies. The updated Core Competencies were integrated in ICF-Accredited Coach Education Programs curricula beginning in January 2021. As of August 1, 2022, the updated Core Competencies were integrated into the Credentialing Performance Evaluation and written exam requirements.
1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice
Definition: Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.
2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset
Definition: Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.
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.
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.
5. Maintains Presence
Definition: Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident
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
7. Evokes Awareness
Definition: Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy
8. Facilitates Client Growth
Definition: Partners with the client to transform learning and insight into action. Promotes client autonomy in the coaching process.
The ICF Core Competencies have been translated into multiple languages. The French, German, Portuguese and Spanish translations are provided by ICF. All other translations were produced by the ICF Chapter or group listed with that language.
Translation produced by ICF Chapter Members in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Translation produced by ICF Denmark.
Translation produced by ICF Netherlands.
Translation produced by ICF Italy.
Translation produced by ICF Japan.
Translation produced by ICF Korea.
Translation produced by ICF Latvia.
Translation produced by ICF Poland.
Translation produced by ICF Russia.
Translation produced by ICF Turkey.
The ICF Core Competencies were originally created in 1998, consisting of 11 Core Competencies. In November 2019, ICF released an updated version of the competencies. Below are the original 11 Core Competencies for reference purposes.
1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards—Understanding of coaching ethics and standards and ability to apply them appropriately in all coaching situations.
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.
3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client—Ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.
4. Coaching Presence—Ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.
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.
6. Powerful Questioning—Ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.
7. Direct Communication—Ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.
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.
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.
10. Planning and Goal Setting—Ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with 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.
The following Core Competencies Comparison Tables are based upon the original 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.
English | Download Now
French | Download Now
German | Download Now
Portuguese | Download Now
Spanish | Download Now
Since 1998, the ICF Core Competencies have provided a vital foundation for the coaching profession.
When ICF first adopted 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 conducted a job analysis in 2008, and at the time, no changes to the competency model were made. As the coaching profession continued to grow and evolve over the next decade, ICF conducted another job analysis which was completed in 2019.
From start to finish, more than 1,300 coaches—both ICF Members and non-members—from around the globe participated in this process. These coaches represented a diverse range of coaching disciplines, coaching education 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, the new competency model offers a simpler, more streamlined structure and integrates consistent, clear language.
On December 10, 2019, ICF staff hosted a pair of webinars taking a more in-depth look at the updated ICF Core Competencies model. Download the slides and view the recordings below.