How to use a project management competency model to develop project leaders?



Today, the budgets for developing project managers are tight. At the same time, the demands for project teams and project managers are growing. A project management competency model is a powerful tool to meet both demands:

  1. Efficient and effective budget spending on quantifiable training needs and
  2. Growing project management staff quickly

Any model, be it a maturity model or a competency model, needs to have an assessment function and an improvement function. An assessment needs to be straight forward and an improvement plan should be the logical next result of the assessment. The competency model to be presented has a web-based self-assessment. The self-assessment will be the input to a profile and a report with suggested staff development initiatives. This report is part of the consultancy component of an engagement project.

Current situation of the requirements of project management staff

Project management is a changing profession. Today's projects have a new dimension of complexity. Project managers are managing project teams across time zones, technology is getting more and more difficult, innovation cycles are being reduced, and experienced project team members are more difficult to find.

In such an environment, the focused development of project managers and project team members requires attention. Companies are seeking to reduce the number of training days for each staff member and project managers and team members are canceling training dates so projects are delivered on time. In sum, individual development is perceived as being added value to the individual and the organization.

On the other hand, the organization has to ensure the right competencies and skills are available to achieve the strategy of the organization. How are all these different requirements balanced?

The solution is the application of a project manager competency model. The model enables each project manager and project team member to be assessed, and, an individual development plan created. The result—streamlined and focused development geared to the organizations targets and strategies.

Overview of Competency Models

There are several project manager competency models on the market place. There are generic standards available such as the PMDCF (Project Manager Competency Development Framework) or the ICB (IPMA Competency Baseline). Both standards are designed to provide guidance in the field. They are not designed for quick assessments of competencies.

There are also many commercial competency models on the market. Their scope is normally very wide. They cover many functional areas from IT-professionals, Business Analysts to Engineers. Their competencies specific to project management are few, resulting in limited benefits achieved in the area of project management.

There is a strong market demand for a competency model for the project management profession.

Introduction to the IIL Competency Model

The competency model to be presented has been used by many organizations. It covers all dimensions required of project management staff:

  • Project management competencies
  • Leadership competencies
  • Business competencies
  • Personal competencies
  • Application specific competencies

In total there are 37 competencies in this generic model.

Overview of the Proficiency Levels

Every competency has four different levels of proficiency:

  • Basic Understanding: This level is designed for staff working in projects that have no active management or leadership role.
  • Working Knowledge: This level is for all roles which are engaged in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling and closing. Staff members occupying these roles can be project core team members and functional managers
  • Experienced Knowledge: This level is designed for project managers and project sponsors
  • Subject Matter Expertise and Breadth: This level is designed for staff members in charge of strategic initiatives, programs and central project management functions

These different levels provide the design of target levels and allows for a clear differentiation of different roles in project management.

Introduction to the self-assessment

The self-assessment is a questionnaire. For each competency, one question is asked. To illustrate this, Risk Management is presented below:

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1

© 2007 International Institute for Learning, Inc. with permission from ITG Competency Group

The self-assessment has been designed as a 360° tool. In addition to the self-rating, the questionnaire may be completed by the direct supervisor, peers, project team members, clients or suppliers. Once completed, a comprehensive analysis is generated and the improvement areas are shown. Below is an illustration of a possible sample report:


The important part of the self-assessment is to keep it simple. The main short-coming of others tools on the marketplace is the complexity of their assessment.

Example of an individual staff development plan

The competency assessment report can be leveraged many ways. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Define a career path for project managers within a company to identify the strengths and areas of improvement
  2. Define an individual development plan for a project manager
  3. Find the right project manager and team members for the project
  4. Recruit the right project manager or team members from external suppliers

There are definitely more application areas. The key benefit is for an organization to get insight into the competencies of their resource to match them with the strategy of the organization. A competency model is a strategic tool for human resource development; projects are the future of the company. Combining the two is a necessity for any organization to remain competitive.

© 2007 International Institute for Learning, Inc.
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – (add location)



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