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Updated ICF Core Competency Model For Coaches

What The Updated ICF Core Competency Model Means for Coaches

Dr. Paras
Dr. Paras
Mar 16, 2021
Updated ICF Core Competency Model Means for Coaches

Being a professional coach with an ICF Credential opens the doors for wonderful opportunities in the industry. The ICF Core Competencies Model is driven deeply into the minds of aspiring coaches who go through rigorous training to be thorough professionals. 

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) announced a new ICF Core Coaching Competencies model in 2019 which has been encapsulated after in-depth research and testing as per the ICF announcement on their website. 

ICF is an international organization that has specified these core competencies skills as guidelines to enforce standards of conduct for all ICF-certified coaches (ACC, PCC, MCC.)

What does this mean for Coaches? Why are the ICF Core Competencies important for all coaches?  Well, there are many other professionals who may brand themselves as coaching professionals. 

Those who have been certified by ICF and follow the 11 ICF Core Competencies of Coaching would already know the massive difference between a ‘Coach’ and an ‘ICF-certified Coach.’ 

Professionals who are ICF credential-holders enjoy a reputation and trust due to the rigorous training imparted through their trainers and further work extensively with Mentor-Coaches who prepare them for the professional world with a strong focus on core competency skills. 

ICF offers the following 3 credentials:

  1. Associate Certified Coach (ACC)
  2. Professional Certified Coach (PCC)
  3. Master Certified Coach (MCC)

If you’re looking for an ICF-accredited coach training and certification program, click here

Learn under the expertise of ICF coach Dr. Paras

Learning the ICF Core Competencies instills a broader perspective and range of thinking in an individual. 

A professional learns about the behavioral skills he or she needs to inculcate, hold awareness, and demonstrate in their daily life. One also can define their approach required in their coaching style. 

The ICF Core Competency Model is useful to build the foundation of all coaching methods. 

It lends unique credibility while ensuring the professional gets great returns! ICF-certified coaches are respected the world over and are always the preferred choice when it comes to coaching requirements for corporates and individuals. 

Why do the ICF Core Competencies matter? 

All ICF accredited programs such as the ones offered by Dr. Paras (Founder, Matrrix) ensures the learners display the right professional conduct and approach to their coaching style. 

They follow the ICF Core Competencies as a guideline and display the right attitude to develop skills that give them a deeper understanding of the human mind, behaviors, actions. 

They also lend a genuineness to their coaching style wherein the ICF Core Competencies serve as an effective reminder.  ICF-trained professionals gain great exposure globally while working with top-notch professionals. 

Clients always show a level of confidence in professionals who display ICF credentials for their coaching and training programs. 

An understanding and demonstration of core competencies set a professional apart in terms of their knowledge, observation, emotion management, and the ability to develop a deep trust with the client. 

To understand the list of ICF Core Coaching Competencies, let’s have a look at the 11 competencies that were a part of the old list.

Old ICF Core Coaching Competencies - 

These 11 ICF Core Competencies of Coaching have been published as displayed on the ICF website. 

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. These old ICF Core Coaching Competencies mentioned above are not completely overwritten by the new updated list. 

In the old version, the competencies are placed in four clusters. Many of them have been modified after a thorough study. ICF has mentioned more than 1,300 coaches have participated in the process and the research was conducted over 24 months of intense study

The new list has been modified and created to simplify the process and add new competencies as per the changing times and detailed research done by ICF and participating professionals. 

It also reflects the awareness around one important facet of coaching which is the human psychological process and the changing behaviors. As change is the one thing that is always constant, ICF believes in this change to initiate growth and ensure professionals evolve with the changing times. 

Most importantly, it also ensures professionals continuously display excellence in their coaching style which is constantly evaluated with the ICF Core Coaching Competency Model. 

What is the Impact of the New ICF Core Competency Model on Existing Coaches?

As a coach, you may be wondering if there is a massive change. ICF Certified Coaches who have already been trained in this area need not worry about the new list. The newer version is simplified as compared to the existing version. 

We have 8 core competencies in the updated ICF Core Competency Model as compared to the 11 ones mentioned above. Now, if you had trained with a coaching institute such as Matrrix in 2020, your assessment will be carried out as per the old Core Competencies of ICF. 

The updated list has been integrated into the curricula of the ICF-accredited coach training programs from January 2021. This also means the updated credentialing assessments will then reflect this revised version in the second half of 2021. 

If you are also planning to apply by the end of 2020, it’s advisable to stick to the old competencies. Those professionals who are planning to apply by 2021, need to learn the new ICF Core Competency Model. 

Professionals who are yet to sign up may need to check if your chosen institute is following the old or the new ICF Core Coaching Competencies.

Updated ICF Core Competency Model

Let’s have a look at the new ICF core coaching competencies that form an important part of every coaching professional’s life! 

The core competencies are applicable to every type of coach and serve as a foundation to one’s coaching skills. The core competencies skills are an essential part of a coach’s growth apart from the many other techniques as learned during one’s coaching journey. 


1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice

Definition: Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.

  1. Demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
  2. Is sensitive to clients' identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs
  3. Uses language appropriate and respectful to clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
  4. Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values
  5. Maintains confidentiality with client information per stakeholder agreements and
    pertinent laws
  6. Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other
    support professions
  7. Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate

2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

Definition: Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.

  1. Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices
  2. Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach
  3. Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one's coaching
  4. Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others
  5. Uses awareness of self and one's intuition to benefit clients
  6. Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one's emotions
  7. Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions
  8. Seeks help from outside sources when necessary


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.

  1. Explains what coaching is and is not and describes the process to the client and relevant stakeholders
  2. Reaches agreement about what is and is not appropriate in the relationship, what is and is not being offered, and the responsibilities of the client and relevant stakeholders
  3. Reaches agreement about the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship such as logistics, fees, scheduling, duration, termination, confidentiality and inclusion of others
  4. Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to establish an overall coaching plan and goals
  5. Partners with the client to determine client-coach compatibility
  6. Partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session
  7. Partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address or resolve to achieve what they want to accomplish in the session
  8. Partners with the client to define or reconfirm measures of success for what the client wants to accomplish in the coaching engagement or individual session
  9. Partners with the client to manage the time and focus of the session
  10. Continues coaching in the direction of the client's desired outcome unless the client indicates otherwise
  11. Partners with the client to end the coaching relationship in a way that honors the experience

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.

  1. Seeks to understand the client within their context which may include their identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs
  2. Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one's coaching to the client
  3. Acknowledges and respects the client's unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process
  4. Shows support, empathy and concern for the client
  5. Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions
  6. Demonstrates openness and transparency as a way to display vulnerability and build trust with the client

5. Maintains Presence

Definition: Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.

  1. Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client
  2. Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process
  3. Manages one's emotions to stay present with the client
  4. Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process
  5. Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing
  6. Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection


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.

  1. Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating
  2. Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding
  3. Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating
  4. Notices, acknowledges and explores the client's emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors
  5. Integrates the client's words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated
  6. Notices trends in the client's behaviors and emotions across sessions to discern themes and patterns

7. Evokes Awareness

Definition: Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy.

  1. Considers client experience when deciding what might be most useful
  2. Challenges the client as a way to evoke awareness or insight
  3. Asks questions about the client, such as their way of thinking, values, needs, wants and beliefs
  4. Asks questions that help the client explore beyond current thinking
  5. Invites the client to share more about their experience in the moment
  6. Notices what is working to enhance client progress
  7. Adjusts the coaching approach in response to the client's needs
  8. Helps the client identify factors that influence current and future patterns of behavior, thinking or emotion
  9. Invites the client to generate ideas about how they can move forward and what they are willing or able to do
  10. Supports the client in reframing perspectives
  11. Shares observations, insights and feelings, without attachment, that have the potential to create new learning for the client


8. Facilitates Client Growth

Definition: Partners with the client to transform learning and insight into action. Promotes client autonomy in the coaching process.

  1. Works with the client to integrate new awareness, insight or learning into their worldview and behaviors
  2. Partners with the client to design goals, actions and accountability measures that integrate and expand new learning
  3. Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions and methods of accountability
  4. Supports the client in identifying potential results or learning from identified action steps Invites the client to consider how to move forward, including resources, support and potential barriers
  5. Partners with the client to summarize learning and insight within or between sessions Celebrates the client's progress and successes
  6. Partners with the client to close the session

Difference between Old and New ICF Core Coaching Competencies

The new model does incorporate parts of the earlier model. This updated ICF Core Competency Model is considered to be concise. It includes a change with ethical behavior and display of confidentiality in focus.

Some concepts of the ICF 11 Core Competency have been retained in the updated ICF Core Competency Model. The original model was divided into 4 clusters:

  1. Setting the Foundation
  2. Co-creating the Relationship
  3. Communicating Effectively
  4. Facilitating Learning and Results

Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards has been retained in the new model as Demonstrates Ethical Practice. Establishing the Coaching Agreement has also been retained and reframed to Establishes and Maintains Agreements. 

Establishing Trust and Intimacy from Cluster B is also retained as Cultivates Trust and Safety. This is an important part of a coach’s core competency as coaching is about moving the client to their goals in the safest space possible. 

Coaching Presence is maintained as well for both versions. An example of trust as a core competency is about building the right connections with the client to create a safe and non-judgmental space for discussion. It’s about the ability to gain trust, desire vulnerability while being a bit vulnerable themselves. 

Active Listening, Powerful Questioning, and Direct Communication from cluster C are retained as Listen’s Actively and Evokes Awareness. In the new model, listening actively is highlighted to remind coaches about this competency being an integral part of their job. Actively, here, is emphasized.

While cluster D’s Creating Awareness is retained, the other 3 points of Designing Actions, Planning Goals, Managing Progress and Accountability have been combined in Facilitates Client Growth. This concise version in the new ICF Core Competency Coaching Model ensures client growth remains in focus. 

The model is developed to support coaches to have a wider knowledge and awareness about the skills one needs to display and the approaches to be used in one’s coaching practice. A mastery of these competencies leads to a well accomplished coach! 

ICF Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA)

Applicants need to apply for the credential to ICF, following which, the application is reviewed. The ICF emails a status that outlines the next step in the credentialing process. Once the review process has been completed, the ICF initiates an email invite for the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). 

The CKA is a process that measures the applicant’s understanding as well as the knowledge they hold about the practice of coaching. It can be considered as a test that gauges the applicant's ability and comprehension of the ICF definition of coaching, the core competencies, the Code of Ethics, values, and more. 

At present, the CKA includes 155 multiple-choice test items to be answered in 180 minutes. This ensures all coaches with the ICF Credential are adhering to a standard process that measures the progress, understanding, and overall knowledge for the chosen credential.

ICF also uses these core coaching competencies when they collaborate with coaching centers that are accredited with the ACTP level with ICF. 

Any applicant who is training towards their PCC do not have to submit a recording. It also means applicants can fast-track the process while ICF ensures the applicants follow all the core competencies and standards of being an ICF certified coach

What are your views about the core competencies comparison table? Are you looking for a deeper understanding of the updated ICF Core Competencies of Coaching? Write to [email protected].

Aspire to be a coach? Click here for more information about joining an ICF accredited coaching program or check our schedule to become a certified ICF Coach

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Read this blog to develop the qualities needed for a Best Certified Life coach

Dr. Paras


Dr. Paras

ICF-certified (Master Certified Coach) and ESIA -Coach Supervisor Dr. Paras, and Co-Founder of Dr Paras Wellness Pvt. Ltd. with brand Matrrix has been focused towards initiating change and transformation in people. As a certified Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) Master Practitioner and Mindfulness Coach, he brings a fresh approach towards learning the psychology of one’s thinking and behavior patterns. In his 18 years’ journey, he has trained, coached and mentored over 1.5 lakh individuals while certifying over 240 coaches. The leadership development programs of Matrrix have honed over hundreds of professionals while resolving workplace issues and ensuring higher ROI for firms.

Dr. Paras uses the power of coaching, counseling and positive psychology frameworks to resolve organizational issues, manage internal conflicts, and accelerate business growth. His programs for professional certifications in NLP, Mindfulness, Counseling, Coaching, and more have solidified his name as a transformation coach. Dr. Paras is also the founder of the Iinner Universe Education Foundation that runs Tava-Mitram (not-for-profit) to improve emotional wellness. He is also an avid blogger and social media enthusiast who loves keeping in touch with his international audience.

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