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Succession planning and management guide

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Step 2. Identify capabilities for key areas and positions

A clear understanding of capabilities needed for successful performance in key areas and positions is important for guiding learning plans and may serve as the basis for self-assessment tools. Moreover, knowing the required capabilities is necessary for setting clear performance expectations, assessing performance, and for selection purposes. For the purposes of this tool, capabilities may consist of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) or competency profiles.

Regardless of which approach or definition of capabilities your organization uses (KSAs or competency profiles), it is important that these are incorporated into your succession strategies to better assess gaps and focus development efforts.

What are knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)?

Although various definitions exist, we have defined these terms as follows ( See endnote 9):


is a body of information that allows a person to perform a task successfully (e.g. budgeting and accounting principles).


is an individual's level of proficiency in performing a specific task (e.g. statistical data manipulation).


is more general than skill and refers to an enduring trait or capability in performing tasks (e.g. the ability to analyze).

What are competencies and competency profiles?

Many organizations define a competency as any knowledge, skill, or ability, demonstrated through behaviour, that results in superior job performance. Some definitions include personal qualities, values, or traits as competencies. Examples of competencies include interpersonal effectiveness, teamwork, technical capability, and reliability.

A competency profile is a set of competencies typically applied to groups of positions such as occupational groups (e.g. executives) or that are function-specific (e.g. IT, finance). Some organizations also identify a set of core competencies that are aligned with their organizations mission and values and that apply to all employees in the organization. Competency profiles facilitate the integration of HR activities, such as succession planning aligned with recruitment, learning, performance evaluation, etc. through a common language and framework.

How do organizations identify the capabilities for key areas and key positions?

Consider creating a list of the most important capabilities needed for key areas and positions by using information from the job or position description and merit criteria, and by interviewing job incumbents and stakeholders.

A discussion of how to develop competency profiles is beyond the scope of this document. Activities may include interviewing content experts, job incumbents, and other stakeholders; conducting focus groups; administering surveys or checklists; and validating the profiles.

If your organization wants to learn more about developing competency profiles, consider becoming a member of the Interdepartmental Committee on Competency-Based Management. For additional information, please see “Additional Sources of Information” at the end of this document.

Managers checklist

  • Have you used information from the job description and merit criteria and have you spoken with job incumbents to identify the relevant knowledge, skills (including language), abilities, and/or competencies needed to achieve business goals?
  • Has your organization checked to see whether you can leverage knowledge from the functional communities (see Functional Communities of the Government of Canada ) or other departments and agencies that have developed competency profiles for similar key positions and areas?
  • Are you using the revised Key Leadership Competencies Profile for relevant positions and/or any leadership profile your department or agency may have?
  • Have you communicated to employees information about key positions and areas, as well as skills needed for these positions and areas, so that this information can be considered in the development of learning plans?

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