ICF Core Competencies Infographic PDF


First, download our PDF here; no opt-in is needed, Here is a helpful 1 long page infographic summarizing practical tips to help you strive for each core competency and prepare well for an ICF Performance Evaluation.

This guide is based on the latest ICF competency updates and changes from 11 to 8 Core Competencies, and from ACTP ACSTH to Level 1, 2 and 3 Programs.


understand the ICF core competencies

5 Guiding Principles we use to assess the ICF Core Competencies [updated Jan 2024]

This is a guide to all things ICF competency related, updated in January 2024 to account for the ICF credential path and accreditation changes in 2022-2023.

Whether you are:

  • On the ICF credentialing road to ACC, PCC and MCC.
  • Love improving your coaching skills.
  • Wanting to prepare well for an assessment.

You’ll find useful tips, “aha” insights and suggested skills to meet these global professional coaching benchmarks. This is a behind-the-curtain sharing where you can learn exactly what we (ACC, PCC and MCC Marker Assessors) look for in a coaching assessment and why.

Who are the ICF?

(The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is a not-for-profit that establishes credential benchmarks with a code of ethics to accredit training programs and credential professional coaches at 3 Levels Associate ACC, Professional PCC, and Master MCC).

In 2021 the ICF had accredited over 2600 providers (23% more than in 2020) and had 41,849 credential holders.

Even though I appreciate the value of the ICF, I also feel it’s important that each coach frees their unique style and voice in the coaching space. Like passing a driver’s test to prove we can safely drive a car, the ICF has given us benchmarks for ethical and professional coaching standards that we can stand on and not be trapped under.  

Every coach is unique. We all walk our own career paths, learning how best to serve the clients called to us.

I suggest that you use the ICF guidelines and standards to establish a baseline but then find and free your unique expression. Otherwise, there is a risk of dulling your free creative spirit.

Let your inner wisdom guide you in your ability to meet your clients at their place of need and serve at the highest.

Knowledge empowers, wisdom enlightens, let’s lead, coach and guide with wisdom together.

My name is Colleen-Joy. I’m MCC certified with the ICF and the author of the InnerLifeSkills Master Coach, Level 1 and Level 2 (formerly ACTP) Accredited Training Program. Being accredited since 2012 means my team, and I have had the privilege of guiding many natural coaches to build successful careers, changing lives one coached conversation at a time. Two of our corporate clients, where we have trained managers and consultants with coaching skills, were short listed for the ICF Prism Award top 5 and top 10. We have guided many coaches to successfully achieve their ACC, PCC and MCC.

I’m sure you’ve realized the ICF competencies can be confusing. The ICF made significant changes in its competencies and accreditation paths in the last few years. After marking many assessments and listening to common questions and confusion, I’m compiling this guide to help.

Let’s declutter, demystify, and give you critical skills and methods to strengthen several competencies. Although each ICF competency has specific markers, you’ll find that some skill sets strengthen several competencies at once. There are a lot of overlapping areas, in other words 1 solid skill or method can help you demonstrate several core competecies.

I’ll highlight which can help you reach professional and master levels.


What are the latest 8 ICF Core Competencies? (Since January 2021)

There are 4 categories of ICF competency A foundation, B Co-creating the relationship, C Communicating effectively and D, Cultivating learning and growth.

Here are the 8 core competencies.

  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice
  2. ICF Core Competency 2 Embodies a Coaching Mindset
  3. ICF Core Competency 3 Establishes and Maintains Agreements
  4. ICF Core Competency 4 Cultivates Trust and Safety
  5. ICF Core Competency 5 Maintains Presence
  6. ICF Core Competency 6 Listens Actively
  7. ICF Core Competency 7 Evokes Awareness
  8. ICF Core Competency 8 Facilitates Client Growth

After extensive research, surveys and dialogue with in-house and independent professional coaches across the globe and over 25 years, the ICF offer 8 Core Competencies to set the gold standard of professional coaching. These competencies are used to assess and credential professional coaches.

“The ICF Core Competencies were developed to support a greater understanding of 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.”

How have the Core Competencies changed?

The original ICF competencies were created in 1998 and had 11 Core Competencies. With the industry fast evolving and growing exponentially, it was time for an update. The leadership team felt it was time to articulate more clearly what on-the-ground coaches had been doing for 20+ years.

In the ICF official interview with Pamela Richarde, MCC, she explains that the 2021 updated Core Competencies are not “new” but are articulated slightly differently and organized more logically in relationship to what working coaches do.

Watch the ICF tutorials on the updated competencies here. 

Along with updating the competencies, the ICF also revamped its brand and launched several new website services for its growing community called the ICF ecosystem.

5 Guidelines for ICF Competency mastery

5 Guiding principles used to assess your coaching in ICF Performance Evaluations

When my InnerLifeSkills faculty team and I mark assessments (listen to Level 1 and Level 2 performance evaluations for ACC and PCC, which are submitted recorded coaching sessions), we are guided by 5 principles that align with ICF marking standards.

These 5 guiding principles plus the 8 Core Competencies (we have 1 in depth article per competency) can help you know exactly what is looked for in your coaching.

#1 Opportunity – can you spot coaching opportunities?

The first guiding principle that I’ve identified is opportunity. When we mark performance evaluations, we ask ourselves, “Is the coach noticing the opportunities to coach in a client conversation?”

Listen to your client’s sharing to identify and spot opportunities for further exploration or inquiry.

Here are a few reasons you might miss vital opportunities because you’re:

  • Too focused on the process (beginner coaches suffer from this).
  • Too mechanical (if you haven’t learned flexible skills).
  • Not listening deeply enough (if you’re listening to your thoughts or aren’t fully engaged).
  • Don’t feel fully equipped to meet that opportunity (lack training, methods and skills).

These can count against you and lower your overall skillset as a coach. Once you’ve heard an opportunity (your client says something that will help move the session forward) and spotted it, it’s all about how you respond.

What is a coaching opportunity?

A coaching opportunity could be something the client has said or not said or the way they’ve said it. Which is why we need to be listening to the whole client, not only the literal words they are using.

#2 Response – can you respond to those opportunities at professional levels?

How you respond is also what you say, how, and when you say it.

As assessors, we’re also asking ourselves:

  • “Are you responding at an ACC Associate entry, beginner coach level, a PCC Professional level, or MCC Master coach level?”
  • “Are you responding as a coach, or are you responding more as a consultant, a trainer, a counsellor, or a mentor?”
  • “Are your responses fully customized to who your client is, their identity, their values, their beliefs, and their ideas to the coaching contract (jargon not to be used in coaching sessions for the outcome or the agreed activity of a coaching session)? As well as to what your client wants, their goals, solutions and the meaningful change they seek.

For example, a contract (agreed session focus outcome) could be that your client wants to make an action plan, change a mindset, overcome an inner obstacle, brainstorm solutions, have some kind of emotional state change, make a decision and so forth. There are many different kinds of contract outcomes. Contracts can be done in the timeframe of a session.

    • That is very important because we should customize our coaching in alignment with the contract. I often use the metaphor or the symbol of an archer hitting a target for contracting and achieving contracts. 
    • The client needs to select and determine the session contract, not the coach.

One of the things we listen for when assessing an ICF Performance Evaluation is the balance between productivity, helping a client to achieve something in their coaching session, and the wonderful gift of just holding space for someone to share openly. And the balance between what the ICF calls the “Who” and the “What” – so that the session isn’t only surface to-do-list style coaching.

So we want to consider the context of why they’re there for coaching, whether they were sent to you for coaching, whether they volunteered, and whether you have some kind of theme behind the coaching. These are all kept in mind as you customize your coaching.

#3 Customized – can you customize your response?

To customize, you need flexibility in your skills, which starts at high professional and master coaching levels. Building a comprehensive toolbox with many different frameworks and processes to adapt and draw from, gives you freedom. A poorly trained coach struggles to adapt and customize, so their coaching is rigid and mechanical. Think of a chef who can only cook a few recipes, versus a master chef who has so many recipes and skills they can be creative and intuitive. That’s what we want for your coaching.

If you have one-dimensional limited coaching skills or can only offer what we call to-do-listcoaching, you’re going to find it difficult to customize and you might struggle to reach professional and master levels where customized flexibility counts the most.

#4 Evidence, not judgment – are you demonstrating sufficient quality evidence?

When marking Performance Evaluations (recorded coaching sessions submitted for Level 1 or 2 Certification or Level 3), we are listening for evidence. We’re not deciding wrong or right or good or bad. We’re gathering evidence. We’re looking for sufficient evidence that you are meeting the ICF core competencies.

Some competencies require just a touch of evidence. Some competencies are implied, and you don’t have to provide evidence in the session itself. But there are many competencies that you do need to show substantial evidence.

We are also listening for contra evidence.

Contra Evidence is those deal-breaker moments where you step outside of the realm of coaching, and there is evidence that moves against your capacity to offer professional coaching.

Contra evidence in assessing an ICF core competency refers to information or behaviors that contradict or challenge the expected or demonstrated proficiency in that competency.

So we are gathering evidence and noting contra evidence. We’re not judging you as a person. We are evaluating the session, looking for proof of demonstration of the ICF competencies.

# 5 Enquiry vs Inquiry

This is an important point. There is a difference between inquiry and exploration as defined by the ICF.

  1. An inquiry is when you ask a single question.
  2. Exploration is what I like to call taking out a picnic basket, where the opportunity you’re responding to deserves far more than a quick question.

This is particularly important when your client discovers ‘aha’ epiphanies, those growth moments when the client shifts from “I don’t know” to “I have clarity, and I know.”

When your client has an important transformation or an inner obstacle suddenly is resolved or dissolved through accessing their inner wisdom, they’re finding their own best solutions. That deserves deep exploration rather than light inquiry.

If you’re sitting at a dinner table with a loved one and you share something important, and they say, “please pass the salt,” you feel the break in rapport and might shut down.

Our clients always give us opportunities to respond and respond well.

They don’t want us to offer them mechanical scripted questions that weren’t customized to them, to the context and the reason they have coaching in the first place.

Those gems that show up in a coaching session when you intuitively sense this is something important. These deserve full exploration.

So take a little side road for a moment, invest a few minutes, take out a picnic basket metaphorically with your clients and hang out there to discover and to dig a little deeper.


When preparing for an ICF Performance Evaluation and Knowledge Assessment, focus on demonstrating evidence for the Core Competencies, avoiding Contra Evidence and knowing which to show Enquiry (deep dive exploration) instead of lighter Inquiry (single questions).

Read our articles on each competency and download our helpful PDF ICF Competency infographic to gain insight, demystify and learn helpful methods to strengthen a few competencies at the same time.

With this 5 guiding principles, add an understanding of the first Core Competencies next.