ICF Core Competencies Infographic PDF


First, download your PDF here, no opt-in needed, Here is a helpful 1 long page infographic summarizing practical tips to help you strive for each core competency.


understand the ICF core competencies

5 Guiding Principles we use to assess the ICF Core Competencies

This is a guide to all things ICF competency related. 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 (assessors) look for in a coaching assessment and why.

(ICF = International Coaching Federation 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, 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.

I’m sure you’ve realized the ICF competencies can be confusing. And 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. Because although each ICF competency has specific markers, you’ll find that some skill sets strengthen several competencies at once. I’ll highlight which can help you reach professional and master levels.


What are the 8 ICF Core Competencies? (As at 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.” https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/core-competencies

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 https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMBtOVpaN5DjRt-VAJIa0Xe0MLuA-LZNk

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

The 5 Guiding principles used to assess your coaching

When my InnerLifeSkills faculty team and I mark assessments (listen to performance evaluations of recorded coaching sessions), we are guided by 5 principles that align with ICF marking standards.

These 5 guiding principles plus the 8 Core Competencies 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 engaged).
  • Don’t feel fully equipped to meet that opportunity (lack training).

These can count against you and lower your overall skillset as a coach. Once you’ve heard an opportunity and spotted it, it’s about how you respond.

And an opportunity could be something the client has said or not said or the way they’ve said it.

#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 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)?

For example, a contract 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, et cetera. There are so many different kinds of contract outcomes. Some things 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.

It’s about finding a 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.

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.

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

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

When marking assessments, 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 to prove that you can coach at a professional and master level.

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.

So we are gathering 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

The worthwhile point is that 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 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 now 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 or more, take out a picnic basket metaphorically with your clients and hang out there to discover and to dig a little deeper.

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