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The ICF Core Competencies 2021 Update

AUTHOR: Erickson Coaching International
DATE: 4 February 2021

Following a rigorous analysis process, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) has released an updated ICF Core Competency model that is to be officially implemented in accredited coach training programs during early to mid 2021. The updated model reflects the collective insights and wisdom shared by coach practitioners through this comprehensive research initiative.

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As of February 1st, 2021, Erickson’s has incorporated the updated Core Competencies into all three of The Art & Science of Coaching program paths, namely the Erickson Solution-Focused Coach Diploma, Certification and the Qualification paths. This means any new series of Modules that began on or after that date are now explicitly training the updated model.  

Interested in developing your professional skills as a coach? Discover how Solution-Focused coaching skills enable you to create transformational change in yourself and others.

Erickson is proud to incorporate the updated model as much of it reflects the essential elements and methods taught in our coach training programs that we have developed over the course of three plus decades of practice, feedback and research.  We believe our coach training standards are one of the highest in the world and that the coaching model we teach exceeds the minimum criteria set out by the ICF. 

With this updated model, the ICF aims to address the global shifts in coaching since the initial release of the Core Competencies in 1998. The ICF reached out to subject matter experts in the coaching field, including many practicing Erickson-trained coaches, to discover how the field has evolved and how the core competencies can be improved. From the existing 11 Core Competencies, the ICF has applied this analysis and refined it into 8 Core Competencies that streamline, enhance and provide a more cohesive, succinct list of the fundamental competencies of the coaching process.

The core themes that came out of the ICF’s research and provided a basis for the updates are:

  • That ethical behaviour and confidentiality are paramount
  • Expansion of the coaching agreement (organizational, overall client engagement, session)
  • Enhancement of the partnership concept – client has an equal voice in the process, and there is mutual accountability for coach and client. The coach is accountable for the coaching process, the client is accountable for their own growth.
  • The concept of professional development & reflective practice 
  • The integration of client context and culture. This includes their family structures, values, beliefs, and past experiences. Looking at the client from a holistic view.

How have the Core Competencies changed?

Competencies 1 and 2 are focused on “The Being of the Coach”.

  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice

    Ethics is the core of coaching! Something that came through really clearly in the research and surveys, is that this is the strongest part of the ICF competency model. This competency is all about ethical practice.

    It includes not only abiding by the ICF Code of Ethics, but also demonstrating integrity in work with coaching clients and other key stakeholders, being sensitive to the culture, environment, experience, values and beliefs of clients you serve. This competency includes maintaining client confidentiality and respecting this in alignment with confidentiality and data protection laws in the areas that you serve.

    Another key factor of Competency #1 is recognizing and respecting the distinction of coaching as a profession from other support professions (counselling, consulting, etc), and providing referrals as appropriate when a client might be in need.

  2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

    This Competency is new to the revised model. While it was threaded throughout the former model, ICF research determined it was very important to have as a standalone competency. A coaching mindset means maintaining an open, curious, flexible, and client-oriented mindset throughout the coaching process. Coaching is all about curiosity! We need to get curious about our client’s life and goals to ask important growth questions.

    This competency also acknowledges a coach’s commitment, curiosity and eagerness to continuing their own growth, learning and development as a coach practitioner so you can best serve your clients. Appreciating, recognizing, and honoring client autonomy is also a crucial element of this Competency. Coaching is unique in its commitment to an equal partnership with clients where both parties have a mutual respect and place in the process. Clients are in the driver's seat and coaches are here to support them. Reflective practice came back as an important component of a coach reflecting on their practice to improve themself and their coaching.

Competencies 3-8 are focused on “The Doing of Coaching”

These are more specific to the direct work each coach is doing with their clients through individual coaching sessions.

  1. Establishes and Maintains Agreements

    Competency #3 is an evolution from the previous Competency #2 (Establishing the Coaching Agreement). It was expanded to include the overall coaching engagement as well as the agreements for each session.

    This Competency means that the coach partners with the client to create clear agreements throughout the coaching process. In the existing competency, it was at the creation of an initial coaching contract but agreement setting is important far beyond that initial coaching contract. It is important to have an agreement on how that overarching coaching plan is going to take place, how goals are going to be set and how the coach and client will be working together toward achieving overarching goals.

  2. Cultivates Trust and Safety

    It is extremely important for a client to be honest and open to reap the full benefits of the coaching process. To achieve this a coaching relationship must be built on mutual respect and trust.

    Although similar to the previous Competency #3, the language of this Competency has been revised to better clarify the intent and translate to different cultures. The ICF’s research suggested the previous use of the word intimacy didn’t accurately reflect the Competency’s true intention and has too many different meanings across languages and cultures. This Competency is aimed at partnering with a client to create a safe, supportive environment that allows the client to share freely. It is imperative to maintain an environment of mutual respect throughout the whole process - understanding culture, context, values, experiences and beliefs and how those of us as coaches respect the holistic view of the client. This also includes acknowledging and honoring the client’s autonomy and the partnership we build with the client.

  3. Maintains Presence

    This is directly related to the former Competency #4. It reflects a need to be fully conscious and present with coaching clients to ensure an open, flexible, grounded and confident approach. It means keeping full focus on the client and demonstrating curiosity to be fully engaged in the coaching process. It includes managing one’s own emotions to maintain that presence and focus on the client and also being able to support strong emotions that a client might present in a coaching session. This also means creating the space for reflection that allows the client to be fully present in the coaching conversation (for example, moments of silence to pause and reflect on what is being said in the session).

  4. Listens Actively

    An update to the previous Competency #5, this means really focusing on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client’s systems and to support clients self-expression. Listening not only to what is being said, but what they are not saying. This includes connecting information the client has shared throughout the course of the coaching process to support a better understanding of their communication, and reflecting back to the client to ensure that there is shared understanding and meaning being conveyed.

  5. Evokes Awareness

    In the revised model, the ICF addresses what coaches do to facilitate client awareness, combining a number of existing competencies in one very big, streamlined competency. Combining previous Competencies #6-8, this facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and methods such as powerful questions, silence, metaphor and analogy. It also includes sharing observations without attachment to help support new learning and awareness in clients. One of the further aims of this competency is to support clients in reflection and reframing to assist them in shifting their perspectives to support new learning and awareness.

  6. Facilitates Client Growth

    The ICF’s research showed that the former Competencies #9-11 were all very interrelated. The aim is to transform learning into action and build autonomy in the coaching process. This revised version captures all of these elements in a more succinct way. It is all about setting the stage where we take this new awareness by the client from Competency #7 and making it actionable for their continued growth and development. We support the client in meeting or obtaining the goals/objectives they have identified and partner to transform their learning and insight into action. It promotes client autonomy in the coaching process. This Competency also includes celebrating progress and the successes the client has had. It is about partnering every step of the way including closing the session to make sure the goals and objectives for a particular session have been met and partnering with the client to put a close to an individual session.

To support the community as they transition to this new model, the ICF has prepared a webinar to help coach practitioners learn more about the updated Core Competency model and answer any questions. Click the button below to view the recorded webinar.


Following the webinars for professional coach practitioners on updates to the ICF Core Competencies, the ICF team reviewed the questions that participants submitted and assembled a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document, which you can download here. (Please note that some of the dates mentioned in the FAQ may have changed due to COVID-19).

The ICF is working hard to update the credential assessment and credential markers to ensure alignment with these updated Core Competencies. If you are planning on applying for ICF Credentialing in 2021, connect with your Erickson Enrollment Advisor on the best program path for you to achieve your certification goals!