8 ICF Core Competencies You Should Know in 2024

Nov 14, 2019

When you start researching becoming a life coach or executive coach, sooner or later you’ll come across the term coaching competencies or core competencies. Usually, this refers to ICF core competencies, a list of 8 skills that every coach should have. The other major coaching organizations, however, also have something similar. At EMCC this is called the Coaching and Mentoring Competence Framework and at CCE it’s the Board Certified Coach Competency Areas. This article includes: 

  1. How coaching competencies compare across coaching organizations
  2. ICF Professional Coaching Core Competencies overview and download
  3. ICF Professional Coaching Core Competencies

Please note: ICF just updated their CC’s for the first time in 25 years. This article has been updated with the new core coaching competencies. To read more about the impact of these changes and to watch a webinar on this topic, please check out this article.

How coaching competencies compare across coaching organizations

In this article, we will focus on ICF professional coaching core competencies (scroll down or download). You can download the EMCC equivalent as well. In order to help coaches make sense as to the commonalities across the board, we’ve put together what we consider to be core coaching competencies. You can read about those here.

Self Development
Individual & Business Applications

ICF Professional Coaching Core Competencies

The core coaching competencies were developed by ICF to “support greater understanding about the skills and approaches used within today’s coaching profession.” In practice, they’re the basis for evaluating coaches who want to get their ACC, PCC or MCC credential from ICF. Depending on the level, the coach is expected to have greater mastery of the coaching competencies. Please note: Coaching competencies apply across the board, no matter what sort of coach you are. You can read a bit more about executive coaching vs life coaching here, for example. The point is, coaching competencies are the foundation skills before anything else takes place. If you can master these, you’re in good shape to move towards any sort of type or niche of coaching. Of course, there’s additional training required based on what you want to specialize in so coaching competencies aren’t the end-all, but they’re definitely the basis of all types of coaching. Coaching competencies are also used by ICF to determine what is coach-specific training, and what coach training programs they accredit. For example, Coacharya is accredited at the ACTP level with ICF, which means that coaches who train towards their PCC don’t have to submit a recording with their application. Coacharya has met ICF’s standard for evaluating how well coaches perform as to their coaching competencies. An ACTP, or Accredited Coach Training Program, is required to focus their training on these 8 competencies. Since this takes a vast majority of the coach training program, Coacharya supplements the regular classroom hours with weekly webinars on various coaching topics, methods, tools and theories (see upcoming events here). Below we have explained in detail the full list of ICF core competencies. What do you think? Are you ready to become a coach? Please get in touch with us when you are. We have new coach training programs starting each quarter. Download the ICF Coaching Competencies and EMCC Coaching and Mentoring Framework in PDF.

ICF Core Competencies

You can download a PDF version of the ICF core competencies here.


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
  1. Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching
  2. Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others
  3. Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients
  4. Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions
  5. Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions
  6. 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
  1. Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one’s coaching to the client
  2. Acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process
  3. Shows support, empathy and concern for the client
  4. Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions
  5. 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
  5. Invites the client to consider how to move forward, including resources, support and potential barriers
  6. Partners with the client to summarize learning and insight within or between sessions
  7. Celebrates the client’s progress and successes
  8. Partners with the client to close the session
Smita Raghum
Smita Raghum


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