2. Performance Based Competency Standards

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2.1      Introduction

This section provides a brief overview of the subject of performance based competency standards (PBCS) for potential users of this document who are not familiar with the topic.


Competent comes from the Latin root competere which means “to be suitable.” In today’s workplace, the term “competent” is generally used to describe someone who is sufficiently skilled to perform a specified task or to fill a defined position — a competent physician, a competent salesperson, a competent plumber. Increasingly, organisations are interested in assessing the competency of individuals in order to guide employment and development decisions.


Broadly speaking, there are two major approaches to defining and assessing competency:

  • Attribute based wherein personal attributes such as knowledge, skills, and other characteristics are identified and assessed. Competence is inferred based on the presence of the necessary attributes.
  • Performance based wherein work outcomes and performance levels are identified and assessed. Competence is inferred based on the demonstrated ability to satisfy the performance criteria.


PBCS, also called occupational competency standards, are widely used throughout the world and have been developed within the context of government endorsed standards and qualifications frameworks in Australia (Department of Education, Science and Training), New Zealand (New Zealand Qualifications Authority), South Africa (South African Qualifications Authority), and the United Kingdom (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority). Although all of these approaches are focused primarily on performance based competency assessment, some approaches do include aspects of attribute based competency assessment.


2.2      Design of the GAPPS Framework

PBCS typically address at least the following two questions:

  • What is usually done in this occupation, profession, or role by competent performers?
  • What standard of performance is usually considered acceptable to infer competence?


In the GAPPS standards, these questions are answered by defining:

  • Units of Competency

A Unit of Competency defines a broad area of professional or occupational performance that is meaningful to practitioners and which is demonstrated by individuals in the workplace. The GAPPS Level 1 framework includes five Units of Competency while GAPPS Level 2 includes six.

  • Elements of Competency

Elements of Competency describe the key components of work performance within a Unit. They describe what is done by individuals in the workplace but do not prescribe how the work is done. For example, project managers must “define risks and risk responses for the project,” but they can do it themselves or delegate the work to others. In addition, there are many different tools and techniques that they could use. The GAPPS Level 1 framework includes 18 Elements of Competency while GAPPS Level 2 includes 21.

  • Performance Criteria

Performance Criteria set out the type and/or level of performance required to demonstrate competence in each element. They describe observable results and/or actions in the workplace from which competent performance can be inferred. In the GAPPS framework, Performance Criteria can be satisfied in many different ways; there are no mandatory approaches, tools, or methodologies. The GAPPS Level 1 framework includes 56 Performance Criteria while GAPPS Level 2 includes 64.

  • Range Statements

Range Statements help to ensure consistent interpretation of the Elements and the Performance Criteria by expanding on critical or significant aspects of them to enable consistent application in different contexts. Where the Range Statements contain lists, the lists are generally illustrative and not exhaustive.


Although some of the terms and definitions of the GAPPS framework described above differ in some respects from other PBCS, the overall approach is consistent and compatible with generally accepted practice within the field of competency development and assessment.


The Units, Elements, and Performance Criteria are not linear or sequential: there is no requirement that the work be done in any particular sequence or that the Performance Criteria be satisfied in any particular order. In addition, some Performance Criteria can be satisfied with relatively little effort while others will require a substantial commitment from the project manager over the full length of the project.


The Performance Criteria in this document focus on threshold performance — demonstration of the ability to do something at a standard considered acceptable in the workplace. They do not measure superior performance — what the best project managers do. Superior performers should, however, be able to satisfy the threshold criteria without difficulty.


The GAPPS standards include the minimum number of Performance Criteria needed to infer competence. As a result, a candidate must satisfy all of the Performance Criteria in the applicable Units in order to be viewed as competent. In addition, the Performance Criteria represent different levels of detail. The number of Performance Criteria in a Unit or Element is not proportional to the amount of time or effort that a project manager must spend in that area to be viewed as competent.


The material in this document can also be used to support learning and development when applied by qualified educators and trainers. In order to provide such support, the framework would need to be expanded to address questions such as:

  • What skills and knowledge are needed to demonstrate this standard of performance?
  • What are the parameters for collecting evidence and assessing performance?

Appendix C, Mapping of 48 Concepts/Topics and Appendix D, Assessment Guidelines, provide relevant information that should be useful to address learning and development needs.