Advancing Organizational Competence

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

Organizational competence—the combination of required skills, necessary information, appropriate performance measures, and the right organizational culture for mission fulfillment and sustainability—is one of six important focal points of NASW’s 2018-2021 Strategic Plan. The plan includes this concept because we know that better organizational responses yield better results for clients and communities.

The ability of organizations to effectively manage and support programs and apply best practices, processes and techniques is critical to the realization of better client and community outcomes and the achievement of organizational strategic performance goals.

Most organizations manage implementation of their strategic plan by having each department create operating plans that describe how they will support each goal. Research has shown that effective implementation of organizational competence is, in the final analysis, more important than strategic goals.

If organizational competence is properly managed, it is more likely the team will identify the appropriate strategic goals; all parts of the organization (employees, skills, processes, systems, facilities, partnerships) will be tightly aligned; and the organization is more likely to evolve, mature, and be more successful in delivering better client outcomes.

Unfortunately, the concept of organizational competence is frequently misunderstood, misapplied and routinely referred to simply as employee skills rather than the cross-organizational competence needed to drive operational execution, management alignment, and achievement of organizational goals. Under this concept, the organization as a whole must become more competent—developing the skills, knowledge and attributes to sustain the coordinated deployment of resources in ways that lead to success.

When organizational competence is used systemically throughout an organization to drive decisions about strategy execution and allocation of resources, the consequence is a culture that fosters a clearly aligned team with prioritized focus on carrying out the core strategy—understanding that competence transcends skills, and learning transcends doing. By identifying its cross-organizational competencies, an organization is describing what it does best, what it expects to accomplish, and how things get done.

Organizational competence can be broadly divided into core values, technical competencies, and core competencies:

  • Core values are the organizational values the are the shared principles and beliefs, defining the things that are important, meaningful and right.
  • Technical competencies are those specific competencies that are required to perform a given job. Technical competencies cover the various fields of expertise relevant to the specific work, and are at the heart of what the organization does.
  • Core competencies summarize the capabilities that are important across all job functions and that the employees believe collectively contribute to the organization’s overall success.

Under its strategic plan, NASW looks forward to helping social work organizations with the development, implementation and refinement of their organizational competence. Through our Organizational Affiliate program, we offer support with workforce and professional development programs; provide tools and resources for implementation of best practices and methods; and extend support for implementation of innovative systems and customized solutions.

Contact Angelo McClain at