What are KSAs? And why should I care?

Category: Newsletters Published on May 23 2017

Hi Karen:


We are in the process of restructuring and writing new job descriptions. Would you be able to provide any guidance in this area?  Especially regarding core competencies?  Thank you.


Linda, PA



First off, congratulations for working on an important and often neglected task.


When talking about core competencies, what you are really attempting to describe and measure are KSA’s, or the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities required for a particular position within your organization.


What are knowledge, skills, and abilities?

 - Knowledge is the information that employees have gathered from education, reading, listening, or living life.

 - Skills are the application of knowledge in a way that is appropriate and effective.

 - Abilities are the proficiency with which individuals apply the skills and knowledge they have.


The place to start identifying needed competencies is by looking at the job responsibilities of the position. 

 - What technical abilities are needed?

 - What specialized knowledge or experience is relevant?

 - What leadership skills are required?

 - What values or characteristics will help a candidate to succeed? (ex: detail oriented, outgoing personality, positive attitude, etc.)


When defining your core competencies look at each level (K, S, and A) individually. Then ask the following questions:

 - Why is this competency important? Is it a real driver for success in this position?

 - Is this competency required or just preferred? (Required means the individual could not successfully fill the position without this competency. Preferred means the individual will require less training.)

 - What level of proficiency is required? Does the individual need basic awareness (knowledge), proficiency (skills), or to be masterful (ability)?

 - How can you measure this competency?


Finally, before you finish, review your company’s values statement. How are these values exhibited in this position?


Once you have completed this task, you may have a long list of competencies. If so, consider grouping similar competencies together.


Remember, a well written job description will not only define a position, but also help to identify growth opportunities for existing staff members as well as assist in making wise hiring decisions when positions are vacant.


Good luck in this important task.