Tag: ISO 17021

What is Competency? The Answer Seems Subject To Change.

In a previous blog, I discussed the difference between competency and awareness in an occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS).  In that blog, I used the ISO 9000:2000 definition of competence as “demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills” since OHSAS 18001:2007 does not include a definition. 

It seems that the appropriate definition of competence is now subject of some debate within ISO and may be subject to being “re-defined.”

Competency is a significant component of at least four standards currently under development within ISO –

  • ISO 10018 – Quality management: Guidelines on people involvement and competencies
  • ISO 14066 – Greenhouse Gases – Competency requirements for greenhouse gas validators and verifiers
  • ISO 17021 Part B – Conformity assessment – Requirements for third-party certification auditing of management systems
  • ISO 19011 (revision) – Guidelines for management system auditing

Interestingly, each of these standards has apparently rejected the dictionary definition, as well as the ISO 9000 definition, and each ISO Technical Committee appears to be in the process of developing its own concept of competence. 

ISO 10018 is apparently focusing on how “human factors” impact the effective functioning of management systems with the definition of competency being passed to a subcommittee.  ISO 14066 is structured to set out detailed lists of the skills and knowledge that must be possessed by GHG verification and validation teams – with the focus on team rather than individual competency.  The initial committee draft of ISO 17021 defined competence as “personal attributes and ability to apply knowledge and skills” with a heavy focus on personal attributes and generic audit skills but essentially no guidance as to the needed discipline-specific knowledge (e.g. quality, environmental, OH&S).  The revision of ISO 19011 has just begun; however, the issue of auditor competency has already been identified as one of the “hot-button issues” associated with revision of this standard.

A review of the various standards and other reference materials appear to set out three different, and distinct, attributes that underlie competency:

  • Attitude and personality traits –who you are
  • Knowledge – what you know
  • Skills – what you can do

Where the ISO standards seem to diverge is in the relative importance to be given to each attribute (personality vs. knowledge vs. skill) as well as in the specifics of what is actually required and how it should be demonstrated.

What do you think?  What is competency?

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2008)

August 25, 2008 More