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The ICF Core Competencies were developed to support greater understanding about the skills and approaches used within today’s coaching profession as defined by ICF. These competencies and the ICF definition of coaching were used as the foundation for the development of the ICF Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

The Core Competencies are grouped into four domains according to those that fit together logically based on common ways of looking at the competencies in each group. The groupings and individual competencies are not weighted – they do not represent any kind of hierarchy and are all core and critical for any competent coach to demonstrate.

The updated ICF Core Competencies were released in November 2019, marking its first update since the competencies’ creation in 1998. The updated Core Competencies will be integrated in ICF-Accredited Coach Training Programs curricula beginning in January 2021. Then, updated Credentialing assessments reflecting the revised Core Competencies will launch in the second half of 2021.

To learn more about the updated ICF Core Competencies, please watch the Updated Core Competency Video Series found here.

Below, you will find both the current and updated ICF Core Competencies, as well as their respective translations. As you explore them, please keep in mind the above implementation timelines for 2021.

Current ICF Core Competencies

1. Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards
Understanding of coaching ethics and standards and ability to apply them appropriately in all coaching situations.

  • Understands and exhibits in own behaviors the ICF Code of Ethics (see Code, Part III of ICF Code of Ethics).
  • Understands and follows all ICF Ethical Guidelines.
  • Clearly communicates the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions.
  • Refers client to another support professional as needed, knowing when this is needed and the available resources.

2. Establishing the Coaching Agreement
Ability to understand what is required in the specific coaching interaction and to come to agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship.

  • Understands and effectively discusses with the client the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship (e.g., logistics, fees, scheduling, inclusion of others if appropriate).
  • Reaches agreement about what is appropriate in the relationship and what is not, what is and is not being offered, and about the client’s and coach’s responsibilities.
  • Determines whether there is an effective match between his/her coaching method and the needs of the prospective client.

3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
Ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.

  • Shows genuine concern for the client’s welfare and future.
  • Continuously demonstrates personal integrity, honesty and sincerity.
  • Establishes clear agreements and keeps promises.
  • Demonstrates respect for client’s perceptions, learning style, personal being.
  • Provides ongoing support for and champions new behaviors and actions, including those involving risk-taking and fear of failure.
  • Asks permission to coach client in sensitive, new areas.

4. Coaching Presence3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
Ability to be fully conscious and create spontaneous relationship with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident.

  • Is present and flexible during the coaching process, dancing in the moment.
  • Accesses own intuition and trusts one’s inner knowing—”goes with the gut.”
  • Is open to not knowing and takes risks.
  • Sees many ways to work with the client and chooses in the moment what is most effective.
  • Uses humor effectively to create lightness and energy.
  • Confidently shifts perspectives and experiments with new possibilities for own action.
  • Demonstrates confidence in working with strong emotions and can self-manage and not be overpowered or enmeshed by client’s emotions.

5. Active Listening
Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.

  • Attends to the client and the client’s agenda and not to the coach’s agenda for the client.
  • Hears the client’s concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and is not possible.
  • Distinguishes between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language.
  • Summarizes, paraphrases, reiterates, and mirrors back what client has said to ensure clarity and understanding.
  • Encourages, accepts, explores and reinforces the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.
  • Integrates and builds on client’s ideas and suggestions.
  • “Bottom-lines” or understands the essence of the client’s communication and helps the client get there rather than engaging in long, descriptive stories.
  • Allows the client to vent or “clear” the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to next steps.

6. Powerful Questioning
Ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.

  • Asks questions that reflect active listening and an understanding of the client’s perspective.
  • Asks questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action (e.g., those that challenge the client’s assumptions).
  • Asks open-ended questions that create greater clarity, possibility or new learning.
  • Asks questions that move the client toward what they desire, not questions that ask for the client to justify or look backward.

7. Direct Communication
Ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.

  • Is clear, articulate and direct in sharing and providing feedback.
  • Reframes and articulates to help the client understand from another perspective what he/she wants or is uncertain about.
  • Clearly states coaching objectives, meeting agenda, and purpose of techniques or exercises.
  • Uses language appropriate and respectful to the client (e.g., non-sexist, non-racist, non-technical, non-jargon).
  • Uses metaphor and analogy to help to illustrate a point or paint a verbal picture.

8. Creating Awareness
Ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information and to make interpretations that help the client to gain awareness and thereby achieve agreed-upon results.

  • Goes beyond what is said in assessing client’s concerns, not getting hooked by the client’s description.
  • Invokes inquiry for greater understanding, awareness, and clarity.
  • Identifies for the client his/her underlying concerns; typical and fixed ways of perceiving himself/herself and the world; differences between the facts and the interpretation; and disparities between thoughts, feelings, and action.
  • Helps clients to discover for themselves the new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, moods, etc. that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what is important to them.
  • Communicates broader perspectives to clients and inspires commitment to shift their viewpoints and find new possibilities for action.
  • Helps clients to see the different, interrelated factors that affect them and their behaviors (e.g., thoughts, emotions, body, and background).
  • Expresses insights to clients in ways that are useful and meaningful for the client.
  • Identifies major strengths vs. major areas for learning and growth, and what is most important to address during coaching.
  • Asks the client to distinguish between trivial and significant issues, situational vs. recurring behaviors, when detecting a separation between what is being stated and what is being done.

9. Designing Actions
Ability to create with the client opportunities for ongoing learning, during coaching and in work/life situations, and for taking new actions that will most effectively lead to agreed-upon coaching results.

  • Brainstorms and assists the client to define actions that will enable the client to demonstrate, practice, and deepen new learning.
  • Helps the client to focus on and systematically explore specific concerns and opportunities that are central to agreed-upon coaching goals.
  • Engages the client to explore alternative ideas and solutions, to evaluate options, and to make related decisions.
  • Promotes active experimentation and self-discovery, where the client applies what has been discussed and learned during sessions immediately afterward in his/her work or life setting.
  • Celebrates client successes and capabilities for future growth.
  • Challenges client’s assumptions and perspectives to provoke new ideas and find new possibilities for action.
  • Advocates or brings forward points of view that are aligned with client goals and, without attachment, engages the client to consider them.
  • Helps the client “Do It Now” during the coaching session, providing immediate support.
  • Encourages stretches and challenges but also a comfortable pace of learning.

10. Planning and Goal Setting
Ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with the client.

  • Consolidates collected information and establishes a coaching plan and development goals with the client that address concerns and major areas for learning and development.
  • Creates a plan with results that are attainable, measurable, specific, and have target dates.
  • Makes plan adjustments as warranted by the coaching process and by changes in the situation.
  • Helps the client identify and access different resources for learning (e.g., books, other professionals).
  • Identifies and targets early successes that are important to the client.

11. Managing Progress and Accountability
Ability to hold attention on what is important for the client, and to leave responsibility with the client to take action.

  • Clearly requests of the client actions that will move the client toward his/her stated goals.
  • Demonstrates follow-through by asking the client about those actions that the client committed to during the previous session(s).
  • Acknowledges the client for what they have done, not done, learned or become aware of since the previous coaching session(s).
  • Effectively prepares, organizes, and reviews with client information obtained during sessions.
  • Keeps the client on track between sessions by holding attention on the coaching plan and outcomes, agreed-upon courses of action, and topics for future session(s).
  • Focuses on the coaching plan but is also open to adjusting behaviors and actions based on the coaching process and shifts in direction during sessions.
  • Is able to move back and forth between the big picture of where the client is heading, setting a context for what is being discussed and where the client wishes to go.
  • Promotes client’s self-discipline and holds the client accountable for what they say they are going to do, for the results of an intended action, or for a specific plan with related time frames.
  • Develops the client’s ability to make decisions, address key concerns, and develop himself/herself (to get feedback, to determine priorities and set the pace of learning, to reflect on and learn from experiences).
  • Positively confronts the client with the fact that he/she did not take agreed-upon actions.
Download the current ICF Core Competencies

Updated ICF Core Competencies

1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice
Definition: Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.

  • Demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
  • Is sensitive to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs
  • Uses language appropriate and respectful to clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders
  • Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values
  • Maintains confidentiality with client information per stakeholder agreements and pertinent laws
  • Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support professions
  • 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.

  • Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices
  • Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach
  • Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching
  • Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others
  • Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients
  • Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions
  • Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions
  • 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.

  • Explains what coaching is and is not and describes the process to the client and relevant stakeholders
  • 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
  • Reaches agreement about the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship such as logistics, fees, scheduling, duration, termination, confidentiality and inclusion of others
  • Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to establish an overall coaching plan and goals
  • Partners with the client to determine client-coach compatibility
  • Partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session
  • 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
  • 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
  • Partners with the client to manage the time and focus of the session
  • Continues coaching in the direction of the client’s desired outcome unless the client indicates otherwise
  • 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.

  • Seeks to understand the client within their context which may include their identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs
  • Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one’s coaching to the client
  • Acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process
  • Shows support, empathy and concern for the client
  • Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions
  • 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

  • Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client
  • Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process
  • Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client
  • Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process
  • Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing
  • 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

  • Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating
  • Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding
  • Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating
  • Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors
  • Integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated
  • 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

  • Considers client experience when deciding what might be most useful
  • Challenges the client as a way to evoke awareness or insight
  • Asks questions about the client, such as their way of thinking, values, needs,
  • wants and beliefs
  • Asks questions that help the client explore beyond current thinking
  • Invites the client to share more about their experience in the moment
  • Notices what is working to enhance client progress
  • Adjusts the coaching approach in response to the client’s needs
  • Helps the client identify factors that influence current and future patterns of behavior, thinking or emotion
  • Invites the client to generate ideas about how they can move forward and what they are willing or able to do
  • Supports the client in reframing perspectives
  • 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.

  • Works with the client to integrate new awareness, insight or learning into their worldview and behaviors
  • Partners with the client to design goals, actions and accountability measures that integrate and expand new learning
  • Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions and methods of accountability
  • Supports the client in identifying potential results or learning from identified action steps
  • Invites the client to consider how to move forward, including resources, support and potential barriers
  • Partners with the client to summarize learning and insight within or between sessions
  • Celebrates the client’s progress and successes
  • Partners with the client to close the session
Download The Updated ICF Core Competencies


Team Coaching is one of the fastest growing disciplines in the coaching profession and is becoming increasingly important in organizations, including private corporations, government agencies and non-profits.

To define and guide this growing discipline, ICF Credentials and Standards has released the ICF Team Coaching Competencies model. This model will form the foundation for development of a specialty designation that will enable coach practitioners to set themselves apart in a crowded marketplace and demonstrate their value for organizational purchasers of coaching.

Team Coaching empowers teams to work toward continued high performance and ongoing development, requiring innovation, flexibility, adaptability and goal alignment – all traits that coaching helps support.

ICF’s Team Coaching Competencies model provides a clear, concise definition for Team Coaching – partnering in a co-creative and reflective process with a team on its dynamics and relationships in a way that inspires them to maximize their abilities and potential in order to reach their common purpose and shared goals. This model is designed to build upon and integrate with the ICF Core Competencies in team coaching contexts.

Learn more about ICF’s Team Coaching here


Ethical coaching is the top priority for the ICF. The ICF Code of Ethics is designed to provide appropriate guidelines, accountability and enforceable standards of conduct for all ICF Members and ICF Credential-holders.

ICF has taken the lead in developing a definition and philosophy of coaching and establishing ethical standards among its members. ICF sets professional coaching standards while also giving consumers a venue to file ethics complaints.

Code of Ethics
The ICF Code of Ethics describes the ICF core values, and ethical principles and ethical standards of behavior for all ICF Professionals. ICF implemented the current version of the Code in January 2020.

> Read Code of Ethics
> Additional resources on ICF CODE OF ETHICS


Visit this page for periodic updates about ICF’s credentialing services program and ICF Credentials and Standards.

Ongoing COVID-19 Response: ICF Credentials and Standards Board Approves Additional Changes

Given the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our communities, countries and world, the ICF Credentials and Standards Board met in August 2020 to evaluate the temporary measures and consider additional steps to support ICF Credential-holders and candidates during these times.
To continue to support coaches on their professional journey while also ensuring the highest standards for the credentialing process, the ICF Credentials and Standards Board approved the following measures to support coaches in 2021.

Temporary Measure Impacting Coaches Whose Credentials Expire December 31, 2020

ICF values ongoing professional development for credentialed coaches, which is why we require ICF-credentialed coaches to renew their credential every three years. We acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic may disrupt access to Continuing Coach Education opportunities, particularly for individuals required to submit additional CCE units to renew a lapsed ICF Credential.

If your ICF Credential’s expiration date is December 31, 2020 but you are unable to renew on or before that date, your credential will remain active until February 28, 2021, after which it will be considered lapsed. You may still apply to renew your lapsed credential through December 31, 2021 – your Continuing Coach Education requirement will be capped at 41.2 Continuing Coach Education units (an additional 1.2 instead of the former 1.2 additional units per month of lapse). 24.72 units in Core Competencies is still required for renewal, three (3) of which must be completed in coaching ethics.

Extension of Temporary Measures Impacting Initial Credentialing Applicants

The ICF Credentials and Standards Board extended a pair of temporary measures impacting initial credentialing applicants.

Extending Client Coaching Experience Recency Requirements for ACC and PCC Applicants

If a coach applies for their ACC or PCC by December 31, 2021, their recency requirement for experience hours will be extended from 18 to 24 months. This is an extension of the previously announced temporary measure, which was set to end December 31, 2020.

For ACC applicants, this means that at least 25 hours of coaching experience must have taken place within 24 months of submitting their application.

For PCC applicants, this means that at least 50 hours of coaching experience must have taken place within 24 months of submitting their application.

Increasing Eligible Number of Pro Bono Hours

If a coach applies for their ACC, PCC or MCC by December 31, 2021, they will also be eligible to count a higher proportion of pro bono coaching hours toward their experience requirements. This is an extension of the previously announced temporary measure, which was set to end December 31, 2020.

We are increasing the proportion of eligible pro bono coaching hours by 20%.

This means:

  • ACC applicants can count 30 hours of pro bono coaching toward their experience requirement (up from 25 hours)
  • PCC applicants can count 60 hours of pro bono coaching toward their experience requirement (up from 50 hours)
  • MCC applicants can count 300 hours of pro bono coaching toward their experience requirement (up from 250 hours)

As always, the ICF Credentials and Standards team is happy to answer any questions and support ICF coaches on their professional development journeys. You can contact the team at

For further details please visit the ICF Credentialing page




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