ICF Core Coaching Competencies

Core Competencies

The following eight core coaching competencies were developed to support greater understanding about the skills and approaches used within today’s coaching profession as defined by the International Coach Federation. They will also support you in calibrating the level of alignment between the coach-specific training expected and the training you have experienced.

Finally, these competencies and the ICF definition were used as the foundation for 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 clusters 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 priority in that they are all core or critical for any competent coach to demonstrate.

A.  Foundation


  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice



Understands and consistently applies coaching ethics and standards of coaching.


1. Demonstrates personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, sponsors and relevant


2. Is sensitive to clients' identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs

3. Uses language appropriate and respectful to clients, sponsors and relevant stakeholders

4. Abides by the ICF Code of Ethics and upholds the Core Values

5. Maintains confidentiality with client information per stakeholder agreements and pertinent laws

6. Maintains the distinctions between coaching, consulting, psychotherapy and other support


7. Refers clients to other support professionals, as appropriate

2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset



Develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered.


1. Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices

2. Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach

3. Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one's coaching

4. Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others

5. Uses awareness of self and one's intuition to benefit clients

6. Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one's emotions

7. Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions

8. Seeks help from outside sources when necessary



B. Co-Creating the Relationship


3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements



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.


1. Explains what coaching is and is not and describes the process to the client and relevant


2. 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

3. Reaches agreement about the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship

such as logistics, fees, scheduling, duration, termination, confidentiality and inclusion of others

4. Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to establish an overall coaching plan and goals

5. Partners with the client to determine client-coach compatibility

6. Partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session

7. 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

8. 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

9. Partners with the client to manage the time and focus of the session

10. Continues coaching in the direction of the client's desired outcome unless the client indicates


11. Partners with the client to end the coaching relationship in a way that honors the experience


4. Cultivates Trust and Safety



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.


1. Seeks to understand the client within their context which may include their identity, environment,

experiences, values and beliefs

2. Demonstrates respect for the client’s identity, perceptions, style and language and adapts one's

coaching to the client

3. Acknowledges and respects the client's unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process

4. Shows support, empathy and concern for the client

5. Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions

6. Demonstrates openness and transparency as a way to display vulnerability and build trust with

the client


5. Maintains Presence



Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.


1. Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client

2. Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process

3. Manages one's emotions to stay present with the client

4. Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process

5. Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing

6. Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection


C. Communicating Effectively


6. Listens Actively



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.


1. Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance

understanding of what the client is communicating

2. Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding

3. Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating

4. Notices, acknowledges and explores the client's emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors

5. Integrates the client's words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of

what is being communicated

6. Notices trends in the client's behaviors and emotions across sessions to discern themes and



7. Evokes Awareness



Facilitates client insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful

questioning, silence, metaphor or analogy


1. Considers client experience when deciding what might be most useful

2. Challenges the client as a way to evoke awareness or insight

3. Asks questions about the client, such as their way of thinking, values, needs, wants and beliefs

4. Asks questions that help the client explore beyond current thinking

5. Invites the client to share more about their experience in the moment

6. Notices what is working to enhance client progress

7. Adjusts the coaching approach in response to the client's needs

8. Helps the client identify factors that influence current and future patterns of behavior, thinking or


9. Invites the client to generate ideas about how they can move forward and what they are willing or able to do

10. Supports the client in reframing perspectives

11. Shares observations, insights and feelings, without attachment, that have the potential to create new learning for the client



D. Cultivating Learning and Growths


8. Facilitates Client Growth


Definition: Partners with the client to transform learning and insight into action. Promotes client autonomy in the coaching process.


1. Works with the client to integrate new awareness, insight or learning into their worldview and


2. Partners with the client to design goals, actions and accountability measures that integrate and

expand new learning

3. Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions and methods of


4. Supports the client in identifying potential results or learning from identified action steps

5. Invites the client to consider how to move forward, including resources, support and potential


6. Partners with the client to summarize learning and insight within or between sessions

7. Celebrates the client's progress and successes

8. Partners with the client to close the session