Behavioral Competencies: The Key to Assembling All-Star Teams

In the race for talent, there‘s one element that increasingly separates the winners from the also-rans: behavioral competencies.

Also known as "soft skills" or "power skills", behavioral competencies are the underlying traits, abilities and personal characteristics that enable someone to be effective in their role. And according to a 2023 LinkedIn survey, a whopping 78% of employers now consider these behavioral skills to be just as important as technical expertise.

Why the surge in demand for behavioral know-how? As work becomes more complex and collaborative, organizations need people who can not only perform specific job tasks, but also communicate, lead, problem-solve, and adapt at a high level. Employees with finely-tuned behavioral competencies make better decisions, forge stronger relationships, tackle change with agility, and deliver superior results.

"Technical skills may get you hired, but behavioral skills will get you promoted," says Patricia Thompson, CEO of Silver Lining Psychology and a leading expert on workplace behavioral competencies. "Regardless of the role, behavioral skills are what allow you to apply your expertise in a way that creates real value for the organization."

So what are the behavioral competencies that matter most for success? And how can you identify, assess and cultivate those must-have qualities on your team? Let‘s break it down.

Behavioral Competencies by Category

While the specific mix of behavioral competencies may vary depending on the job, most fall into a few key domains:

Interpersonal Skills & Teamwork

The ability to work well with others is table stakes for nearly every role—but some positions require exceptional interpersonal abilities. Key competencies include:

Communication: Expresses ideas clearly and succinctly; listens intently; adapts style for the audience. Think of the marketing manager who crafts compelling copy that resonates with customers, or the consultant who explains complex concepts in simple terms.

Active listening: Gives full focus to others; picks up on non-verbal signals; paraphrases to confirm understanding. Picture the therapist who makes patients feel truly heard, or the account executive who tunes into a client‘s unstated needs.

Collaboration: Cooperates readily with colleagues; promotes team goals; builds positive relationships. Imagine the software engineer who proactively partners with designers and product managers, or the HR business partner who aligns talent priorities with business strategy.

The impact of strong interpersonal skills is well-documented. Teams that communicate effectively are 50% more likely to have low employee turnover, according to ClearCompany. And a Salesforce study found that 86% of employees cite lack of collaboration as a major reason for workplace failures.

Leadership & People Management

Guiding and inspiring others to achieve shared goals requires a special set of behavioral competencies, including:

Direction-setting: Defines clear objectives; communicates vision; aligns team efforts. Think of the nonprofit director who rallies staff and volunteers around an ambitious fundraising goal, or the startup CEO who paints a vivid picture of the company‘s future.

Motivating: Sparks enthusiasm and buy-in; makes people feel valued; creates positive climate. Picture the sales manager who celebrates wins and makes work fun, or the teacher who helps struggling students experience success.

Developing others: Provides helpful performance feedback; shares knowledge; supports professional growth. Imagine the senior engineer who patiently mentors new hires, or the marketing VP who gives rising stars stretch assignments to expand their capabilities.

Research confirms that behavioral skills are a major differentiator of leadership success. DDI found that companies with the highest-quality leaders have 37% higher revenue per employee and 9% higher gross profit margin. And leaders who are highly effective behavioral coaches enjoy 60% higher engagement on their teams.

Critical Thinking & Problem-Solving

The ability to analyze complex issues, innovate solutions, and make sound choices is paramount in knowledge work roles. Look for:

Analytical thinking: Gathers relevant data; identifies patterns; gets to the heart of the matter. Think of the financial analyst who spots concerning expense trends, or the marketer who derives insights from campaign metrics.

Creative problem-solving: Generates novel ideas; questions the status quo; makes unexpected connections. Picture the product designer who dreams up ingenious new features, or the consultant who devises an original framework.

Decision-making: Assesses tradeoffs; uses both facts and intuition; acts decisively. Imagine the doctor who swiftly diagnoses a patient based on test results and experience, or the executive who selects a new vendor after carefully weighing the options.

Analytical thinking and problem-solving are powerful predictors of job performance. A study in the Consulting Psychology Journal found that higher cognitive ability scores correlated with better supervisor ratings and advancement potential. And CCL research shows that leaders who are skilled at solving complex challenges are 5 times more likely to be highly effective.

Adaptability & Resilience

In a world of constant change, employees must be agile and unflappable. Key behavioral competencies include:

Flexibility: Adjusts readily to shifting demands; tries new methods; maintains composure. Think of the event planner who calmly troubleshoots last-minute snafus, or the sales rep who experiments with different pitches.

Navigating ambiguity: Moves projects forward despite uncertainty; comfortable with gray areas. Picture the entrepreneur who makes progress before having all the answers, or the product manager who defines features while requirements are still in flux.

Learning agility: Seeks out new knowledge; learns from missteps; thrives on feedback. Imagine the executive who takes on an unfamiliar role in a new industry, or the intern who eagerly absorbs technical skills.

Adaptability offers a clear competitive advantage. CEB found that employees who excel at adapting are 15% more engaged and 32% less likely to quit. And organizations with the greatest agility enjoy 30% higher profits compared to their peers.

Professionalism & Work Ethic

Integrity, dependability, and grit are essential behavioral competencies for any job. Prioritize:

Integrity: Acts with honesty; keeps commitments; earns trust. Think of the accountant who upholds rigorous financial standards, or the journalist who protects confidential sources.

Accountability: Takes ownership; delivers on promises; admits mistakes. Picture the IT manager who proactively updates stakeholders on system issues, or the customer service rep who goes above and beyond to resolve a complaint.

Drive: Meets deadlines; pushes for better results; shows tenacity. Imagine the salesperson who consistently exceeds quota, or the nonprofit leader who persists in fighting for a cause.

The case for professionalism is compelling. An APA study found that employees who act with integrity enjoy 26% higher job satisfaction and 17% higher productivity. And 72% of employees say they would leave a company if it had a dishonest or unethical culture.

Identifying Behavioral Competencies

Now that we‘ve outlined the behavioral competencies that matter most, how do you spot them? A growing number of organizations use:

Behavioral interviews: Asking questions about past actions that demonstrate key competencies ("Tell me about a time when…")

Work simulations: Presenting realistic job scenarios to see a candidate‘s approach ("How would you handle…")

360 assessments: Gathering feedback on an employee‘s behavioral strengths and gaps from their manager, peers, and direct reports

Psychometric tests: Using validated instruments like the Caliper Profile and Hogan assessments to measure traits associated with behavioral skills

By combining these techniques, employers gain a well-rounded view of behavioral competencies—while taking care to apply them consistently to avoid bias.

"There is no perfect way to evaluate behavioral skills, but a multi-method approach will give you the most complete picture," says Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup. "The key is to use reliable assessments, gather data from multiple sources, and involve multiple decision-makers."

Developing Behavioral Competencies

Behavioral skills are not set in stone—with the right support, they can be strengthened over time. Top organizations use:

Competency models: Defining vital behavioral skills for each role and integrating them into performance management, learning, and rewards

Skill-building programs: Offering interactive, memorable training focused on areas like communication, emotional intelligence, and leading change

Experiential learning: Providing on-the-job experiences and stretch assignments to hone behavioral skills in real-world situations

Coaching and mentoring: Matching employees with seasoned advisors to accelerate behavioral skill development through feedback and role modeling

The most effective behavioral skill development is personalized, practical, and embedded in daily work. "Ultimately, people build behavioral competencies by applying them directly on the job, seeing what works and what doesn‘t, and having the humility to keep learning," says Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language.

The Behavioral Imperative

As work evolves at an ever-faster clip, behavioral competencies have emerged as the ultimate differentiator. According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 as adoption of technology increases—and the vast majority of those skills are behavioral.

Organizations that crack the code on identifying, assessing, and cultivating behavioral skills will build the ultimate competitive advantage: phenomenal teams. By hiring for interpersonal finesse, developing agile leaders, and boosting behavioral skills across the board, they will innovate more quickly, execute more flawlessly, and adapt more nimbly to whatever the future holds.

It‘s time for every company to put behavioral competencies at the center of their talent strategy—and unleash the full power of their people.

Examples of Behavioral vs. Technical Competencies

Behavioral Competency Definition Technical Competency Definition
Communication Conveying information clearly and concisely across various mediums Financial analysis Evaluating financial data to provide insights and recommendations
Collaboration Working cooperatively with colleagues and stakeholders to achieve shared goals Software development Designing, coding, testing and deploying software applications
Problem solving Analyzing issues, generating solutions, and implementing changes for improvement Project management Planning, executing, and overseeing projects to meet objectives
Adaptability Adjusting readily to new situations, demands, and responsibilities Quality assurance Ensuring products and services meet required standards and specifications