posted on Dec. 5: Committee developing core competencies for McMaster managers


Editor's Introduction

The following report is from members of the Core Competencies Steering Committee. The committee is developing a competency-based system for managers and academic leaders at McMaster, a recommendation that emerged from the work of the Staff Development Work Group as part of the Staff Survey follow-up project.

Formed a year ago, the committee is chaired by Dale Schenk of the Centre for Continuing Education and includes the following members: Nancy Balfoot (pathology), Heather Grigg (CIS), Andy Hrymak (chemical engineering), Sue Inglis (kinesiology), Debbie Marinoff Shupe (athletics & recreation), Barbara McDonald (library), Denise Mirabelli (business), Wayne Taylor (business) and Peter Turner (human resources).

Earlier this week, in a presentation to senior management, committee members provided an update on their work to date and presented six provisional core competencies for managers and leaders. These competencies will be tested in the months ahead. This week and next, committee members are discussing the proposed competencies with managers.

This report to the McMaster community provides an overview of the committee's progress on the development of a core competency system.


A New Leading and Managing Culture for McMaster

The 1998-99 McMaster Staff Survey identified that an organization's culture and style of leading and managing is a key contributor to workplace satisfaction and organizational effectiveness. When the McMaster University Leadership Committee accepted all of the Staff Survey recommendations on June 21, 2000, it was a public statement that the University's leading and managing style should become more synergistic. This is a tall order for any institution – certainly for a university. Still, the academic leaders and the managers who comprise the Core Competencies Steering Committee see this as a great opportunity.

McMaster's mission statement clearly identifies the values we apply to our research, teaching and scholarship: creativity, innovation, excellence, integrity, and teamwork. These same values apply to our work as managers and leaders.

Why Core Competencies?

McMaster's success depends in large measure on the knowledge and skills of all of its employees. Excellence in leading and managing is also critical for success. Following the survey of staff, the McMaster University Leadership Committee accepted the Staff Development Work Group's recommendation that McMaster implement a competency-based system for managers and academic leaders across the institution. Competency models have been used successfully as management tools in many leading organizations in North America over the past 10 years. Core competencies function as a kind of road map for individuals and for the organization as a whole.

A competency-based system can help McMaster to improve its overall performance by:

    Linking the work of leaders and managers to the University's vision, mission and strategic directions

    Identifying specific core attributes and skills needed by managers and academic leaders at McMaster

    Aligning HR management activities with University culture, financial objectives and strategic goals

Who are the Leaders and Managers at McMaster?

Positions that would apply a core competency model include:

    Senior leaders and managers (e.g. President, vice-presidents, assistant or associate vice-presidents, deans)

    Academic leaders (e.g. departmental directors or chairs, lab directors, library managers)

    Non-academic leaders and managers (e.g. departmental managers, business managers, administrators)

Although each group – indeed each position – has different responsibilities, a core competency system can provide the means to identify, communicate and reinforce McMaster's basic managing philosophy and values throughout the groups.

Defining Core Competencies

Core competencies identify a basic set of attributes which high-performing managers and leaders exemplify, and which all strive for.

The working definition adopted by the McMaster University Steering Committee is:

“Competencies are the knowledge, skills and behaviours that differentiate superior performance, and which are demonstrated through the achievement of results.”

The Right Core Competencies for McMaster

To be effective, core competencies must reflect the current needs of the organization. The Communications Work Group, following up on the Staff Survey, identified some specific attributes which have been accepted as important for McMaster managers and leaders:

    McMaster must endorse participative management in all levels of administration

    Managers and leaders must be committed to communication in all its varieties

    Managers and leaders must exemplify, and be receptive to, innovation

    Managers and leaders must be receptive to open, constructive criticism

The Core Competencies Steering Committee will incorporate these attributes, along with themes identified in the University's “Directions” planning documents, into an articulation of five to seven core competencies (a model) for all McMaster leaders and managers. This list will be validated using focus groups and other feedback mechanisms. The model will also identify component behaviours which characterize the core competencies. Web based human resources management tools will be developed for line managers and leaders to ease implementation.


For further information, contact Dale Schenk at ext. 23325 or e-mail