Professional Competence:  a Lesson Learned

By | December 5, 2021

[December 5, 2021]  Leaders must be sufficiently competent in their professions to survive.  High-quality leaders can perform the duties of their job with an acceptable level of quality – a combination of knowledge, judgment, and skills.  Such professional competence does not come without sacrifice.

Technical competence will not assure a leader’s success since other traits are a part of leadership.  Ineptitude, ineffectiveness, and inaction, for example, will indeed cause a leader’s downfall.  Knowing what to do and how to get it done is vital.

Professional competence1, therefore, is the minimum acceptable standard for all leaders in positions of authority.  Successful leaders must not only have technical professional competence, but they must also possess the informal dimensions of competence as demonstrated by the degree of leadership they show.

“There is nothing which rots morale more quickly and more completely than… the feeling that those in authority do not know their own minds.”  – Lionel Urwick

Innovative leaders have obtained their competence through various learning experiences that include informal knowledge and maturity.  On the other hand, poor leaders have not obtained this informal knowledge.

The actions and inaction of poor leaders erode credibility.  This means a loss of trust and confidence in the leader, team, and organization.  The result is failure.

Professional competence is developed from formal education, meticulous self-development, moral maturity, social skills, and a variety of relevant professional experiences.  Those experiences make up the core of a leader’s ability to overcome obstacles and succeed regardless of what is before him.

“Morally, a philosopher who uses his professional competence for anything except a disinterested search for truth is guilty of a kind of treachery.”  – Bertrand Russell


  1. Professional competence is the ability to perform the duties of one’s profession to an acceptable, socially-approved level.  These are skills acquired through training in the relevant field and participation in activities that promote one’s ability to be a competent professional.  Such activities include mentorship, career development forums, and coaching, which provide different learning experiences.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Professional Competence:  a Lesson Learned

  1. Doug Smith

    “When there is no more hereditary wealth, privilege class, or prerogatives of birth, it becomes clear that the chief source of disparity between the fortunes of men lies in the mind.”
    Alexis de Tocqueville

    1. Tomas Clooney

      Great quote. Thanks Doug. And, thanks to all those who write in these forums. I learn a lot here. 👍

  2. Tracey Brockman

    Gen. Satterfield, great article and the comments below support your proposition. I will say, and I’m sure you know, you are swimming upstream on this idea of professional competence because it is based on merit. And, merit is being attacked from every angle these days. Of course, most “see” it as something that will harm greatly those in the lowest part of our society because they will now believe that hard work will not propel them upwards. Their attitudes will now block them from access to the best parts of our society.

  3. Pooch T.

    All part of the war on meritocracy …. just read Gen. Satterfield’s DAILY FAVORITES today and there is another article on this very idea. Too bad. Such a movement hurts the very people it is intended to help.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Yep, and most people just see this as a temporary problem that will go away. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Or, so they say.

  4. Wilson Cox

    Ronald Reagan proclaimed in 1984. “We believe that people should be able to rise by their talents, not by their birth or the advantages of privileges,”

    1. Wilson Cox

      — and also, the meritocratic idea is so fundamental to modern societies that we take it for granted. We expect to be given a fair chance when we apply for a job.

      1. Mr. T.J. Asper

        Wilson, like Max, you are right about this and we should not have the color of our skin or where we grew up or our religion as a reason to discriminate against us. But the anti-racist movement (call it what you will) does exactly that in spades.

        1. Commie Red

          This is why communism is so popular. You don’t need responsibility or tell the truth. The government is the answer to every whim you have.

        2. JT Patterson

          Good point Mr. TJ. That is, unfortunately, what we are seeing more and more of these days. Your race is all and your competence is nothing.

      2. Harry Donner

        Racism is at the very core of Antifa and BLM. There is nothing else to say about it that allows us to believe the movement has any merit whatsoever.

  5. Max Foster

    We should all take note that the idea of professional competence is being targeted today … along with an attack on meritocracy because it is viewed as white and thus racist. The real losers will be those who believe it and change their ways to be less competent. Then, they will not be employable unless they are a token in the workplace. Happening? Yep, right now.

    1. Oakie from OK

      Once again, Max, you nailed it. If you believe meritocracy is racist, then you have a real problem. We have to step back and define merit. Merit means you have the skills (social, technical, and intellectual) to actually do your job. If you lack them, pow, you’re not going to do well. Facts matter, intent is irrelevent.

  6. Greg NH

    As always, Gen. Satterfield, very interesting article and something to think about over breakfast and eating a bagel.


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