WABC Business Coaching Competencies

The WABC Business Coaching Competencies is the first-ever list of global, association-sponsored evidence-based professional competencies for business coaches. This list covers an impressive breadth and depth of professional practice and is applied (at the appropriate level) to all WABC credentials (RCC, CBC, CMBC® and ChBC®) and to all WABC Accredited® marks (program accreditation available at four levels).

WABC Business Coaching Competencies

(Complete Version)


The business coaching competencies are divided into three areas:  

  • Self-Management–Knowing Oneself and Self-Mastery
  • Core Coaching Skill-Base
  • Business and Leadership Coaching Capabilities

Each area includes a listing of competencies. Each competency is illustrated by examples of the behavior expected of a proficient master coach with at least five years of experience.

Newer business coaches are not expected to demonstrate every competency listed here. Rather, the competencies provide a framework against which individuals can map their training and experience. In this way, individual coaches can use the competencies to gauge their progress toward master-level proficiency.


To ensure clarity and to permit standard and fair evaluation, the competencies are arranged in a  hierarchical structure—areas (3), categories (15), competencies (37) and competencies’ indicators  (249). This approach lends both structure and flexibility to the assessment process.

First, the competencies are divided into three “areas”:

  • Self-Management–Knowing Oneself and Self-Mastery
  • Core Coaching Skill-Base
  • Business and Leadership Coaching Capabilities

Then, under each area, the levels range from “categories” (most comprehensive) at the top, through  “competencies” (specific) in the middle, to “indicators” (most specific) at the bottom. The following  excerpt from the beginning of the competencies illustrates the different levels.


Self-Management–Knowing Oneself and Self-Mastery [area]

1) Knowing Yourself–Self-Insight and Understanding [category]

  1. Having ready access to your thoughts and feelings and being aware of how they affect your behavior [competency]
    • Be aware of your own emotions and able to recognize what you’re feeling at any given time [indicator]
    • Know the reasons why you feel the way you do [indicator]
    • Recognize how your feelings affect you and your work performance [indicator]

The indicators are very specific measures within each competency and are worded in such a way that individuals can rate themselves. It’s important to note that not all indicators (there are 249) are necessary or have equal weight in establishing a competency.

Self-Management–Knowing Oneself and Self-Mastery  

1. Knowing Yourself–Self-Insight and Understanding

  1. Having ready access to your thoughts and feelings and being aware of how they affect your behavior
    • Be aware of your own emotions and able to recognize what you’re feeling at any given time
    • Know the reasons why you feel the way you do
    • Recognize how your feelings affect you and your work performance
    • Have a high degree of awareness of what is important to you and the contribution you want to make– your values, purpose and vision
    • Know what you want and go after it
    • Know when your self-talk is helpful
    • Know when your self-talk is unhelpful

2. Acknowledging Your Strengths and Development Needs

  1. Having a realistic perception of your strengths and development needs–knowing your strengths and limitations and showing a commitment to continuous learning and self-development
    • Know your strengths and less-developed areas, your abilities and limitations
    • Reflect on ways to learn from experiences
    • Seek out constructive feedback to improve your performance
    • Act on constructive feedback to improve your performance
    • Be able to show a sense of humor and perspective about yourself
    • Be a continuous learner: seek opportunities for self-development and lifelong learning, always looking to improve and grow
  1. Self-belief–believing in your self-worth and capabilities
    • Present yourself to others as self-assured and confident in your capability 
    • Prepare to take an unpopular stand when a decision or strategy compromises your principles 
    • Make effective decisions in difficult or ambiguous situations, when time is critical 
    • Trust your instincts and hunches, even in uncertain situations 
    • Emphasize your strengths and appreciate them; accept your shortcomings and make allowances for them 

3. Self-Mastery–Managing Your Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors in Ways that Promote Behavior Contributing to Career and Organization Success

  1. Self-regulation–managing your reactions and emotions constructively
    • Monitor and contain distressing emotions and regulate them so they don’t keep you from doing the things you need to do 
    • Maintain self-control under adverse or stressful conditions (e.g., maintain demeanor, composure and temperament) 
    • Manage your own behavior to prevent or reduce feelings of stress  
    • Be able to think clearly and to stay focused when under pressure 
    • Accept negative feedback without becoming defensive 
    • Talk yourself out of a bad mood 
    • Distinguish between a client’s contribution, and your own contribution, to your emotional reactions 
  1. Integrity–choosing ethical courses of action and being steadfast in your principles and beliefs
    • Set an example by consistently modeling high standards of honesty and integrity 
    • Confront unethical behavior conducted by others 
    • Be willing to admit to mistakes, even in the face of adverse consequences 
    • Build trust by demonstrating ethical behavior 
    • Take responsibility for your failures and mistakes, without blaming others or the circumstances 
  1. Self-responsibility–assuming personal responsibility and accountability for your performance
    • Assume personal accountability for meeting goals, outcomes and deadlines 
    • Follow through on projects, difficulties and inquiries to full resolution 
    • Plan and organize work effectively 
    • Do whatever it takes (within reason) to meet commitments 
    • Keep your promises and fulfill your commitments 
  1. Adaptability–flexibility in handling change
    • Take changing priorities and new developments in your stride, even in the face of ambiguity 
    • Be flexible and adaptable when confronted with unexpected changes 
    • Modify an approach or strategy as situations change 
    • Be willing to modify a strongly held position in the face of contrary evidence 
    • Adjust to new situations easily 
    • Effectively juggle multiple demands on your time 
  1. Emphasizing excellence–setting for yourself, and confidently pursuing, challenging goals and high standards
    • Set yourself challenging goals 
    • Maintain commitment to goals in the face of obstacles and frustrations 
    • Demonstrate a willingness to take calculated risks 
    • Remain optimistic and persistent, even in the face of setbacks or disappointments 
    • Be confident that you will find a solution when you are under pressure 
    • Constantly seek ways to improve your performance 
    • Operate from hope of success rather than fear of failure 
    • Feel capable of exerting influence on your life situation 
  1. Initiative–taking independent action to change the direction of events
    • Show inclination to initiate rather than react 
    • Aim to achieve more than is required or expected of you 
    • Bend the rules when necessary to get the job done 
    • Take anticipatory action to avoid problems before they happen 
    • Independently seek out and act on opportunities 
  1. Creativity and innovation–being receptive to new ideas and being able to generate alternative ways to view and define problems
    • Seek out innovative approaches and current developments related to your area of expertise 
    • Seek out new ideas and approaches from a wide variety of sources 
    • Experiment with different and novel ways to deal with problems and opportunities 
    • See alternative ways to view and define problems 
    • Think up alternative solutions to problems and challenges 

Core Coaching Skill-Base

1. Creating the Foundations for Business Coaching

  1. Working within established ethical guidelines and professional standards
    • Abide by the ethical guidelines, standards and code of conduct of your own professional association and others
    • Clearly communicate the distinctions between coaching and other types of helping relationships, such as mentoring, counseling/psychotherapy and consulting
    • Recognize the limits of your own competence, and refer to other professionals when appropriate
  1. Agreeing on a clear and effective contract for the coaching relationship
    • Develop a working agreement on the nature of the coach-client relationship (e.g., roles, responsibilities and boundaries)
    • Establish a formal coaching agreement/contract (either written or oral) that is specific, fair and effective, and that reflects the organizational context
    • Agree on terms of confidentiality
    • Determine whether there is an appropriate match between your own background and coaching style and the prospective client’s needs and expectations
    • Have a clear policy on note-keeping and/or taping sessions (e.g., for supervision purposes) and communicate this to the client

2. Developing the Business Coaching Relationship

  1. Establishing trust and respect
    • Demonstrate a genuine concern for the client’s welfare and success
    • Demonstrate a strong belief in the boundless potential of others
    • Consistently work to establish trust and honest communication with the client
    • Establish clear agreements and keep promises
    • Clearly and candidly share your values, attitudes, beliefs and emotions when appropriate
    • Encourage the client to take on new and challenging tasks, while providing appropriate support
    • Create an environment of safety and security when dealing with sensitive issues
    • Create an environment of safety and security in which the client is able to share all sides of theirself (e.g., their ambitions, needs and fears)
    • Be honest and truthful in difficult situations (e.g., prepared to tell the client what they need to hear but others won’t say)
  1. Establishing rapport
    • Have an open and responsive presence
    • Be comfortable sharing your intuitions with the client
    • Demonstrate a willingness to take risks and to enter the unknown
    • Have a very flexible approach to coaching and be able to adapt your style to what works best for the client
    • Make appropriate use of humor to make the work more fun
    • Be able to tolerate open expression of strong emotions directed at you without becoming defensive
    • Be able to manage the client’s expression of strong emotions about their situation without getting caught up in the client’s emotions
    • Be able to work with a variety of learning styles in individuals
    • Give objective feedback in a non-judgmental manner

3. Promoting Client Understanding

  1. Listening to understand
    • Adjust easily to the client’s agenda
    • Hear the client’s expectations about what is and is not possible
    • Confirm understanding by observing and interpreting non-verbal signals (e.g., body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc.)
    • Use positive body language and non-verbal signals to demonstrate openness and undivided attention
    • Demonstrate active listening by seeking clarification, rephrasing the client’s statements and summarizing to check understanding
    • Encourage the client to “say more”–create a positive climate for the client to express their feelings, perceptions, concerns, suggestions, etc.
    • Acknowledge the client’s ideas and suggestions and build on them in discussions
    • Offer non-judgmental responses that encourage the client to explore and validate their feelings, concerns and aspirations
    • Use silence as an appropriate intervention to elicit more information
    • Listen to the client’s emotional undercurrents
    • Pay attention to what the client isn’t saying about issues discussed
  1. Questioning effectively
    • Ask questions that reflect an understanding of the client’s point of view
    • Ask challenging questions that help the client to self-discover
    • Pose open-ended questions that help the client to clarify issues
    • Ask questions that help the client to develop new perspectives and new possibilities for action and learning
    • Ask questions that evoke commitment to action
    • Ask questions that steer the client towards their desired outcomes
  1. Communicating clearly
    • Prepare in advance for the coaching session
    • Ensure that feedback to the client is clear and meaningful in terms of the client’s intended outcomes
    • Present alternative ways of viewing the client’s situation that are useful and meaningful to the client
    • Clearly state the coaching objectives, and the rationale for using particular techniques or exercises
    • Use language appropriate and respectful to the client (e.g., non-sexist, non-racist, non-technical, non-jargon)
    • Use analogies, metaphors and examples to help the client grasp an idea
    • Clarify and review with the client the information obtained during sessions
  1. Facilitating depth of understanding
    • Understand and respond to the client’s unspoken feelings and concerns
    • Identify patterns and discrepancies in the client’s thoughts and/or behaviors
    • Enable the client to discover the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that will help them to achieve meaningful outcomes
    • Add order, clarity, depth of understanding and perspective to problematic situations
    • Help the client to look at the broader context of issues or problems
    • Create an environment that supports exploration and change
    • Help the client to recognize the impact of their thoughts and feelings on behavior
    • Recognize the client’s strengths and areas for learning and growth
    • Help the client to identify the most important issues to address during coaching
    • Contribute your knowledge, experience and expertise without giving advice
    • Employ a variety of perspectives when trying to make sense of a situation

4. Facilitating the Personal Transformation

  1. Promoting action
    • Help the client to identify actions that will enable them to demonstrate and strengthen new learning
    • Encourage the client to think deeply and creatively, to look for new or different approaches to take
    • Help the client to systematically evaluate identified concerns, options and opportunities
    • Encourage the client to make appropriate decisions after exploring possible outcomes
    • Ensure that the coaching session leaves the client feeling motivated to apply what was learned in their life setting
    • Recognize and celebrate the client’s successes
    • Encourage and support the client to apply new knowledge or skills immediately (i.e., during the coaching session)
    • Help the client to determine a challenging yet realistic pace of learning
  1. Focusing on goals
    • Work with the client to develop a coaching plan and goals for development
    • Encourage the client to keep focused on concerns and opportunities relevant to agreed-upon goals
    • Ensure that the coaching plan and development goals address the client’s concerns and major areas for learning and development
    • Create development goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented and results-oriented, and that have an appropriate time frame
    • Assess coaching progress and adjust goals based on interim results and changing priorities
    • Help the client to evaluate and access the learning resources (e.g., people, books, courses) that will support their desired outcomes
    • Help the client to focus and build on their successes
  1. Building resiliency
    • Help the client to remain on track between sessions (e.g., to take the actions needed to accomplish their goals)
    • Spend time in subsequent sessions checking the client’s progress regarding actions committed to previously
    • Acknowledge what the client has and has not done, learned and become aware of since the previous session
    • Positively confront the client when they do not take agreed-upon actions
    • Effectively relate what is being discussed to where the client wants to be
    • Promote self-discipline in the client by holding the client responsible and accountable for agreed-upon actions
    • Develop the client’s ability to coach theirself
  1. Managing termination of coaching
    • Assess the client’s readiness for termination of coaching
    • Take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the client can continue their development
    • Clarify with the client any follow-up arrangements
    • Guide the client and other stakeholders in devising a long-range development plan
    • Recommend internal and external means of development that best fit the needs of the client and the organization
    • Communicate with the client’s manager or other stakeholders to ensure commitment to the client’s future development, including regular progress reviews
    • Make yourself available for questions and clarification after the coaching ends
    • Check in with the client occasionally, as appropriate, to maintain the relationship

5. Professional Development

  1. Maintaining and improving professional skills
    • Regularly seek out client feedback on your performance to help you develop your practice
    • Recognize your own limitations as a coach and seek supervision when appropriate
    • Use supervision on a regular basis to maintain and improve your coaching skills
    • Consult with supervisors and colleagues regarding client and coaching issues and issues related to your own professional development as a coach
    • Attend conferences and workshops to develop your coaching skills, expertise and knowledge 
    • Read books, journals and articles to keep abreast of current developments in coaching

Business and Leadership Coaching Capabilities

1. Alignment

  1. Understanding the business and displaying a strong grounding in business knowledge and competencies
    • Bring to the coaching situation a wide range of relevant knowledge about, and experience in, large corporations
    • Bring to the coaching situation a wide range of relevant knowledge about, and experience in, SMEs and start-up/entrepreneurial businesses
    • Understand the broader business context in which the client operates (e.g., market outlook, competition, products and services, clients and customers)
    • Become familiar with the vision, goals and objectives of the organization and its stakeholders
    • Understand the organization’s practices and policies as they relate to achieving business objectives
    • Understand how the organization evaluates the client’s performance and results
    • Understand the client’s role and position relative to the organization’s overall mission, strategy and key business initiatives
    • Become familiar with the organization’s human resource policies and procedures (e.g., on sensitive issues such as sexual harassment, diversity and incident reporting)
    • Become aware of how decisions are made and implemented within the organization (e.g., corporate governance principles, structures and channels for conducting business)
  1. Demonstrating proficiency in systems thinking
    • Be equally comfortable discussing broad conceptual issues and specific practical issues
    • Encourage the client to look at the wider picture
    • Help the client to see their position and the organization through various viewpoints and perspectives
    • Apply a systems perspective to identify wider patterns of activity (internal and external) that help or hinder achievement
    • Recognize the client’s interdependence with other people and processes in the organization
    • Identify patterns or meanings in events and data that are not obviously connected
    • Identify parallels between the dynamics in the coaching relationship and the client’s impact on people and processes in the organization
    • Approach each problem situation with a clear perception of the political reality
    • Be comfortable coaching in a turbulent and constantly changing business system, filled with ambiguity
  1. Aligning coaching initiatives with the business
    • Identify and set coaching and development priorities within the context of business plans
    • Ensure that coaching is primarily concerned with the client’s development in the context of organizational needs
    • Be clear about the responsibility of the client and other stakeholders to take action
    • Challenge the client, when necessary, to relate their behavior back to company aims
    • Strive to maximize the client’s contribution to the organization’s needs
    • Be flexible in adapting the client’s development needs to changing business priorities
    • Be able to ask tough, challenging questions that make the client think along new strategic lines
    • Be comfortable coaching around international issues and agendas

2. Leadership Knowledge and Credibility

  1. Acting as a strong and influential role model
    • Be able to inspire and motivate others at the highest levels
    • Help the client to create and communicate a compelling and inspirational picture of the future
    • Model and demonstrate leadership behaviors in ways that enable the client to enact these behaviors for theirself
    • Practice leadership and integrate leadership qualities and behaviors into your working practice
  1. Possessing thorough working knowledge of the world of the executive leader and leadership development
    • Know how leaders learn and the processes that facilitate leadership learning
    • Understand the challenges of effective leadership
    • Be thoroughly familiar with the demands faced by leaders in their particular business
    • Identify appropriate leadership development processes
    • Identify and select coaching techniques appropriate to the client’s leadership developmental tasks
    • Identify and articulate the difference between a manager and a leader
    • Facilitate the client’s transition from manager to leader
    • Understand and communicate the qualities required for effective leadership
  1. Displaying highly developed communication and interpersonal competencies
    • Display a high level of confidence in working within the leadership arena
    • Discuss issues in a language appropriate to the business context
    • Understand the points of influence within the organization
    • Work beneath the strong ego of the leader
    • Challenge the leader to raise standards in all areas

3. Coach as Leader and Developer of Own Business

  1. Creating and managing business relationship networks
    • Be able to win new clients
    • Be able to generate referrals from other professionals
    • Be able to generate new business through word of mouth
    • Provide the organization and the client with background information about yourself and your practice (e.g., references, fees and business practices)
    • Maintain a large network of contacts with other qualified professionals
    • Refer clients when you are not the best possible resource
  1. Collaborating with other coaches
    • Establish alliances with other coaches to enable delivery of large contracts
    • Identify and develop resources and referrals
    • Share values and ethics with other coaches
    • Share best practices with other coaches
    • Promote the coaching profession
    • Learn about and develop the coaching profession
  1. Developing yourself in a business capacity
    • Attend events (e.g., workshops and conferences) to develop your understanding of leadership and business ideas
    • Read professional books and trade journals (e.g., Harvard Business Review) to keep up with business developments
    • Read business newspapers (e.g., Financial Times) and business pages to stay informed about business and economic conditions

4. Partnerships and Engagement with Stakeholders

  1. Creating and maintaining partnerships with all stakeholders in the business coaching process
    • Proactively develop a network of relationships and strategic partnerships within the organization, and maintain it through regular contact and follow-up 
    • Understand and effectively discuss with the client and decision-maker the guidelines and parameters of the coaching contract (e.g., logistics, fees, inclusion of others if appropriate) 
    • Recognize and involve Human Resources and other stakeholders as appropriate when agreeing on accountability 
    • Understand the needs and requirements of the coaching sponsor 
    • Participate in the organization’s process for selecting, matching and orienting business coaches 
    • Develop a formal written confidentiality agreement before the coaching begins (e.g., specify which information will and will not be shared, in which circumstances, with whom and how) 
    • Communicate openly about coaching progress with the client and other stakeholders (within the limits of the agreed-upon confidentiality) 
    • Facilitate communication between the client and the organization about what the client is working on, their progress and their support needs 
    • Abide by the organization’s values, ethical practices, confidentiality agreements, business practices and human resource policies; withdraw if these are incompatible with your own values 

5. Understanding Organizational Change

  1. Understanding organizational behavior and organizational development principles
    • Understand organizational processes and how to improve their efficiency and effectiveness 
    • Analyze the elements, principles and relationships in organizational structure, culture and change management 
    • Know how to facilitate the creation of vision and the clarification of direction 
    • Know how to facilitate the development and implementation of strategic and operational plans 
    • Know how to facilitate the development of strategies for leading and managing organizational change 

6. Assessment

  1. Assessing the client
    • Select from a wide variety of assessment instruments (e.g., 360-degree feedback and measures of personality, learning styles, interests, leadership style)
    • Carry out additional assessments of variables such as the organizational culture, team communication, organizational trust, quality, employee satisfaction, efficiency and profitability
    • Administer only those instruments for which you have been fully trained, certified or otherwise prepared
    • Explain clearly the strengths and limitations of assessment instruments
    • Maintain the client’s confidentiality by protecting assessment data
    • Provide a safe, supportive environment in which to deliver assessment feedback
    • Deliver feedback in ways that encourage the client to act upon the assessment
    • Help the client to use assessment data to create a development action plan
  1. Assessing the individual and organizational benefits of business coaching
    • Know how to measure the effectiveness of coaching
    • Demonstrate commitment to measuring coaching success
    • Create relevant return on investment (or other models) for identifying added value
    • Use pre- or post-coaching assessments (e.g., 360-degree feedback) to measure results
    • Offer reliable and valid means for measuring the results and outcomes of coaching
    • Establish goals in the contracting phase so that the performance of both you and the client can be measured

7. Respect for Diversity

  1. Having respect for and knowledge about multicultural issues and diversity
    • Adapt the language and/or approach you use during coaching to racial and cultural differences 
    • Be aware of how cultural dynamics influence business processes, interactions and outcomes 
    • Help to form effective strategies consistent with the organization’s position in a global economy 
    • Help the client to recognize the value of diversity, and to maximize the benefits of racial and cultural differences in ways that improve outcomes 
    • Demonstrate personal commitment to treating people equally and with respect and dignity 
    • Clearly understand the business benefits of effectively managing racial and cultural diversity 
    • Understand potential preferences and biases associated with your own racial and cultural identity, and how these might enhance or impede your delivery of services  


Since 1997, WABC has been committed to defining and leading business coaching excellence.

In partnership with UK-based Professional Development Foundation, a leader in research and education in the professions, we spent years on in-depth research, literature reviews and consultations with some of the world’s top business coaches and their clients. One result of that immense effort was the detailed list of evidence-based professional competencies based on the real-world tasks of master coaches in small and large businesses, governments, institutions, nonprofits–any organizations where business coaches practice. To maintain its relevance as an accurate description of our profession, the competencies will continue to evolve, so we welcome your comments and advice.

This revised edition reflects:

  • Inclusive terminology through the use of non-binary gender pronouns
  • Small adjustments to the structure of the Business and Leadership Coaching Capabilities area, specifically categories 4, 5 and 7

Despite these revisions, the WABC Business Coaching Competencies standards have not changed.


Level Up Your Experience

The fully described WABC Business Coaching Competencies, including detailed areas (3) categories (15), competencies (37) and competencies’ indicators (249), is exclusive to WABC members and WABC Accredited® providers.