Keys to Individual and Agency Success: Competent Park and Recreation Departments Need Support from the Entry Level to Upper Management

Article excerpt

Whether you are new to the field or aspiring to be promoted to the next level, the question is always asked, "What skills do I need to be successful in that position?" This question can be addressed through the use of competencies and competency models. Function is the difference between the two competencies are skills, knowledge and characteristics needed to successfully perform a job; whereas a competency model focuses on integration of the competencies into all levels of the organization.

Competencies and competency models have been in existence for at least 30 years, and in the last to years the use of competency models to drive management processes has increased significantly. Lucia and Lepsinger (1999) believe that more and more companies will become competency driven because of intensified competition, the need for cost management and downsizing, and the increased use of 360-degree feedback--all things occurring in parks and recreation.

Competencies are far more than just a list of skills. They start with skills, knowledge and characteristics, but move far beyond them in their use. Competencies have been used for such things as (a) establishing employee evaluation criteria, (b) setting performance benchmarks and assessing readiness for a position, (c) determining hiring criteria, (d) mentoring employees and (e) creating a professional development plan. Specific ways competencies can be used is addressed in "Research into Action" on page 48.

Importance of Competencies

The competency literature is abundant and widespread, and each of the three sectors--market, non-profit and public--has been influenced by the use of competencies. However, competency research in the public sector, and public park and recreation in particular, has been quite limited as there has been little attempt to establish competencies at different levels in public park and recreation. Although there are several similarities between the public and non-profit sector, and the non-profit sector has well-developed competencies, there is a need for competency research specifically in the park and recreation industry.

Competency models in the nonprofit and market sectors have largely been based on a systematic theoretical framework. Competency research has not tested systems theory, as much as it has relied on its premise to explain the impact and importance of skill, knowledge and characteristic development. Systems theory emerges from basic behavioral psychology theory that asserts the individual interacts with the environment.

A systems approach to organizational development assumes that an organization is made of interdependent and interactive parts that make up an identifiable whole. The system has inputs from the internal and external environment such as staff resources and budget limitations. Through transformations, these inputs become outputs such as sports leagues, special events or park development, and with any output there is feedback on the quality of those outputs, such as benefits of participation or quality of services provided.

The goal of any system or agency is to remain as stable as possible by dealing with issues that impact the agency. The agency can only deal with these issues as well as the weakest part does. The stronger the individual parts, whether they are departments within an agency or individuals within a department, the stronger the organization as a whole. The question arises as to how systems theory and competencies work together. The answer may best be explained through the Model of Effective Job Performance.

Boyatzis (1982), using a systems approach, has been a leader in competency development. The premise of Boyatzis' Model of Effective Job Performance is that the goal of management is ultimately to create effective job performance. He argues that effective job performance will occur when the (a) individual's competencies, (b) the job's demands and (c) the organizational environment are consistent. …