Defining the KM career

Research identifies KM core competencies

By Susanne Hasulo

The growing proliferation of people with the word “knowledge” in their job title indicates that more and more enterprises are making knowledge-based initiatives a priority. Unlike other more established professions, however, KM isn’t yet uniformly understood, defined or practiced by enterprises. That poses problems for those working within the field — job titles and responsibilities vary from enterprise to enterprise because the actual definition of KM largely depends on how the organization understands it and practices it within the context of its own culture.

“Lots of people still don’t understand what KM is or how it works,” says Caroline Werle of Rim-Inc. a Toronto-based information management recruiting firm. For example, one organization may call an activity KM while others call it competitive intelligence.

Such ambiguity often makes it hard to identify the kinds of skills and competencies required for a particular job function, not to mention determining what kind of training one would seek out to augment one’s KM and related skills.

On the plus side, as enterprises continue to better define the role KM initiatives play in their own organizations, as well as acknowledge this new understanding by adapting their organizational structure, senior management are more interested in finding out more about what kind of people are needed to fill the positions in the KM arena.

Identifying and defining the core competencies and skill sets of KM professionals was one of the main outcomes of a 1999 report entitled Skills for Knowledge Management from UK-based TFPL Ltd., a consultancy firm. The research team contacted more than 500 organizations involved in implementing KM to identify the job roles that they had created, as well as the various skills that were needed in those roles.

Based on research of 500 international organizations, TFPL’s KM skills maps (above) demonstrate which core competencies are, on average, considered most critical for each individual’s or team’s KM-based role.

KM job titles and responsibilities

From its findings, the report identified the following five clusters of KM roles and the types of job titles and functions associated with them:

Senior management


KM strategic planning team

Drawn from senior management positions. Under the leadership of the CEO and CKO, this team assesses the potential of a KM approach and champions it throughout the organization.

KM implementation team

Dedicated staff charged with planning and implementing the detail of the agreed KM strategies. Identify KM activities with significant business benefit and work with units to implement them. Cover key areas of content, infrastructure, development of KM practitioners, organizational culture, procedures and practices.

KM practitioners

Work in business units and core functions facilitating the development of and implementation of KM activities with the support of the implementation team. Maintain knowledge assets, support knowledge workers and act as a focus for KM activities within business units and teams. These people come from a mix of disciplines, their key competence being business awareness.

Knowledge workers

Mainline business people in the organization who create and use knowledge to make decisions and to perform their job.

Using the data, the report also created a KM skills map, an updated version of which was released in 2000 (see page 19), and is one of the key results from the international research project. The report’s analysts took the numerous specific skills (see Further reading) required for the various KM job roles and organized them under six core competency groups that were deemed to be required by all the different job roles in some form or another. Each competency group was then assigned a value according to how important it was for each particular KM role. The resulting spidergrams help visually illustrate which core competencies are considered most critical for each individual’s or team’s role.

While these particular spidergrams provide a useful benchmark for comparing where an individual’s or team’s strengths should lie within a particular role, enterprises can also apply the same methodology to identify what KM and related skills are needed most within their own organization. “If you consider each role and what it has to achieve within the organization,” says Angela Abell, director of TFP, “and go through all those six arms and plot how important they are to you, then you can go back and look at the people you’ve got, plot their own skills and see if there’s a gap.”

Further followup research, derived from a TFPL-hosted event called the CKO Summit, a meeting of 20 top international CKOs recognized as leaders in their field, more clearly defined and broadened the list of core competencies to include:

Core competencies for KM specialists/teams

1. Ability to learn
2. Customer empathy
3. Self initiation
4. Collaborative
5. Intellectual linking
6. Humility
7. Solution orientation
8. Information literacy
9. Technology awareness
10. Persuasive
11. Ability to share
12. Able to extract and communicate key issues

These combined skills, says Abell, emphasize the need for individuals and teams in KM roles to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to help develop collaborative environments to help manage and lead new organizational cultures and structures.

Based on their research projects, TFPL has developed specific tools that individuals or enterprises can use to assess current KM jobs as well as create future positions that are better aligned with the strategic objectives of an organization. The first is a Web-enabled toolkit, which builds on the initial KM skills map, that individuals can use to inventory their own strengths and weaknesses to see how they match up with a particular job function. A test version is currently available on TFPL’s site at, with the final version scheduled for release by the end of the year.

Tomorrow’s ideal information services worker is a “Jack or Jill of all trades and a master of one”

TFPL has also developed what it calls a “competency dictionary” for knowledge and information specialists which includes the strategic, general and professional competencies required for roles in the KM and IM (information management) arena. Abell says the tool is used by the company’s recruitment teams and consultants to help clients define roles and develop role and people specifications. What’s also important about the dictionary, she says, is that it helps define a common vocabulary that helps professionals better understand what’s required in these kinds of jobs.

“If you look up the word humility, the [dictionary] defines it and also provides examples of premium behaviours that best illustrate how having a humble attitude can help KM professionals motivate knowledge sharing and creation among a company’s employees,” says Abell.

In TFPL’s latest report, Developing skills for the information services workforce in the knowledge economy, Abell and co-author Val Skelton write, “One of the organizations participating in [TFPL’s research] described the ideal KM professional of the future as a ‘Jack’ (or Jill) of all trades and a master of one.’ He/she would need to be ‘strategic with broad shoulders.’ The skills that will support this new worker comprise a new competency framework that will include the ability to work at a higher, more strategic level of the organization.”

Further reading
TFPL Research

You’ll find TFPL’s KM Skills map, as well as executive summaries for TFPL’s reports entitled Skills for Knowledge Management (1999) and Developing skills for the information services workforce in the knowledge economy (2001).

Back to Table of Contents

Back to Issue Archives