Skip Navigation

Foundational Competencies

Foundational Competencies are required for success across all NRCS occupations and grade levels. This page presents the NRCS Foundational Competencies, including their definitions, general work behaviors, and more detailed illustrative behaviors at each of the following proficiency levels:

  • Level 5 = Expert
  • Level 4 = Advanced
  • Level 3 = Fully Proficient
  • Level 2 = Basic
  • Level 1 = Awareness

Behavioral Definition

Performs work in a thorough and conscientious manner, ensuring that work products and services provided are accurate and complete.

Work Behaviors

  • Checks work to ensure it is accurate, thorough, and meets applicable policies, standards/specifications, or other guidelines.
  • Evaluates information or data to assess accuracy, relevance, and completeness.
  • Identifies errors or inconsistencies and takes action to correct them, bringing them to the attention of decision-makers and/or relevant others when necessary.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Establishes a climate for the organizational unit that emphasizes the importance and impact of high-quality products and services.
  • Finalizes or oversees the development of manuals, guidelines, or standard operating procedures to minimize mistakes or errors.
  • Oversees the integration of multi-faceted information from various subject areas into a policy, document, model, etc.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Ensures own and others’ work products are technically accurate, reliable, and in accordance with established policies, standards/specifications, and guidelines.
  • Reinforces importance of high-quality products and services with peers and team members.
  • Prepares manuals, guidelines, or standard operating procedures to minimize mistakes or errors.
  • Serves in an advisory capacity as a recognized expert in ensuring high quality products.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Ensures own products and services are complete, accurate, and in accordance with established policies, standards/specifications, and guidelines.
  • Reviews the quality of information or data provided by others for accuracy and completeness.
  • Conducts thorough analysis to provide accurate and complete information in order to make decisions.

Level 2

Basic

  • Ensures own work is technically sound, accurate, and thorough.
  • When directed by supervisor, reviews reports, documents, or data generated by others for accuracy and completeness, and basic grammar and typographical errors.
  • Evaluates routine information or data and identifies major inconsistencies or errors; makes corrections when appropriate.
  • Produces and reviews materials, reports, etc. requiring few or no corrections/edits, with minimal supervisor oversight.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Reviews own work to verify that work adheres to given instructions, applicable regulations, and guidelines with supervisor oversight.
  • Edits own work products for basic errors (e.g., grammatical, typographical) before submitting to supervisors.
  • Collects and enters data into electronic information systems accurately.


Jump to Top

Accountability

Behavioral Definition

Accepts and assumes responsibility for one’s own actions, words, products, and decisions and/or those of the group, team, or division.

Work Behaviors

  • Takes responsibility for accomplishing work goals and meeting deadlines.
  • Ensures timely and accurate products and deliverables.
  • Complies with established control systems, including relevant laws, standards, guidelines, policies, and rules.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Provides guidance and communicates methods for achieving results to correct failed or delayed unit-level efforts.
  • Leads efforts to establish a methodology for achieving results.
  • Ensures a culture of accountability among others by defining roles and responsibilities.
  • Creates policies, rules, procedures, systems, and/or processes that ensure accountability (e.g., internal controls) and enforce these polices through quality assurance.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Takes responsibility for work unit or project outcomes, regardless of positive or negative results.
  • Ensures that the work of others complies with established control systems, policies, and rules.
  • Establishes expectations for self and/or work unit so that goals are reasonable and achievable and projects are set up to succeed.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Conveys to others the importance of accomplishing goals and delivering results on time.
  • Accepts responsibility when missed deadlines affect others’ work or unit-level outcomes and makes changes to ensure timelines are met in the future.
  • Fulfills commitments made to peers, supervisors, and customers, providing plenty of notice if unable to meet obligations so that alternative plans can be made.
  • Tracks progress of work and responds to obstacles threatening established goals.

Level 2

Basic

  • Proactively takes responsibility for own actions, regardless of outcome.
  • Complies with established control systems, policies, rules, and procedures.
  • Notifies supervisor when obligations are unable to be met so that alternative plans can be made.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Develops knowledge of relevant policies, rules, and procedures and follows them accordingly.
  • Identifies and corrects own mistakes and brings them to the attention of others when necessary.
  • Accepts responsibility for own actions, regardless of outcome.


Jump to Top

Organizing and Prioritizing Work

Behavioral Definition

Plans work, sets priorities, and determines short- and/or long-term goals and strategies to achieve them; monitors progress toward goals, evaluates outcomes, and makes appropriate adjustments.

Work Behaviors

  • Analyzes workload and establishes priorities and timelines.
  • Formulates an approach to achieve work tasks, established goals, and organizational objectives.
  • Directs and/or redirects efforts as necessary to meet deadlines and goals.
  • Monitors progress towards the achievement of goals.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Anticipates changing workload requirements well in advance and advocates for needed resources based on strategy and planning.
  • Plans and implements multi-agency, multi-year, large-scale efforts.
  • Coordinates work with multiple internal or external parties to ensure results are achieved that support the Agency’s goals and strategic direction.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Prepares plans for complex and/or controversial projects and identifies resources to deliver projects within established parameters.
  • Develops progressive long-term strategic plans (e.g., narrative plans, Statement of Work).
  • Reviews project plans of others, critiquing and recommending changes when needed.
  • Defines measurable and observable work outcomes for self and work unit that are fully aligned with and advance the Agency’s goals and strategic direction.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Prepares plans for non-routine projects to provide deliverables within established parameters.
  • Makes informed decisions about work priorities to ensure accurate completion of assignments and projects.
  • Balances and prioritizes multiple projects or assignments simultaneously.
  • Implements a new project, including identifying customer needs, determining roles and responsibilities, and establishing timelines.

Level 2

Basic

  • Prepares routine plans, including identifying timelines and scheduling tasks.
  • Prioritizes routine tasks to ensure timely delivery of information, products, and services.
  • Systematically breaks large tasks down into smaller, more manageable subtasks.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Organizes and accomplishes assigned tasks/work to ensure timely delivery of information, products, and/or services.
  • Seeks guidance on setting work/task priorities and follows priorities as assigned.
  • Maintains appropriate files and records to document progress toward goals.


Jump to Top

Representing the Agency

Behavioral Definition

Represents USDA/NRCS and Agency interests when dealing with others; interacts with internal and external parties in a professional manner.

Work Behaviors

  • Interacts and shares information with outside parties in a manner that reflects positively on the Agency.
  • Enhances trust and credibility of the Agency and its mission through professional interactions with others.
  • Represents NRCS in meetings, conferences, and other engagements with individuals and members of other organizations.
  • Establishes an understanding of NRCS’ position on and policies toward natural resources conservation issues.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Manages complex and difficult situations with confidence and decisiveness, enhancing the reputation and image of the Agency.
  • Meets with elected or appointed officials to provide Agency and program information for decision-making.
  • Promotes and justifies the Agency’s programs and actions in contentious situations.
  • Markets the Agency’s mission and programs through media outlets.
  • Serves as the Agency representative on USDA and other Federal Agency teams and projects.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Serves as a role model and advises others on presenting a professional image of the Agency to enhance trust and credibility.
  • Engages with others in a manner that earns their respect and advances the goals and objectives of the Agency.
  • Serves as an Agency representative on interagency teams and projects.
  • Represents the Agency’s interests to a variety of parties (e.g., at technical group meetings, to universities).

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Takes effective steps to resolve confrontational situations with customers in a manner that reflects positively on the Agency.
  • Promotes the Agency in a professional manner that educates others, protects its interests, and enhances its image and reputation.
  • Represents the Agency as a professional expert on natural resource conservation issues (e.g., presents a technical paper at a conference).

Level 2

Basic

  • Recognizes confrontational situations with customers and refers/redirects them appropriately.
  • Promotes support for the mission and programs of the Agency through all forms of communication.
  • Represents the Agency in small group presentations or meetings with customers.
  • Participates in Agency outreach activities (e.g., county fairs, job fairs).

Level 1

Awareness

  • Appropriately supports the Agency’s goals in interactions with others.
  • Maintains professional attitude and actions in all business situations.
  • Develops knowledge of relevant policies, rules, and procedures for representing the Agency (e.g., standards of conduct) and follows them accordingly.


Jump to Top

Resource Management

Behavioral Definition

Identifies, obtains, maintains, secures, distributes, and utilizes resources (e.g., material, equipment, space, money, time) in order to support the Agency’s workforce and achieve goals and objectives.

Work Behaviors

  • Maintains an awareness of available resources (e.g., material, equipment, space, money, time).
  • Identifies, requests, obtains, and/or approves needed resources required to accomplish work activities or projects.
  • Maintains, secures, and/or distributes available resources (e.g., material, equipment, space).
  • Protects resources to ensure the prevention of fraud, waste, and abuse.
  • Appropriately documents obtaining, using, and disposing of resources.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Handles resource requirements for extremely complex projects/assignments, monitoring and regularly redirecting resources to maximize results across initiatives.
  • Develops and implements flexible and innovative approaches to stretch limited resources or leverage additional resources, resulting in greater contributions to the Agency.
  • Partners with Agency and Department leadership to identify tools to manage resources.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Implements, monitors and ensures that resources for work unit are distributed and utilized in an efficient manner (e.g., personnel, accountable property).
  • Develops procedures, policies, and guidelines for appropriately managing resources to prevent misuse, waste, and abuse of Agency resources.
  • Develops innovative strategies to track usage and maximize utilization of resources.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Requests and/or acquires resources (e.g., supplies or equipment) based on policy, workload analysis, and supporting documentation.
  • Communicates and implements policies and guidance to appropriately manage resources and ensure understanding.
  • Tracks and documents inventories, usage, and disposal of resources.
  • Fully utilizes available resources, ensuring resources are not wasted.

Level 2

Basic

  • Identifies and requests or obtains necessary job-related resources (e.g., office supplies, training) according to policy.
  • Identifies and reports misuse and/or fraudulent behavior.
  • Maintains job-related tools and resources to keep resources in good working order.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Develops knowledge of proper use of government resources (e.g., travel card) and completes required training courses (e.g., GPS training) to effectively use resources.
  • Appropriately uses available resources (e.g., obtains proper authorization, protects resources, reports damages/misuse) in accordance with policy.
  • Maintains appropriate documentation for resource use (e.g., timesheet, vehicle usage).
  • Identifies apparent maintenance needs to job-related resources (e.g., equipment).


Jump to Top

Technology Management

Behavioral Definition

Keeps up-to-date on technological developments, making effective use of technology and related technical resources to achieve results; ensures security of technology and computing systems.

Work Behaviors

  • Maintains an awareness of available technological resources and the process for accessing these resources.
  • Plans for, acquires, organizes, and prioritizes technology and technical resources to accomplish the Agency’s mission and objectives.
  • Uses appropriate and available tools or technology to perform work activities.
  • Safeguards technology to ensure the prevention of fraud, waste, or abuse.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Effectively anticipates future technological developments and takes steps to ensure that new technology is easily incorporated to achieve the objectives of the Agency.
  • Identifies new technological resources available internal and external to the Agency, and skillfully gains access to these resources.
  • Develops plans and/or recommendations to address new and future technological needs.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Resolves identified problems or issues with technological systems and equipment.
  • Provides assistance and instruction on new technology to users.
  • Identifies and justifies the need for new technology and develops new and/or revised systems or equipment for large scale use.
  • Coordinates with others internal and external to the Agency to ensure that technology is effectively utilized by the Agency.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Identifies technology needs required to accomplish work activities or projects.
  • Provides assistance and instruction on existing technology to new users.
  • Develops alternative solutions using available technical tools.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of current technological developments and coordinates with others to take steps toward integrating these developments into the broader system to improve efficiency/effectiveness.
  • Ensures staff members have access to technology systems and adhere to security requirements.

Level 2

Basic

  • Understands the process to gain access to and utilize technical resources.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of current technological developments and appropriately applies this knowledge to achieve results.
  • Identifies problems or issues with technology systems and/or equipment.
  • Adapts processes to keep pace with new technological developments.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Develops a basic awareness of technology (i.e., eFOTG, Customer Service Toolkit, etc.) needed to accomplish specific duties.
  • Follows specific guidance to safeguard technology to ensure the prevention of abuse, waste, loss, or unauthorized use (i.e., locking computer, using passwords to manage files).
  • Completes security awareness training.


Jump to Top

Organizational Awareness

Behavioral Definition

Knows the Agency's vision, mission, functions, and organizational structure; understands how the Agency’s social, political, and technological systems work and operates effectively within them.

Work Behaviors

  • Demonstrates an understanding of the Agency’s vision, mission, functions, organizational structure, and systems.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of how relevant organizational systems and processes work and operates effectively within them.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of one’s own role within the Agency’s mission and structure.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of conservation and the importance of partnerships.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of intra-Agency staff relationships.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Develops Agency strategic objectives and goals.
  • Utilizes knowledge of Agency structure to realign functions and/or positions to create more effective and efficient workflows.
  • Demonstrates an understanding of the impact of Congressional action on the Agency.
  • Demonstrates expertise regarding organizational systems and the internal and external factors impacting NRCS projects.
  • Seeks out and capitalizes on opportunities to leverage knowledge of how Agency and processes work to make contributions with far-ranging impact.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Contributes to the development of the strategic plan for assigned area of responsibility.
  • Demonstrates a thorough understanding of the Agency’s mission, functions, values, applicable policies and procedures, and internal and external factors that may impact NRCS projects.
  • Applies depth and breadth of knowledge of Agency to perform well and/or guide others on the full range of complex or varied assignments that impact the reputation of the Agency.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Demonstrates and maintains a thorough understanding of the Agency’s mission, functions, values, policies, and procedures.
  • Understands the interrelationships between various units, organizations, and partners and how these affect the Agency’s mission.
  • Applies depth or breadth of knowledge of Agency to guide others on varied assignments.

Level 2

Basic

  • Applies sufficient knowledge of Agency to independently perform varied assignments.
  • Takes initiative to increase understanding of relevant organizational processes through self-directed activities.
  • Articulates basic information regarding the Agency’s vision, mission, and functions to customers and partners.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Develops a basic understanding of and carries out basic tasks in accordance with the Agency’s mission, vision, functions, values, policies, and procedures.
  • Acquires an understanding of the Agency’s organizational structure and appropriate interactions between staff.
  • Participates in NRCS training activities and attends relevant organizational meetings.


Jump to Top

Adaptability and Flexibility

Behavioral Definition

Adapts behavior or work methods in response to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles; is open to and effectively deals with ambiguity.

Work Behaviors

  • Adjusts plans and/or priorities to adapt to new information or changing situations in order to achieve work goals and objectives.
  • Anticipates and addresses obstacles using both established and innovative methods.
  • Effectively copes with ambiguity and progresses with work activities under uncertain conditions.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Plans and organizes major change initiatives that result in a smooth transition.
  • Re-deploys resources and alters plans to meet continuously changing demands, accommodating and taking advantage of opportunities associated with the change.
  • Shifts goals and initiatives to align with organizational unit, department, administration, and/or Congressional priorities.
  • Ensures understanding and alleviates concerns of staff and/or coworkers during times of change, even when personally uncertain about the change.
  • Recognizes and addresses conflict in order to promote a workplace conducive to teamwork and efficient productivity.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Responds to unexpected and quickly changing conditions, prioritizes and considers alternatives, and implements a solution.
  • Anticipates potential problems and obstacles, actively addressing them before they can interfere with work goals.
  • Overcomes very challenging obstacles by using established and/or innovative methods.
  • Acquires resources and/or revises processes in response to shifting deadlines or personnel changes.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Anticipates apparent obstacles that could affect work and brings issues to the attention of one’s supervisor when necessary.
  • Shifts focus in response to changing priorities, strategies, or demands; becomes knowledgeable about new areas.
  • Balances multiple competing work demands to achieve required outcomes.
  • Communicates with staff and/or coworkers about changes.
  • Assumes new work responsibilities with ease, even when provided with little advance notice or guidance.

Level 2

Basic

  • Learns and adapts to new policies and/or regulations.
  • Makes adjustments to own work activities in response to changing priorities or deadlines to complete assignments in a timely manner.
  • Adapts to changes that affect own work and work environment.
  • Performs an ambiguous or unfamiliar process in a standard or routine situation (e.g., conducting an audit).

Level 1

Awareness

  • Demonstrates flexibility within own area of responsibility to accomplish shared unit goals.
  • Demonstrates openness to changes in unit goals or priorities (e.g., working on new programs).
  • Shifts priorities and modifies approaches when requested by supervisor.


Jump to Top

Continuous Learning

Behavioral Definition

Assesses and recognizes own strengths and weaknesses; acquires knowledge and skills through training, feedback, mentoring, or other opportunities for professional development and then applies new knowledge and skills to achieve work outcomes.

Work Behaviors

  • Identifies when it is necessary to acquire new knowledge and skills.
  • Stays up-to-date and acquires new knowledge and skills by participating in training and other learning activities.
  • Contributes to work outcomes by maintaining expertise and applying new knowledge and skills obtained.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Applies what is learned through training, feedback, mentoring, and other opportunities to produce a major positive impact for the Agency.
  • Completes a multi-course or longer-term training program (e.g., pursuing a M.A. or Ph.D.) that meets personal developmental goals and aligns with the Agency’s strategies.
  • Actively participates in the process of developing, implementing, and conducting a training course key to NRCS’ goals and objectives, leading to improvements that have a broad organizational impact.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Enhances personal competencies by pursuing both internal and external opportunities for professional development and taking on challenging assignments and institutional roles.
  • Shares expertise by formally presenting at professional conferences.
  • Develops mentoring and people development skills by serving as a mentor in NRCS’ mentoring program.
  • Completes prerequisites (e.g., coursework, internship) and obtains non-required but relevant certification or license.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Recognizes areas needing improvement and takes technical/proficiency training to increase skills.
  • Seeks and participates in appropriate professional development activities in order to expand professional knowledge and subject matter expertise.
  • Adapts learned concepts to new situations.
  • Attends professional conferences or meetings and transfers knowledge gained by sharing with others in the Agency.

Level 2

Basic

  • Informally visits with individuals from other teams or units to gain understanding of different organizational functions.
  • Acquires, develops, and maintains relevant job skills through a variety of methods.
  • Applies new skills on-the-job that were acquired during training.
  • Participates in formal mentoring program as a mentee.
  • Creates and maintains individual development plan with supervisor.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Informally shadows individuals from own team and/or unit to gain a better understanding of different functions within the unit.
  • Acquires knowledge of mentoring programs and training opportunities.
  • Works with supervisor to identify training needs.


Jump to Top

Initiative

Behavioral Definition

Displays self-motivation and commitment toward completing assignments in a timely manner; seeks out additional work assignments and responsibilities.

Work Behaviors

  • Proactively identifies and understands issues relevant to assignments.
  • Takes the lead in getting tasks done with limited or no prompting or direction.
  • Demonstrates a willingness to accept new or additional assignments and responsibilities.
  • Seeks out new opportunities within Agency or with outside groups/partners, following established protocols.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Puts in a sustained and intense effort to accomplish highly complex and/or critical tasks and or goals.
  • Volunteers for long-term special assignment or detail that will have an impact on the Agency and its mission.
  • Identifies major problems or issues and recommends solutions that have the potential to significantly impact and improve the Agency.
  • Establishes a climate for the state or Agency that encourages new ideas and initiative.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Volunteers to take the lead on state-wide efforts that do not fit within one’s normal comfort zone or job duties, such as developing training.
  • Identifies and implements solutions for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of established work processes.
  • Volunteers for a challenging detail that is outside the normal scope of duties.
  • Volunteers/offers to serve as a member of a special committee or focus group that has Agency-wide impact.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Seeks out more challenging responsibilities, such as managing projects.
  • Volunteers to take the lead on team efforts outside of one’s normal job duties.
  • Takes the initiative to develop tools/instructions to share with coworkers (e.g., developing standard operating procedures for a specific area).
  • Participates in a mentoring relationship to assist in the development of less-experienced staff.

Level 2

Basic

  • Seeks out new responsibilities, assignments, and opportunities.
  • Asks coworkers, peers, and supervisor’s questions to better understand work requirements and needs of customers.
  • Participates in a mentoring relationship as a protégé.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Demonstrates a willingness to learn the work requirements of one’s job.
  • Completes work assignments as directed by supervisor or manager without additional reminders or prompting.


Jump to Top

Integrity and Honesty

Behavioral Definition

Maintains the integrity of the Agency by displaying ethical conduct and honesty; understands the impact of violating ethical standards on the Agency, self, and others.

Work Behaviors

  • Demonstrates integrity and honesty in dealings with parties internal and external to USDA/NRCS (e.g., coworkers, peers, customers, partners).
  • Displays high standard of ethical conduct and understands how violating the Agency’s ethical standards can impact the Agency, self, and others.
  • Chooses an ethical course of action and does the right thing even when faced with opposition.
  • Identifies and reports ethical violations and holds others accountable for their actions.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Acts ethically, even when actions may negatively impact self or stakeholders.
  • Proactively raises and fully considers ethical issues and implications before making business decisions.
  • Promotes a climate of openness and honesty; does not penalize responsible dissent.
  • Provides appropriate guidance and clarification when ethics or integrity is a concern.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Remains fair and objective when assessing others’ behavior or actions while working on a project or team.
  • Handles cases involving potential conflicts of interest (e.g., reviewing requests for outside employment).
  • Serves as a role model for ethical behavior within own work unit.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Recognizes Agency values and acts ethically in performing duties, regardless of internal and external pressures.
  • Advises others on Agency’s ethical standards and policies.
  • Recognizes unusual and/or complex ethical situations and brings issues to the attention of supervisors or managers.
  • Takes necessary action to resolve unethical conduct.

Level 2

Basic

  • Raises unethical conduct issues to supervisors or managers.
  • Applies appropriate ethical concepts and standards in basic situations.
  • Demonstrates integrity in work assignments and in working with others.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Develops knowledge of the Agency’s standards of ethical conduct and an awareness of the implications for violating ethical standards.
  • Asks questions for clarification when dealing with unethical conduct issues.
  • Completes USDA’s ethics awareness training.


Jump to Top

Stress Tolerance and Resilience

Behavioral Definition

Deals effectively with stressful and challenging situations; persists at tasks to achieve Agency outcomes despite interruptions, obstacles, or setbacks.

Work Behaviors

  • Manages own work stress in a constructive manner so that it does not impede the work of self or others.
  • Deals professionally with, and is respectful toward, individuals or parties in difficult and/or tense situations.
  • Models calm, focused, and professional behavior when facing stressful situations and individuals.
  • Persists at tasks despite interruptions, obstacles, or setbacks.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Acts as a calming and settling influence for others in tense or highly stressful situations (e.g., emergencies, RIFs), refocusing efforts, energizing others, and providing direction on how to proceed.
  • Develops strategies to use existing resources for achieving objectives (e.g., following budget cuts or organizational change).
  • Takes immediate and appropriate action in an extremely stressful situation (i.e., emergency situations, legal situations); quickly assesses the situation and implements solutions to solve or lessen the impact of the problem.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Remains resourceful/practical and professional under severely stressful circumstances.
  • Assists with and advises others in handling stressful situations.
  • Develops contingency plans to address potentially stressful, challenging situations and setbacks.
  • Provides constructive feedback to others, including struggling or difficult employees.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Responds to setbacks by developing alternative approaches to determine the best course of action.
  • Spends additional time on tasks or projects to make up for setbacks or interruptions.
  • Responds professionally when faced with unprofessional coworkers, difficult customers, or other challenging individuals.

Level 2

Basic

  • Maintains composure when faced with unprofessional coworkers, difficult customers, or other challenging individuals.
  • Constructively manages own work stress so that it does not impede the work of others.
  • Accepts constructive feedback and adjusts behaviors or actions accordingly.
  • Actively works to overcome obstacles or setbacks.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Maintains composure under deadlines.
  • Asks questions to achieve clarity and obtain direction under stressful circumstances.
  • Demonstrates willingness to work to overcome obstacles or setbacks.


Jump to Top

Oral Communication

Behavioral Definition

Verbally expresses information to individuals or groups in a clear and understandable manner; takes into account the audience and nature of the information; actively listens to and considers input/feedback from others.

Work Behaviors

  • Verbally communicates in a clear, concise, and articulate manner.
  • Actively listens and responds to the questions, ideas, and concerns of others.
  • Tailors oral communication (e.g., language, tone, technical/legal detail, level of specificity) to the audience’s level of understanding.
  • Makes oral presentations, responding to questions and adapting to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Actively responds to nonverbal cues when communicating with others and adjusts communication appropriately.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Presents highly complex information articulately when meeting with key executives or public officials, including issues with high-visibility.
  • Communicates sensitive information on topics in vague or uncertain situations without misleading the audience.
  • Uses communication to produce enthusiasm and foster an atmosphere of open exchange and support.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Leads presentations and briefings for high-level internal and external stakeholders.
  • Clearly explains benefits of programs and policies to stakeholders to improve understanding.
  • Responds to difficult/complex questions with ease, responding promptly and accurately in a clear, concise, credible, and courteous manner.
  • Presents at state-wide and/or national/professional meetings or conferences.
  • Communicates with diverse populations (e.g., different language, special needs).

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Makes oral presentations to a variety of audiences of varying size, conveying main ideas and supporting points clearly and concisely.
  • Handles questions from others appropriately, asking clarifying questions when necessary and quickly adapting to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Seeks input from others and carefully listens to others’ ideas and comments.
  • Adapts communication style to audience and their level of understanding.

Level 2

Basic

  • Presents information in own area of expertise to small or moderately-sized groups.
  • Communicates information clearly and concisely to avoid miscommunications.
  • Answers basic or routine questions from customers, vendors, or other individuals and tailors responses appropriately.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Actively listens when others are speaking.
  • Asks questions to clarify understanding.
  • Provides in-person briefings to immediate supervisors and others as directed on work assignment/task status.
  • Uses suitable language and grammar when speaking to others.


Jump to Top

Written Communication

Behavioral Definition

Communicates written information and ideas in a concise and organized manner taking into account the audience and nature of the information; uses correct mode, tone, grammar, punctuation, and spelling and conforms to style and format guidelines.

Work Behaviors

  • Writes in an accurate, clear, concise, and well-organized manner.
  • Tailors written communication for internal and external use (e.g., language, tone, detail, level of specificity) to the audience’s level of understanding and to the communication medium.
  • Reviews and edits written materials for content and intended purpose, correctly identifying and correcting errors.
  • Interacts in written correspondence by reading, acting on, and responding appropriately in a timely manner.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Writes, reviews, and publishes advanced technical/program findings and guidelines to be made available to other groups and agencies.
  • Prepares highly complex written communications for national distribution that have significant implications for the Agency.
  • Communicates persuasively about programs, projects, and proposals in writing with multiple stakeholders.
  • Addresses Congressional inquiries with straightforward, concise written responses.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Writes complex technical reports, plans, and procedural manuals using clear terminology and a concise format for use by decision makers.
  • Recognizes the most critical issues and considers ramifications of written communications, tailoring communications accordingly.
  • Writes clear, concise issue papers or policy documents on complex topics establishing Agency-wide guidance or guidelines.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Interprets and prepares summaries or recommendations.
  • Reviews and edits reports or materials prepared by others for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and conformance to style and format guidelines.
  • Utilizes available resources, such as an editor, to proof and edit documents for distribution.
  • Addresses issues with internal and external customers appropriately (e.g., tone, detail) and in a timely manner when responding in writing.

Level 2

Basic

  • Drafts concise, straightforward summaries of information (e.g., portions of plans/reports).
  • Prepares routine written communications that are accurate, clear, concise, and well-organized.
  • Answers routine or basic questions to internal and external customers appropriately (e.g., tone, detail) and in a timely manner when responding in writing.
  • Utilizes the Agency’s style, format guidelines, and filing code procedures.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Writes basic internal communications.
  • Clearly communicates information in writing to supervisor and colleagues.
  • Uses appropriate grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Understands the Agency’s style, format guidelines, and filing codes procedures.


Jump to Top

Influence and Negotiating

Behavioral Definition

Positively persuades others to accept recommendations, cooperate, or change their behavior; works with others to find mutually acceptable solutions.

Work Behaviors

  • Negotiates with others to reach mutually acceptable agreements, settlements, or solutions that build or improve respectful working relationships.
  • Convinces individuals or groups to take a particular course of action, resolve conflicts, or accept findings, recommendations, changes, or alternative viewpoints.
  • Clearly and persuasively presents ideas and concepts in a manner that gains commitment and/or agreement from others.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Convinces colleagues and management to accept recommendations involving substantive resources and changes in established practice.
  • Influences internal or external executive decision makers to achieve substantive goals.
  • Serves as a recognized expert negotiator, stepping in to mediate in particularly difficult, sensitive, and/or complex situation where groups or individuals have competing interests.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Persuades senior leadership or partners to adopt an approach that addresses a situational need and achieves an optimal solution.
  • Negotiates with others to reach agreements, settlements, or solutions, even when faced with opposition or open confrontation.
  • Facilitates group sessions to achieve consensus or desired outcomes.
  • Understands the agendas, goals, and concerns of multiple stakeholders, using this information to improve negotiating tactics or influence stakeholder opinion.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Develops trust among various parties involved in a negotiation process.
  • Persuades supervisors or clients/customers to take a particular course of action or to accept findings, recommendations, changes, or alternative viewpoints.
  • Promotes positions and ideas with confidence, conviction, and genuine enthusiasm, even when faced with resistance.
  • Provides advice or recommendations based on facts on a broad range of non-routine topics.

Level 2

Basic

  • Provides advice or recommendations on a broad range of topics.
  • Anticipates and prepares for possible criticisms when formulating and communicating ideas.
  • Strives to achieve consensus on routine issues within own work unit or team.
  • Voices ideas and opinions confidently.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Voices ideas and opinions.
  • Presents factual information in order to influence others.
  • Develops knowledge of how to influence or negotiate with others to meet Agency’s mission and objectives (e.g., attends relevant training).


Jump to Top

Conflict Management

Behavioral Definition

Recognizes and works to manage and resolve conflicts (i.e., grievances, confrontations, disagreements) in a constructive manner in order to minimize negative personal or organizational impact.

Work Behaviors

  • Works with individuals, groups, or agencies to resolve disagreements or conflicts in a positive and constructive manner.
  • Understands and/or anticipates potential areas of conflict and takes steps to prevent counter-productive confrontations and conflict.
  • Utilizes a variety of methods, procedures, and resources, both internal and external, to provide mediation and resolution.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Resolves conflicts arising at multiple organizational levels due to competing objectives, limited resources, or differing perspectives.
  • Leads consensus process on organizational unit’s response to a controversial issue.
  • Develops consensus among multiple stakeholders with opposing viewpoints on critical/complex issues.
  • Develops, practices, and trains others in the application of mediation techniques.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Takes steps to address, resolve, and minimize the escalation of complex or sensitive issues.
  • Balances the needs of different team members or units, achieving highly effective resolutions.
  • Identifies subtle indicators of conflict and mitigates emerging issues.
  • Manages conflict by serving as an unofficial mediator.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Fosters an environment in which all team members are encouraged to speak openly, freely, and constructively; emphasizes the benefits of working through differences of opinions resulting in the effective resolution of conflicts.
  • Keeps focused on the critical issue at hand and directs conversations so that they do not become too emotionally charged.
  • Resolves challenging work-related disagreements or conflicts.
  • Implements plausible and insightful options to resolve disagreements and elevates unresolved issues to higher authority.

Level 2

Basic

  • Develops options to resolve disagreements or conflicts that require resolution at a higher level.
  • Considers all sides of an issue when discussing an issue with others.
  • Anticipates situations that have the potential for conflict.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Resolves minor work-related disagreements or conflicts with peers.
  • Actively listens to others and tries to understand their perspectives.
  • Directs escalating disagreements or conflicts to manager or supervisor, when necessary.
  • Develops knowledge of relevant policies, rules, and procedures (i.e., conflict management policies) and follows them accordingly.


Jump to Top

Interpersonal Skills

Behavioral Definition

Shows respect, courtesy, professionalism, and tact when working with others; develops and maintains working relationships with a wide variety of individuals from varied backgrounds; considers individual differences and diversity.

Work Behaviors

  • Develops constructive, professional working relationships with others across different work units, groups, agencies, or boundaries.
  • Adjusts interpersonal style, as needed, to interact with different individuals.
  • Respects and understands individual differences and diversity by treating everyone fairly and professionally.
  • Deals diplomatically and tactfully with internal or external parties at all times.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Maintains a calm, open demeanor while resolving highly sensitive or controversial issues, leading by example.
  • Builds and maintains strategic interpersonal relationships and alliances across agencies.
  • Fosters a climate that respects individual differences and diversity.
  • Forms effective working relationships with problem/controversial employees.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Builds and maintains a network of professional relationships with staff and coworkers, as well as people in other offices or states.
  • Reads and interprets others’ behavior during interactions and uses this insight to make necessary adjustments in the moment of the interaction.
  • Promotes an atmosphere of approachability, resulting in individuals seeking information or advice.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Makes self accessible to serve as a resource for fellow employees regarding interpersonal interactions.
  • Is sensitive towards differences in perspectives, approaches, or personalities.
  • Observes and identifies different individuals’ work styles and tailors actions accordingly to achieve goals and outcomes.

Level 2

Basic

  • Builds productive and professional relationships with coworkers inside own work group.
  • Seeks opportunities to develop professional relationships with others inside and outside of Agency.
  • Interacts with customers in a tactful manner and adjusts behavior appropriately.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Interacts with coworkers in a tactful manner.
  • Responds to others’ inquiries or questions courteously and in a timely fashion.
  • Treats everyone fairly, equitably, and professionally, respecting individual differences and diversity.


Jump to Top

Teamwork

Behavioral Definition

Encourages and facilitates cooperation and trust among all team members; contributes to or fosters commitment and team spirit; works with others to achieve goals.

Work Behaviors

  • Shares information and knowledge and works collaboratively with other members to achieve desired goals.
  • Seeks and integrates diverse perspectives from coworkers, peers, customers, partners, and stakeholders.
  • Contributes to an atmosphere that fosters cooperation, integration, trust, team spirit, and goal accomplishment.
  • Solicits others' input to foster shared understanding of priorities, needs, perspectives, and concerns.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Maintains a calm, open demeanor while resolving highly sensitive or controversial issues, leading by example.
  • Builds and maintains strategic interpersonal relationships and alliances across agencies.
  • Fosters a climate that respects individual differences and diversity.
  • Forms effective working relationships with problem/controversial employees.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Builds and maintains a network of professional relationships with staff and coworkers, as well as people in other offices or states.
  • Reads and interprets others’ behavior during interactions and uses this insight to make necessary adjustments in the moment of the interaction.
  • Promotes an atmosphere of approachability, resulting in individuals seeking information or advice.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Makes self accessible to serve as a resource for fellow employees regarding interpersonal interactions.
  • Is sensitive towards differences in perspectives, approaches, or personalities.
  • Observes and identifies different individuals’ work styles and tailors actions accordingly to achieve goals and outcomes.

Level 2

Basic

  • Builds productive and professional relationships with coworkers inside own work group.
  • Seeks opportunities to develop professional relationships with others inside and outside of Agency.
  • Interacts with customers in a tactful manner and adjusts behavior appropriately.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Interacts with coworkers in a tactful manner.
  • Responds to others’ inquiries or questions courteously and in a timely fashion.
  • Treats everyone fairly, equitably, and professionally, respecting individual differences and diversity.


Jump to Top

Creativity and Innovation

Behavioral Definition

Develops new insights into situations and applies innovative solutions to problems; suggests new methods where methods and procedures may be outdated, inapplicable, inefficient, or unavailable.

Work Behaviors

  • Identifies and utilizes innovative or creative methods and solutions to accomplish work, where appropriate.
  • Designs and develops alternative concepts, solutions, courses of action, and strategies to address issues and problems where established methods have proven inadequate, unsuccessful, or are unavailable.
  • Interprets and applies policies, procedures, and methods in an innovative, non-standard manner, within policy and procedure guidelines.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Devises new methods, procedures, and approaches that have a far-reaching impact, (i.e., nation-wide, national or Agency-wide).
  • Considers the ramifications of new policies, procedures, methods, approaches, etc. and their impact across programs and/or geopolitical boundaries.
  • Anticipates how work processes may be affected by changes in the environment and develops creative alternatives.
  • Writes Agency-wide policies and procedures in a manner that allows for future flexibility and innovation.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Devises new methods for planning and carrying out program or project objectives at the state and/or regional level.
  • Works with individuals in other content areas to think of new and innovative approaches to accomplish work in more efficient and effective ways.
  • Develops innovative or creative solutions in response to new and emerging issues.
  • Facilitates brainstorming sessions with stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and perspectives in order to generate new and different ideas.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Explores non-traditional methods in developing new processes and/or procedures that more effectively achieve desired goals.
  • Evaluates current procedures and suggests improvements to ensure an effective, streamlined process.
  • Generates and tries new methods to improve performance and increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Level 2

Basic

  • Explores, identifies, and recommends new ideas and approaches for performing routine work.
  • Contributes to brainstorming sessions and offers new ideas.
  • Experiments with new ways of presenting data or information to others.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Considers and is open to innovative ideas.
  • Offers useful new ways to accomplish routine work, such as proposing a more efficient way to perform a task.
  • Participates in brainstorming sessions.


Jump to Top

Decisive Judgment and Decision Making

Behavioral Definition

Makes sound, informed, objective, and timely decisions; perceives the impact and implications of decisions; follows through on decisions to accomplish work goals even in uncertain situations.

Work Behaviors

  • Makes informed decisions or recommendations without deferring action when decisions need to be made.
  • Develops and implements responses or solutions to problems while considering implications of decision.
  • Takes action in order to accomplish work objectives even in ambiguous or unclear situations.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Makes timely decisions regarding highly complex technical, administrative, or policy issues.
  • Makes decisions or recommendations in the most sensitive, difficult, and ambiguous situations that have significant organizational impact.
  • Takes an Agency-wide, strategic view when making decisions.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Considers and adjusts course of action when current strategy is unsuccessful, even when the current strategy was fully supported.
  • Considers the costs, risks, and benefits when making decisions and chooses courses of action in which the benefits outweigh the risks.
  • Makes decisions and takes action when complete knowledge and information are not available.
  • Follows through with a carefully thought out decision even when faced with resistance or opposition.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Makes sound and timely recommendations and/or decisions in a variety of situations, including those that affect others’ work.
  • Considers alternative courses of action when making decisions and chooses an option that takes into consideration future risks and opportunities.
  • Utilizes decision-making tools (i.e., Gantt charts, decision trees).

Level 2

Basic

  • Utilizes decision-making methods that have been shown to work in the past.
  • Considers alternative courses of action when making decisions.
  • Utilizes available information as a basis for making decisions.
  • Makes sound and timely decisions in a variety of situations affecting own work.
  • Recognizes when information is lacking and seeks out additional information to assist in decision-making.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Provides straightforward answers to routine questions.
  • Determines who to go to for help making decisions in a variety of situations.
  • Makes sound and timely decisions in well-defined, low-risk situations that affect own work.


Jump to Top

Information Management

Behavioral Definition

Knows where or how to gather information; identifies need for and organizes and maintains information or information management systems.

Work Behaviors

  • Gathers and records information or data to accomplish work tasks.
  • Integrates, develops, and prioritizes information resources to accomplish work objectives.
  • Develops and implements procedures and strategies to organize, manage, and safeguard information.
  • Takes necessary steps to ensure information is relevant, accurate, current, and complete, filling in gaps and resolving ambiguities as needed.
  • Safeguards privileged, sensitive but unclassified (SBU), and Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Displays persistence in finding critical, yet hard-to-obtain information.
  • Assimilates extremely large volumes of information and/or information with significant implications, cutting through peripheral details to zero in on critical issues.
  • Uses experience and knowledge to determine the key qualitative and quantitative information that is needed to address the most complex, contentious, or subtle issues.
  • Develops an information system used across multiple organizational units or agencies to improve information sharing.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Places issues in a larger context by identifying key issues and assumptions and collecting accurate and relevant data.
  • Identifies and obtains sources for specialized or uncommon information/data.
  • Integrates data from a variety of resources to produce a report.
  • Makes connections between disparate pieces of information and identifies the significant and most critical issues.
  • Develops a process for information gathering used across work units and/or departments.
  • Develops procedures to organize, manage, and safeguard information.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Filters out irrelevant information or data and focuses on the information needed to accomplish objectives.
  • Collects information from a variety of different sources.
  • Develops a process that manages large amounts of information.
  • Pulls data/records to verify data for accuracy and completeness of information.

Level 2

Basic

  • Identifies and collects key information that is needed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
  • Compiles relevant information or data systematically.
  • Creates organizational frameworks for own use to manage information/data (e.g., basic spreadsheets or outlines).
  • Actively applies the official filing structure (e.g., PER=360).

Level 1

Awareness

  • Gathers information from specific and routine sources to address Agency needs.
  • Gains a basic understanding of available informational resources.
  • Enters data accurately and in the appropriate application (i.e., hard copy, electronic database).
  • Safeguards SBU and PII information.


Jump to Top

Problem Solving

Behavioral Definition

Identifies problems and determines accuracy and relevance of information; uses sound judgment to generate and evaluate alternatives; makes recommendations and applies solutions.

Work Behaviors

  • Identifies and defines issues, problems, opportunities, or emerging trends.
  • Recognizes the relevance of a variety of issues and/or problems and questions underlying assumptions.
  • Collects, analyzes, and integrates relevant information or data to draw conclusions.
  • Recognizes, produces, and/or evaluates alternative solutions to problems.
  • Makes recommendations to remove obstacles and applies solutions as necessary.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Improves efficiency by developing, planning, and implementing multi-tier solutions to address highly complex or unprecedented problems.
  • Resolves problems of particular difficulty, sensitivity, or strategic importance.
  • Identifies and resolves subtle issues and/or trends and their causes across organizational groups.
  • Manages a group’s problem solving process, assisting others in staying focused on the current problem and systematically working through the issue.

Level 4

Advanced

  • Identifies and leverages resources and expertise, internal or external to the work unit, to address complex problems.
  • Synthesizes information from internal and external sources to develop an action plan addressing complex issues (e.g., applying information from NHQ to State problem; updating guidelines with new technologies).
  • Identifies connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of information to resolve difficult or ambiguous problems.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Reconciles conflicting and/or incomplete information to develop solutions.
  • Uses data and information to identify relationships, issues, assumptions, and emerging trends and draws sound conclusions.
  • Solves problems by thoroughly analyzing their causes and short- and long-term implications of solutions.
  • Anticipates potential problems and takes or proposes corrective actions.

Level 2

Basic

  • Applies proven solutions, strategies, and/or procedures to solve problems.
  • Determines cause of a customer problem and takes approved, corrective actions.
  • Identifies problems, considers available information, and evaluates alternative solutions to problems affecting own work.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Solves straightforward problems that have occurred in the past.
  • Performs evaluations and analyses of information to draw reasonable, logical conclusions for basic problems.
  • Identifies the problem and information that may be relevant to a solution.


Jump to Top

Customer Service

Behavioral Definition

Seeks to understand the needs of internal and external customers; delivers products and services that meet customer needs/objectives; is committed to continuous improvement and providing high quality products and services; communicates with customers to improve processes and provides updates on the delivery of services.

Work Behaviors

  • Communicates with customers to understand issues, define requirements, assess their needs, and obtain feedback.
  • Provides products, services, and advice to customers that meet their needs/objectives and are in accordance with applicable guidelines, policy, and regulations.
  • Offers ideas, solutions, technologies, or methods to meet customer needs based on understanding of desired outcomes/goals.
  • Strives to meet and manage customer expectations.
  • Keeps customers informed of issues, changes, or problems; anticipates and resolves problems or issues.
Proficiency Level Illustrative Behaviors

Level 5

Expert

  • Develops and/or implements innovative customer service initiatives which significantly improves quality or enhances customer satisfaction.
  • Develops comprehensive understanding of customer needs, concerns, and perspectives, enabling USDA/NRCS to deliver products and services that best address their needs.
  • Assists customers with complex regulatory issues (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act).

Level 4

Advanced

  • Anticipates future customer needs and expectations to improve product development and service delivery.
  • Collaborates with customers to develop work plans, timelines, and expectations, reaching compromises and agreements that provide solutions for all involved.
  • Resolves situations with customers while still maintaining strong working relationships.
  • Collaborates with third parties to provide services that otherwise could not be provided by NRCS alone.

Level 3

Fully Proficient

  • Gathers customer feedback and uses it to suggest improvements to products or services.
  • Discusses and clearly articulates project changes or problems with customers and proposes solutions to address them.
  • Proposes viable alternative products and services to better meet customer needs.
  • Works to develop relationships with diverse customers (e.g., those who are historically underserved, small businesses, limited resource farmers, minority groups).

Level 2

Basic

  • Ensures products and services meet customer requirements and expectations and are in alignment with applicable policies.
  • Identifies products and services that meet customer needs/objectives.
  • Provides insight into potential problems that could affect customer relations and informs supervisor, thereby avoiding escalation of problems or issues.

Level 1

Awareness

  • Responds to questions or requests from customers in a timely and professional manner.
  • Demonstrates understanding of NRCS customer relationships.
  • Maintains contact with customers and understands and responds to their needs.


Jump to Top