Skills & Competencies Surveyors and Other Professionals Need


It is often said that the people graduating from colleges and universities nowadays are “half-baked”.. This is usually attributed to employers, who get tired of “baby-sitting” new employees.  I find this kind of assertion demeaning to the concept of college and/or university education. In fact it is outright self-righteous, because as William Butler Yeats once said “Education is Not the Filling of  Pail (or Bucket) but the Lighting of a Fire”. Let me use the analogy of a baby…when will the baby walk? S/he will walk when she wants. In my community we first train a baby to stand on her/his own, before we train them to walk. We say..”Tungelele”. Thereafter, we take them outside to the morning dew and make them walk bare-foot in the dew, while supporting them. We say “Tete-tete”. In the beginning they take baby steps, if they are going fall we support them, again and again until they can manage on their own. Since the dew is chilly they are compelled to keep going. That is the Bukusu version of a Baby Walker.  My thesis is that when one graduates from college or university, they are green and untinctured by experience. The irony is that most employers demand or expect that these graduates must have experience. Let us first discuss the kind of skills that are expected and why they are not enough.


There are several types of skills.  A skill set (also spelled as skillset) is a particular category of knowledge, abilities, and experience necessary to perform a job. Specific skill set areas include human relations, research and planning, accounting, leadership, management, and computer skills. Skills are your natural talents and the expertise you develop to perform a task or a job. Life skills help you deal with daily tasks in all areas of life; Job skills allow you to perform specific work duties. There are several key types of skills: soft skills, hard skills, domain-general, and domain-specific skills. Soft skills are universal and not associated with a particular job or industry. Think communication, active listening, and empathy. Hard skills are abilities you learn on the job, through formal education, or additional training. They are teachable, measurable, and related to a specific job. For instance, if you work in customer service, your hard skills will include data-entry and product knowledge. On your curriculum vitae hard skills show what you can do. Soft skills indicate how you’ll perform your duties.

Adopted from Peak Performance Centre
Adapted from Made of Brilliance

It takes a cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge attitudes and skills to enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or a situation. Competencies refer to skills or knowledge that lead to superior performance. … A competency is more than just knowledge and skills. When you see a man on top of Mt. Kenya, you have to recognize that he got there by sheer will power and commitment, blood, sweat and tears. He must have encountered several obstacles and challenges. It takes initiative, a burning ambition and aspects of good luck and goodwill.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, USA (

  • Skill based Competency Framework – First, competency is the knowledge, skills, judgment and personality traits that employees need to work effectively and to support business objectives. A ‘competency framework’ defines the required ‘competencies’ across all roles in the organization.
  • Thus, this framework provides an easy way to measure if your people are acting competently and supporting the business goals, and what adjustments need to be made if they are not

It is virtually impossible to describe all the skills and competencies in details here, so I am selecting just a few so that true scholars, of which I expect every Surveyor to aspire to be, can navigate and uncover the rest.

As the central responsibility of a Surveyor (Manager) is to deliver effective management and support of functions that an organisation serves, strong leadership skills are essential. There will be occasions when you need to step up and take charge, particularly when things don’t go to plan. You will need to set goals; be a good organiser; Ensure people respond to ideas and instructions; Allow them to contribute; Managers must be able to motivate their colleagues and external suppliers; Measuring the results efficiently. These decisions include Delegating to others; But even as you delegate, ensure the team is given meaningful assignments, AND FOLLOW UP!!!! Communication & interpersonal skills; As the manager, you have to deal with lots of people every day, whether that is engaging with colleagues or liaising with executives and vendors. You need to be able to communicate effectively and know how to build connections with people, learn what motivates the people in your team and be able to influence your colleagues. As a manager, you must empower your colleagues and inspire people to achieve the business objectives in the Value Addition Value Chain.

  • A proficient level of ICT literacy is important if you want to become a strong surveyor called upon to analyze and unpack issues and provide solutions
  • Today, the management world is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, so the better the grasp you have, the more valuable you will inevitably be to your employer.



It’s important that a Leader (surveyor) has an understanding of business trends and the impact on his/her employer’s industry.

  1. Being aware of developments in the commercial world is incredibly useful in a surveyor’s role, and the skill is prized by recruiters across the board.
  2. For example, if a Manager was supporting the services in a hospital, they would benefit from learning about healthcare in addition to knowing how to run the building.
  3. All aspects of Real Estate – Land Surveying, GIS; Land use planning, property – Residential, commercial, warehousing, special purpose facilities (hospitals, hotels, sea walls, prisons (correctional facilities), lodges, luxury tented camps, military barracks, police stations and lines), sports stadia, farms, Conservation and Tourism; Oil and Gas; Utilities – Water and Energy; Banking and Insurance Industries crops – coffee, sugar, tea, have a commercial angle.


The Key to success as a leader is having an insider’s insight and knowing how your role can positively impact your business’s bigger picture.


Innovation & Creativity; Flexibility & Adaptability; Verbal Communication; Written Communication; Digital Literacy; Technical Aptitude; Critical Thinking & Problem Solving; Quantitative Reasoning; Teamwork & Collaboration; Global Fluency; Professionalism & Work Ethic; Project Management; Leadership; Initiative; Active Listening; Due Diligence; Analytical and Critical Thinking; Customer Service; Decision Making; Interpersonal skills; Business Case; Leadership; Organization; Public Speaking; Negotiation; Occupational Safety and Health; Commercial Awareness; Risk Management – Disaster, Insurance; Legal awareness – Regulations and Compliance; Alternative Dispute Resolutions; Project Management; Change Management – Business Process Re-engineering (BPR); Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Kaizen.


All Surveyors deal with lots of information that requires problem-solving, such as financial planning and budgeting, which are both important parts of the job, but they do not do this in a vacuum, they deal with people. They must be able to communicate verbally and in writing, so they can make presentations and be adept at public speaking.



Some universities demand that before they graduate, their students get field or work experience but there are no pathways nor structured methods or arrangements to obtain this. In many instances the students are left to their own devices; perhaps the intention is that they become their own bosses or CEO’s or MD’s. This is all well and good but there ought to be a helping hand. After graduating the potential employer asks for work experience, which to me is reductio ad absurdum or argumentum ad absurdum (Latin for “argument to absurdity”). In the end no one benefits as the employer requires new and fresh blood and the college graduate needs a job placement. It has been said that some employers pay very little indeed, barely enough to pay for commuting. Those who hang around long enough eventually get promoted and their pay is increased.  Thus far we see and hear of other professionals like lawyers and engineers being engaged as leaders of the primary activities of organizations, but rarely do we find Surveyors, with burning ambition to go beyond the traditional Support activities. Moreover we tend to be quite comfortable to be in that support role and fear to venture further afield into the primary role, as if we are children of a lesser God, Being made to feel that we are not good enough.. For this we need guts and other competencies and skills that Professor Michael Porter refers to in his ground-breaking 5 Forces of Industry Competition. The tool was created by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, to analyze an industry’s attractiveness and likely profitability. … He identified five forces that make up the competitive environment, and which can erode your profitability. These are: Competitive Rivalry.

LET US LOOK: Top of into the different types of skills and Competencies and the level of criticality of Competencies in organisations.



These definitions were extracted from a number of different sources, but they all seem to say, more-or-less, the same thing:

  1. Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.
  2. The ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well
  3. An ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carry out complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and/or people (interpersonal skills).
  4. A skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results
  5. A learned ability to bring about the result you want, with maximum certainty and efficiency
  6. Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.

So, a Skill is something Learned in order to be able to carry out one or more job functions.


Again, these definitions were extracted from a number of different sources:

  • A cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation.
  • Competencies refer to skills or knowledge that lead to superior performance.
  • Measurable skills, abilities and personality traits that identify successful employees against defined roles within an organisation
  • A competency is more than just knowledge and skills.  It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilising psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context.
  • A measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviours, and other characteristics that an individual needs to perform work roles or occupational functions successfully.
  • Competencies specify the “how” (as opposed to the what) of performing job tasks, or what the person needs to do the job successfully.

Competencies, therefore, may incorporate a skill, but are MORE than the skill, they include abilities and behaviours, as well as knowledge that is fundamental to the use of a skill.


Competencies effectively fall in three groups:

  • Behavioural (or Life Skills) Competencies Life skills are problem solving behaviours used appropriately and responsibly in the management of personal affairs.  They are a set of human skills acquired via teaching or direct experience that are used to handle problems and questions commonly encountered in daily human life.  Examples are: Communication, Analytical Ability, Problem Solving, Initiative, etc.
  • Functional (or Technical) Competencies: Functional Competencies relate to functions, processes, and roles within the organisation and include the knowledge of, and skill in the exercise of, practices required for successful accomplishment of a specific job or task.  Examples are: Application Systems Development, Networking and Communication, Database Analysis and Design, etc.
  • Professional Competencies: Professional competencies are competencies that allow for success in an organisational context.  They are the accelerators of performance or – if lacking in sufficient strength and quality – are the reason people fail to excel in jobs.  Examples are: Business Environment, Industry and Professional Standards, Negotiation, People Management, etc.


Levels of Criticality

In any organisation there are some Competencies that are more important than others, based on different criteria:

  • Core Competencies– Core competencies are those competencies that any successful employee will need to rise through the organisation.  These Competencies would generally relate in some way to the business of the organisation.
  • Key Competencies– Key competencies contribute to valued outcomes of the organisation, defining the abilities of individuals to meet strategic demands, and are important not just for specialists but for all individuals.
  • Critical Competencies– Critical competencies are competencies without which the organisation will be unable to achieve its goals and strategy.


  1. CONCLUSION: From the foregoing we see that all people have gifts of one trait or another. Whereas some people may realize their gifts faster, others take longer to discover their niche. There is no such thing as “half-baked” All they need is some coaching and mentoring. Moreover, it is virtually impossible for any one young man or woman to learn and muster all the skills and competencies we have discussed. It takes time, effort and well structure induction patience and direction. Refer to the analogy of the baby learning how to walk. 
  2. Let there be programs for industrial attachment during the college tenure that is properly organized and supervised, it should not be a time for the student to assume they are free to roam
  3. The colleges and universities owe their charges the opportunity to mentor and coach the young persons under their care for a faster, kinder and gentler learning curve, not intimidation
  4. In these days of tremendous competition, overwhelming complexity and change, the students must learn to be their own CEO and MD, and be trained in entrepreneurship to become employers not job seekers.
  5. The stigma associated with TIVET (those who have not succeeded to join universities) is denying youth the opportunity to discover their natural talent and creativity. One should be able to score a distinction and still pursue music, dance, masonry, or carpentry, or plumbing or painting or electrician apprenticeship, up to a higher level. In other words, TIVET should not be the saving grace for those who failed to attain the grade.
  6. Let Surveyors learn the art and science of critical thinking, leadership, public speaking, core competencies as well as presentation skills, through mentorship and coaching programmes.  The ISK (Institution of Surveyors of Kenya) has a duty to set standards of performance and professionalism.

 By Wafula Nabutola

The writer is a full member of ISK and the Chairperson of the Building Surveyors Registration Board.