Technical Competencies

What Are the Technical Competencies?

Technical Competencies are the knowledge and abilities required to apply specific technical principles and information in a job function or role. They are usually learned in an educational environment or on the job and are the “what” of performing a job. Counselling is one example of a technical competency.

Each of the 17 Technical Competencies has a definition with explanatory notes and is linked to behaviour indicators across four proficiency levels.

Our competencies are periodically updated to reflect changes in the quickly evolving substance use field. The Technical Competencies reflect input from focus groups of subject-matter experts and have been informed by consultations with people with lived and living experience of substance use and family and friends. The 2020 version contains:

  • Updated terminology
  • New competencies to reflect strength-based practices, such as trauma and violence informed care
  • An emphasis on knowledge of concurrent conditions
  • More distinction between technical and behavioural knowledge and skills

Find more detail on the development of the competencies in the History section.

How Do I Use the Technical Competencies?

The Technical and Behavioural Competencies complement each other and are meant to be used together. For example, the Technical Competency of Counselling is more effective when combined with the Behavioural Competency of Interpersonal Rapport.

The Technical Competencies can be used to:

  • Create or refine job descriptions;
  • Interview candidates;
  • Assess candidate suitability and experience;
  • Set employee performance expectations and evaluate performance; and
  • Self-assess skills and determine professional development plans.
  • The Technical and Behavioural Competencies for Canada’s Substance Use Workforce are intended to be used as a guide, depending upon the job description, setting and organizational culture, and are not prescriptive.

The behaviour indicators are offered as examples and are neither mandatory nor exhaustive. This feature allows some flexibility in assessing roles within different settings and contexts and adapting the competencies accordingly. The levels of proficiency are cumulative.


Adapting the Proficiency Profiles
Since organizations differ in workload and staffing needs, competency requirements can differ from one organization to the next. This tool outlines the steps to adapt a competency profile to reflect the competency needs of a specific job.

Generic Interview Questions for the Technical Competencies
Sample interview questions for each proficiency level of each Technical Competency. Use these questions as a foundation for developing job-specific interview questions relevant to the proficiency levels for the position.

Guide to Competency-based Performance Measurement
Describes a structured approach to managing employee performance that can be adapted for specific contexts or cultures.

Technical Competencies Definitions and Proficiency Levels

Full Technical CompetenciesAll 17 Technical Competencies in one PDF
Understanding Substance UseBackground or contextual knowledge of substances and substance use as defined in the Competencies, including the sex-specific neurological effects of different substances and the impact of use on cognitive function, and as required to properly inform specific aspects of a professional’s work with people.
Understanding Concurrent Substance Use and Mental Health ConditionsKnowledge and skills required to inform specific aspects of a professional’s work with people with concurrent substance use and mental health concerns. For more information please refer to the criteria for concurrent disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed.
Collaborative Care PlanningMeeting people who use substances where they are at and facilitating their movement within and between service providers. It includes providing information on programs and services to people so they can make informed decisions about the services they receive, maintaining accurate documentation, sharing information appropriately and with consent, and collaborating with other services providers. *It is recommended that this competency be used in conjunction with the Behavioural Competency, Person-directed Care
Community DevelopmentWorking together to identify community needs and resources, build capacity and plan, support or guide collective action.
CounsellingApplying a comprehensive range of evidence-informed counselling styles, techniques and methodologies aimed at improving the overall well-being of people affected by substance use.
Crisis InterventionRecognizing and responding in a timely and evidence-informed manner when people affected by substance use are in a risky or dangerous situation, such as a physical, sexual, emotional, psychosocial or financial crisis.
Families, Caregivers* and Social SupportsWorking collaboratively with individuals, families, caregivers, partners, Elders, groups and communities who are positioned to support the well-being goals of people who use substances. It includes acknowledging families, caregivers and other people providing social support as partners in care and recognizing the value of family-based interventions. Considers the role of other-than-human supports (e.g., companion and service animals, connections to nature, land-based healing, etc.) in achieving well-being. *Caregivers are often family members, but not always. They play a unique role that typically includes a variety of unpaid activities, from acting as informal case managers, advocates and systems navigators, to monitoring symptoms and providing crisis intervention (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2006). Working collaboratively with caregivers, when appropriate, can be a powerful resource for the service provider.
Group FacilitationUsing evidence-informed approaches to work with people affected by substance use in group settings.
MedicationsExplains the use of medications in the treatment and management of substance use and mental health conditions and responds to ongoing needs related to medication management and treatment.
OutreachDesigning and delivering evidence-informed substance use services in the community to a broad range of people, including those who might otherwise not seek or have access to those services.
Prevention and Health PromotionEngaging with people affected by substance use and concurrent conditions and their families and communities to encourage the adoption of knowledge, behaviours, values and attitudes that promote personal and community well-being. Note that throughout this competency the term prevention should be interpreted to mean prevention of harms associated with substance use.
Program Development, Implementation and EvaluationDeveloping and implementing substance use and mental health programs, modifying existing programs to respond to identified needs and evaluating the outcomes of existing, new or revised programs.
Record Keeping and DocumentationCreating and maintaining accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive records in accordance with professional standards and legal regulations.
ReferralCollaborating with people who Collaborating with people who use substances to identify and access available referral services, supports and resources that are gender- and culturally appropriate to best meet their needs.
Screening and AssessmentSelecting, administering and interpreting the results of evidence-informed tools and methods to measure substance use and related concerns and inform the care and treatment plan.
Trauma- and Violence-Informed CareInteracting with people who use substances to identify and consider the impact that overwhelmingly negative events have on functioning and the ability to cope. Developing and delivering interventions in collaboration with people that emphasizes safety, choice and personal control with the aim of minimizing harm and re-traumatization. Understanding the gender- and culturally specific histories and contexts of people and approaching each individual with empathy.
Treatment PlanningCollaboratively developing a treatment and well-being plan based on screening and assessment findings, ensuring that activities and resources reflect people’s needs, strengths and goals. The process also includes monitoring, evaluating, planning for discharge and updating the treatment plan so that it reflects people’s evolving needs and goals.