The global skills and competency framework for the digital world

Why SFIA skills are not defined at all 7 levels

Clarifying knowledge vs skills and foundational or prerequisite requirements for other skills and behaviours at lower SFIA levels.

SFIA is industry and business led and at its core is experience. Skills proficiency and professional competency are attained at a particular level due to the practice of that skill, at that level, in a real-world environment.
Some skills are not defined at a particular level of responsibility because they are not typically observed at that level in real-world working environments.


  1. SFIA defines skills at specific levels based on practical application and relevance in the workplace. Skills are not defined at all levels because they reflect the levels of responsibility where skills are actually practiced.
  2. When skills start at higher levels, it indicates there are foundational or prerequisite skills required at lower levels first. This encourages building readiness for higher-level roles.
  3. There is a difference between awareness of knowledge and the application of knowledge and skills. Roles may need awareness of areas outside their responsibilities.
  4. SFIA levels describe what you do with knowledge. A separate knowledge scale can describe what you know. High knowledge does not mean high SFIA level.
  5. When needing to describe knowledge requirements, a tiered scale works well (e.g. awareness, working knowledge, proficient, expert). This complements SFIA levels.
  6. Overall, distinguishing between knowledge and skills helps professionals and employers better plan development strategies and align competencies to roles.

Understanding SFIA levels

SFIA is an experience-based framework based on levels of responsibility and skill. SFIA's seven levels describe a progression from  performing routine tasks under close supervision to strategic leadership. Each level represents a different set of responsibilities, accountabilities and impact in a professional field. Understanding these levels is crucial for both individual career development and organisational skill management.

Why SFIA skills aren't defined at every level

SFIA defines skills at specific levels for a reason. It targets practical application and relevance in the workplace. By focusing on where skills are most applicable, SFIA ensures a pragmatic and targeted approach to skill development and recognition and aligning SFIA skills to roles and jobs.

Addressing skills not defined at all levels

The absence of definitions for certain skills at some levels does not imply a lack of importance. Instead, it reflects the levels of responsibility at which the skill is practiced in the workplace and shows the need for a structured pathway for professional growth and increased responsibilities.

When a skill starts at a higher level, e.g. starting at SFIA level 4, it means that there is a foundational or prerequisite requirement for other skills and behaviours at lower SFIA levels.

  • Understanding this principle will help professionals and organisations plan more effective development strategies.
  • This design encourages professionals to build the foundational or prerequisite skills, behaviours and knowledge that are required for advanced levels. This ensures readiness for the responsibilities that come with higher-level roles.

Illustrative example 1

Knowledge awareness versus application of knowledge and skills

It is a common requirement that roles need an awareness of topics outside their direct responsibilities or tasks. This awareness is not solely for career progression but can be a necessary performance expectation.

For example:

  • To communicate and collaborate usefully with practitioners who do use the skill
  • To modify their own behaviour and actions to align with and/or to support practitioners of that skill

Understanding the difference: Knowledge is what you know, Skills are what you do with that knowledge.

  • Distinguishing between knowledge awareness and skill levels is essential to enable professionals to meet the full expectations of their roles effectively. 

Illustrative example 2

Illustrative example 3

A knowledge scale / tier of indicators

A knowledge-only scale describes what an individual knows or understands within a domain, the SFIA levels describe what an individual does with that knowledge and how they interact within their teams and their organisation.

SFIA levels and levels of knowledge should be considered as being independent of each other (this is sometimes described as being orthogonal).

An individual can have a high level of knowledge (be an expert in a subject area) but still operate at a lower SFIA level if they do not have autonomy, accountability and influence in decisions or responsibilities such as coordinating work managing teams, influencing decisions, or setting strategies.

Conversely, an individual might operate at a high SFIA level, leveraging broad or strategic knowledge without being a deep expert in a specific technical domain and/or having knowledge of the basic tasks performed by people reporting to them.

Illustrative example 4

Illustrative examples

Example 1 - Addressing skills not defined at all levels

The SFIA skill Solution architecture starts at SFIA level 4. It starts at level 4 because this reflects the level of responsibility, autonomy, influence and complexity required for Solution architecture work - even at the entry point for solution architecture.

To identify a developmental path for someone to perform Solution architecture work does not need the presence of lower level SFIA skills in Solution architecture.

  • Instead the focus is on other SFIA skills at other levels and on the behavioural factors/business skills which are foundational/prerequisite for both the technical and behavioural skills of level 4 Solution architecture.

For example

  • Foundational/prerequisite professional skills such as:
    • Systems design DESN 3-4
    • Software design DESN 2-4
    • Requirements definition and management REQM 2-4
    • Feasibility analysis FEAS 3-4
    • Network design NTDS 2-4
    • Data engineering DENG 2-4
    • Business situation analysis BUSA 3-4
    • User experience design HCEV 3-4
    • User experience analysis UNAN 3-4
    • Business modelling BSMO 3-4
  • Foundational/prerequisite behaviours such as analytical skills, problem-solving, an understanding of broad technology or business concepts, and effective communication skills with technical and business stakeholders.
    • These are defined in SFIA's generic attributes.

 Example 2 - Knowledge awareness versus application of knowledge and skills 

An employer wants all their employees to have an awareness of company strategy.

  • However, this does not mean that all employees need to have the SFIA skill called "Strategic planning"
  • Consequently, it is not necessary for the SFIA framework to define low-level "Strategic planning" skills

Following the principle that knowledge awareness is not the same as skills and responsibilities; a better solution is to identify and distinguish between requirements for "knowledge awareness" and "knowledge necessary to perform skills".

  • using a different scale or set of indicators to complement SFIA levels can be very helpful  (see below)
  • employees can learn about their company's strategy in a variety of ways, such as; team briefings, blogs and town hall meetings

 Example 3 - Knowledge awareness versus application of knowledge and skills

An employer wants all roles including senior employees to have awareness/knowledge of emerging technologies such as machine learning.

  • Yet, while it may be a requirement for all employees to have an understanding of 'machine learning' and its application, this does not mean all employees should have the SFIA "Machine learning" skill at lower levels.
  • SFIA level 2 "Machine Learning" describes responsibilities for low-level tasks, indicating a hands-on practitioner, not just someone who only understands the concepts and ideas.

Following the principle that knowledge awareness is not the same as skills and responsibilities; a better solution is to identify and distinguish between requirements for "knowledge awareness" and "knowledge necessary to perform skills".

  • using a different scale or set of indicators to complement SFIA levels can be very helpful (see below)
  • employees can learn about machine learning concepts and ideas in a variety of ways such as; reading, online foundational training, informal learning from colleagues

 Example 4 - A knowledge scale / tier of indicators

When employers need to describe or measure the degree of knowledge required for a role, starting with "Awareness of", they can use a tiered approach. For example:

  1. Awareness: Basic understanding or familiarity with the topic. Suitable for roles where the knowledge is peripheral to the main job function.

  2. Working Knowledge: Practical understanding sufficient to perform tasks related to the topic. Ideal for roles requiring direct interaction or application of the knowledge.

  3. Proficient knowledge: Deep, comprehensive understanding. Necessary for roles where the topic is a primary part of the job.

  4. Expert knowledge: Advanced level of knowledge, often including the ability to innovate or or provide technical/professional leadership in a domain.

Note that Senior leadership roles may ‘lead’ proficient and expert practitioners; this does not mean they need the same level of knowledge as them.