Technical competence involves having specialized knowledge about the work we do or ask others to do. In the case of an organization, it includes understanding the intricacies of how an organization functions. A leader with technical competence has organizational know-how—they understand the complex aspects of how the organization works. For example, a university president should be knowledgeable about teaching, research, student recruitment, and student retention; a basketball coach should be knowledgeable about the basics of dribbling, passing, shooting, and rebounding; and a sales manager should have a thorough understanding of the product the salespeople are selling. In short, a leader is more effective when they have the knowledge and technical competence about the activities followers are asked to perform.
The importance of having technical competence can be seen in the example of an orchestra conductor. The conductor’s job is to direct rehearsals and performances of the orchestra. To do this, the conductor needs technical competence pertaining to rhythm, music composition, and all the many instruments and how they are played. Technical competence gives the conductor the understanding required to direct the many different musicians to perform together successfully.
Technical competence is sometimes referred to as “functional competence” because it means a person is competent in a particular function or area. No one is required to be competent in all avenues of life. So, too, a leader is not required to have technical competence in every situation. But technical knowledge of the functions and activities across levels of an organization is important for a leader. For example, Devonia oversees a large video game development team that includes writers, artists, programmers, and testers. Devonia’s background is as a graphic artist, but she must know how each aspect of game development contributes to the end product in order to be able to foresee and solve problems for her team. She doesn’t need to be able to write the programming code, but she does need to understand that skill enough to be able to help her coders work out problems.