Corey Seemiller March 2020

Developing the Student Leadership Competencies: A Never-Ending Journey

By Corey Seemiller

Corey SeemillerCorey Seemiller, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership Studies in Education and Organizations at Wright State University. In addition to her 35 articles and chapters, Corey is the author of several books including Generation Z: A Century in the Making, Generation Z Goes to College, Generation Z Leads, Generation Z Learns, and The Student Leadership Competencies Guidebook. Corey has served as an issue editor for New Directions for Student Leadership, co-chair for the National Leadership Symposium, co-chair for the Leadership Education Academy, board member of Lead365, and Associate Editor for the Journal of Leadership Studies. She is also a co-founder and facilitator of ILA’s Leadership Education Academy.

It’s been nearly 12 years since I started what I thought was going to be a 2-week exercise. And, here I am, more than a decade later, still knee-deep in developing the Student Leadership Competencies.

My journey began in 2008 during my time as the Director of Leadership Programs at the University of Arizona. That summer, I had a new staff and a new subscription to the digital platform, OrgSync, both promising to make my life a lot easier. As for the staff, I was grateful they were eager to hit the ground running. As for the platform, I was excited that we were finally going to be able to ditch those paper evaluations and move our assessment process online. But, doing so wasn’t as easy as it seemed. After asking if anyone wanted to help me put our program evaluations online, I had only one taker…everyone else seemed to avoid eye contact with me when I asked! So, my one colleague and I set out to create our online evaluations. And, we had just a couple of weeks to do so before school started.

Once the two of us began the project, we quickly determined that the measurements in the paper evaluations were not really designed to assess learning and development. We were at a crossroads. Should we just type the old measurements into the new platform or should we rewrite every measurement? Even though we had only two weeks to do this, we opted to re-design the evaluations in their entirety. We decided the best way to start would be to come up with a list of what we thought our students should learn or be able to do after participating in our programs. We didn’t even know what to call this list. We landed on the name, competencies, after learning that what we were actually making was a competency list. But, what would inform this list? Would we just brainstorm leadership competencies that we thought were important and write them down? Instead, we decided that our competency list needed to be grounded in research. So, we analyzed a variety of leadership models, the CAS Standards for Student Leadership Programs, and the NASPA Learning Reconsidered publication to look for any leadership competencies embedded within them. We each conducted our own analyses and later discovered that our competency lists were nearly identical, resulting in a straightforward compilation of both into one master list. From that point, we tagged each of our leadership experiences with associated competencies from that list and developed competency measurements to build into our online evaluations. After our two-week flurry, we thought our efforts were wrapped up…until we presented at the 2008 Leadership Educators Institute.

Armed with our competency list and measurements, we headed to LEI to present on our research and process. While the program went well, it was the presence of longtime ILA member, Dr. Susan Komives, which was the most instrumental. After the session, she pulled us aside and suggested we compare our competency list with the learning outcomes of accredited academic programs to see if any of our leadership competencies were embedded into those outcomes. Looking back, she definitely said “some programs,” yet we heard “all programs.” This slight nuance is critical to this story! We then returned to campus with fervor to engage in this highly intensive research project with the goal of analyzing the learning outcomes of every single accredited academic program in higher education in the U.S. That included 522 programs across 97 agencies, totaling 17,577 outcomes.

After several years, we finally finished our analysis! We hit the conference circuit to present our findings and even published an article. Shortly thereafter, we were in talks to publish a book on our “Student Leadership Competencies,” self-evaluation measurements, and an online searchable database of competencies and academic programs. As this was all in the works, my colleague decided it was time for him to explore other professional interests. He moved off the project, leaving me, and my “Achiever” strength, feeling compelled to move forward on my own. I had eight weeks to write a book, re-analyze the accredited program learning outcomes as they had changed since the initial review, and finalize the measurements. While I was able to get it done, my “Achiever” strength was a bit tired!

But, there was no time for rest…I was on a roll. While the published resources were just getting off the ground, I was already engaged in my next project – expanding evaluation and assessment resources. I decided then to create the Student Leadership Competencies Inventory for users to self-assess their proficiency in each of the 60 competencies. After many years of testing various iterations of the instrument and then finally collaborating with a much more adept stats expert, ILA member, Dr. David Rosch, results from the Student Leadership Competencies Inventory yielded positive validation findings. Since then, I have developed several other assessment tools including the Self and 360 Evaluation, observer measurements, value prompts, cognition measurements in collaboration with Kelley Ashby, and rubrics with Dr. Darby Roberts. During this time, I was also on a model mapping frenzy, associating components of various models and frameworks with related leadership competencies. I tried to find every model and framework I could that focused on leadership, strengths, service-learning, career, and retention. I was even able to create a Youth Leadership Competency Model based on several character development and social and emotional learning frameworks.

I realized that beyond creating the Student Leadership Competencies framework, mapping it to existing models, and developing assessment tools, I wanted to delve into curriculum development. Over the years, I had been asked if I had a facilitator’s guide (to which my response was, “not yet”). But, I realized that there were already great leadership curriculum resources available, and it didn’t make sense to re-create the wheel. So, during the summer of 2016, I read through commonly used leadership development facilitators’ guides, tagging each lesson plan with any leadership competencies embedded in their outcomes. This was quite an undertaking, resulting in a really, really, long spreadsheet with the name of every one of those lesson plans by competency. While the process was daunting, I was excited to be able to point people to existing curriculum as a means of teaching each competency.

I also thought it would be interesting to dip my toe into the digital world to create some cutting-edge and innovative resources. I worked with a student to develop an iOS app and talented graphic designers to create digital badges and associated marketing icons for each competency. Although I love engaging in heady, research initiatives, there was something a bit therapeutic about developing these digital resources. It seemed to bring the research to life.

More recently, I have been focusing on uncovering the complexity of teaching leadership competencies. When The Student Leadership Competencies Guidebook came out in 2013, I had noted four dimensions of learning and development: knowledge, value, ability, and behavior. Each marked a way in which a competency could be developed and thus, should be measured. In 2019, Dr. David Rosch and I again partnered to develop a six-domain model that included new names for the original four dimensions while adding two additional ones: efficacy and motivation.

Just when I thought I had exhausted all avenues in studying and developing resources related to the Student Leadership Competencies, there was still a lingering question that I had been asked over the years and had yet to be able to answer – “In what order should I teach the competencies?” For some of the competencies, it seemed pretty straightforward, like personal values coming before mission, or verbal communication coming before conflict negotiation. But, for other competencies, it wasn’t as clear. Was there an ideal order for teaching them? To find out, I partnered with Dr. Rich Whitney, another ILA member, to conduct a Delphi study of seasoned leadership educators, gathering their insight on the sequencing of the competencies. The findings led to the development of the Leadership Competency Development Taxonomy.

But, I wasn’t done yet with developing resources. In 2019, ILA member, Dr. Kathy Guthrie, and I created the Trailblazer card deck to help educators design and facilitate leadership learning experiences and the Voyager card deck to foster students’ leadership development. Both decks include cards for each of the 60 Student Leadership Competencies, among other cards, and offer various unique exercises.

I have now come full circle with this project. Just recently, I decided it had been far too long since the searchable database was updated. Because so much time had passed, updating was more like starting from scratch. Some accrediting agencies had come, and others had gone. Programs had changed, and outcomes had been updated. After reviewing 36,327 outcomes (more than twice as many as were in the initial analysis) from 605 programs within 83 agencies, I built an entirely new database with the help of a talented web developer.

With new projects always on the horizon, developing the Student Leadership Competencies has become both a personal calling and a source of inspiration for me. But, as I said, this is a never-ending journey. I can’t wait to see what is next for the Student Leadership Competencies.

*The Student Leadership Competencies and associated resources were developed by Corey Seemiller. For more information or access to the abovementioned resources, go to

If you are interested in learning more about the Student Leadership Competencies, make sure to register for the Leadership Education Academy (LEA) in July! You will find several great resources for teaching and facilitating leadership, among which include the Student Leadership Competencies. And, as one of the facilitators, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk with me at LEA about how to infuse competencies into programs and courses.

An Overview of the Student Leadership Competencies

What are the Student Leadership Competencies?

Student Leadership CompetenciesThe Student Leadership Competencies is comprised of 60 empirically-grounded leadership competencies that can serve as a framework for designing programs or courses, blueprint for curriculum development and delivery, foundation for intentional assessment of learning, and recognition of growth and development. There are six different learning domains that guide how each competency can be taught and assessed.

  • Significance: Value of utilizing the competency
  • Motivation: Motivation to utilize the competency
  • Efficacy: Belief in one’s own ability to utilize the competency
  • Cognition: Understanding of the competency
  • Proficiency: Skills to utilize the competency
  • Performance: Utilizing the competency

Reasons to Use the Student Leadership Competencies

  1. The Student Leadership Competencies offers an integrated framework and systematic method for intentionally designing experiences for leadership development.
  2. The Student Leadership Competencies provides a set of measurements that allow for assessing and comparing leadership development across experiences, programs, and courses.
  3. The Student Leadership Competencies are aligned with accreditation requirements, which reflect the contemporary needs of employers across industries.
  4. The Student Leadership Competencies provides a shared and relatable language of leadership that can be used for marketing, fund development, and benchmarking.
  5. The Student Leadership Competencies offer a means for micro-credentialing and digital badging.

Using the Student Leadership Competencies

Student Leadership Competencies GearProgram Design

Using the Student Leadership Competencies in program design involves narrowing the list of 60 competencies to those of most importance to the context at hand. Selection may be based on values and initiatives outlined in an institutional or organizational strategic plan, existing learning outcomes for a course or program, learning priorities of the instructor or facilitator, or competencies required by specific academic accrediting agencies. By narrowing the list of 60 competencies to those of most significance, program designers can hone in on what is most applicable when planning curriculum, events, and/or experiences. In addition, leadership educators can audit existing curriculum or content to uncover the extent to which selected competencies are embedded.

Student Leadership Competencies Database

Student Leadership Competencies DatabaseThe Student Leadership Competencies Database is a free tool to uncover academic programs associated with each competency and competencies associated with each academic program. Leadership educators can design programs or courses for specific audiences in an academic discipline or associated career field. An updated analysis in 2019 of more than 36,000 learning outcomes across 605 academic programs in 83 accrediting agencies led to the creation of the current database. To access the database, go to


Competencies can be embedded into both the content and the pedagogy of leadership curriculum. Associating competencies with content is the more common approach, like an ethics workshop focusing on the competency of ethics. But, integrating competencies into pedagogy can also be useful; for example, having learners utilize the competency of problem solving during an activity even if the subject matter is not about problem solving.


The Student Leadership Competencies has specific measurements for each of the six learning domains as well as free self-evaluation measurements that can be incorporated into existing assessment initiatives. To access the free self-evaluation measurements, go to

Student Leadership Competencies Inventory and 360 Evaluation

The Student Leadership Competencies Inventory and the Student Leadership Competencies 360 Evaluation are also free resources for self-discovery. The SLC Inventory is a collection of eight validated self-reported instruments aimed to measure one’s perceived proficiency in each of the 60 competencies. There are multiple constructs to determine one’s proficiency, and users are provided a free report after completion of each instrument. The 360 Evaluation offers self-reflective insight into one’s sustained performance of each competency as it compares to observers’ insights. Users are also provided a free report upon completion.

To access the Student Leadership Competencies Inventory, go to

To access the Student Leadership Competencies 360 Evaluation, go to


Acknowledging individuals for completing milestones toward competency development can be important for motivating future development and building confidence. In addition, leveraging those milestones into tangible outputs, such as certificates, micro-credentials, and digital badges, can offer evidence of an individual’s learning and development that can be shared with prospective employers, selection committees, and other external entities.

Background Research

The Student Leadership Competencies framework was developed over years of research dating back to 2008. The first stage of research involved analyzing components of various leadership models, the CAS Standards for Student Leadership Programs, and the NASPA’s Learning Reconsidered publication to develop a list of commonly integrated leadership competencies. That list was then used to uncover essential leadership competencies required by higher education academic programs as determined by an analysis of each program’s learning outcomes. Programs included in the analysis were those from agencies accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, U.S. Department of Education, or the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors. A total of 17,577 outcomes within 522 programs across 97 agencies were analyzed.

*The Student Leadership Competencies and associated resources were developed by Dr. Corey Seemiller. For more information or access to the abovementioned resources, go to

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