Skip to main content

How to create an effective geospatial competency matrix

A geospatial competency matrix helps business leaders like you better understand your GIS workforce’s strengths and can identify gaps that you need to address to reach your goals. Creating a geospatial competency matrix is a great way to guide and uplift your GIS workforce skills strategically. In this article, I offer a practical guide to developing a matrix you can use in your organization.

As a leader, you know that building and sustaining a highly competent geospatial workforce is paramount for success. Understanding the breadth and strength of your team’s competencies is essential, but you also need a plan to develop future skills and abilities. Knowing where to invest time and resources to improve GIS skills can be daunting.

In working with customers to design geospatial governance programs, I discuss GIS competencies as a body of knowledge: a set of abilities, skills, experiences and behaviours that lead to effective workforce performance and enable efficiency in individual activities. Creating a geospatial competency matrix is one of the most effective ways to ensure everyone on your team has the skillsets necessary to perform their job well. Understanding these skills and evaluating your team’s level of GIS experience will give you insight into the competencies that your team currently has, versus those that might be beneficial to enhance in the future. In this post, I’ll share our approach to creating an effective geospatial competency matrix you can use in your organization.

A GIS competency matrix is a governance tool that captures technical and professional abilities. From a governance perspective, the matrix is used to make decisions regarding professional development and helps organizations determine how well-positioned they are to meet their business objectives. A geospatial competency matrix aligns business goals with the skills and competencies to achieve those goals. It outlines a performance trajectory for your GIS workforce. The matrix enables organizations to identify each staff member’s current technical proficiency and their level of business acumen and illustrates opportunities for targeted learning, development and mentorship. 

Creating a geospatial competency matrix is a great way to guide and uplift your GIS workforce’s skills strategically. Here is a practical approach to developing a matrix:

1. Define the scope of the GIS competency matrix

The first step in creating an effective matrix is to define its scope in terms of the categories of skills and knowledge you want to include. This should be predicated on your GIS strategy and the operational functions of the GIS workforce. You’ll want to include technical and non-technical categories like general IT skills, business and leadership skills.

Next, you’ll want to consider GIS industry-relevant skills and geospatial skills related to your particular industry sector. For example, if your company is an electrical utility and your GIS strategy involves transitioning your organization from a geometric network to a new utility network model, then there will be a wide breadth of new skills required to maximize the value of that new solution. Your GIS workforce will need to re-skill based on that particular solution and will need training to manage assets and visualize, edit and analyze the complexities of the new network.

Once you’ve defined the scope of the matrix, you can begin to identify the specific competencies that should be included. 

2. Define the competencies needed

The next step is to work within the categories you have identified and define the competencies that are needed to enable your GIS strategy. This can be done by conducting an analysis of GIS-related roles and job descriptions. Include current and future competencies that your organization will need to address the growing demand for spatial solutions and services.

The table below is a small sample list for thinking about the GIS-related competencies you need to consider. Be sure to customize it to the skills and competencies aligning with the geospatial capabilities you need to support your organization, and remember that this is only a starting point.

Domain / Competency


Industry-wide GIS skills

GIS product or solution skills and capabilities that can be applied across industries

Map design and cartography

The ability to create maps that convey information accurately and are well-designed using cartographic principles

Data collection and integration

Familiarity with methods for collecting geospatial data through surveys, GPS and mobile apps, and integrating data from various sources

GIS analysis models

Knowledge of spatial analysis models such as network analysis, spatial interpolation and suitability modelling for solving problems

Geospatial software

Proficiency in using GIS software platforms such as ArcGIS and other modern GIS tools

Programming and scripting

Proficiency in languages like Python or JavaScript for automating tasks, processing data and creating custom geospatial applications

Domain / Competency


Industry-specific skills

Geospatial skills related to a particular industry sector and the organization's needs

Utilities and infrastructure

Skills related to asset management and maintenance planning or digital twin visualization

Planning and development

The ability to use GIS for site selection and suitability analysis for new developments

Environmental services

The ability to conduct watershed analysis for water management and resource protection

Emergency management

The skills related to disaster risk assessment, incident mapping and evacuation route planning

Natural resources and agriculture

The geospatial analysis related to soil suitability or crop yield analysis

Domain / Competency


Advanced IT-GIS competencies

Skills that combine the use of advanced technologies and geospatial approaches

Digital twin visualization

Proficiency in creating interactive and immersive visualizations that allow users to explore and interact with digital twin models

Deep learning for remote sensing

Apply learning models to analyze remote sensing imagery for land cover classification, object detection and change detection

Prototyping and rapid development

Skill in quickly prototyping and iterating geospatial applications to test innovative concepts and gather user feedback

IoT integration

Understanding how IoT devices and sensors feed real-time data into GIS for real-time monitoring

Predictive analysis

Ability to use historical data and simulations within geospatial models to predict future scenarios and outcomes

Domain / Competency


Industry-wide IT skills

Generic IT skills that can be applied across industries

IT project management

Understanding of PM methodologies, including planning and execution approaches

IT governance

Familiarity with frameworks for overseeing IT resources and aligning them with business goals

Cybersecurity knowledge

Awareness of security practices, knowledge of security threats and the ability to implement measures to protect IT systems and data

Domain / Competency


Business skills

Non-technical skills and capabilities specifically for GIS professionals

Business engagement

The ability to build strong relationships with stakeholders to gain insight into their needs

Demand management

Determining the feasibility of meeting the future demand for geospatial solutions and services

Change readiness

The ability to assess the organization’s readiness for change and tailor strategies accordingly

3. Assign a weight to each competency

Once you have your list of GIS competencies, assign a weight to each competency. This will help prioritize the competencies and ensure that the most important ones are given more significant consideration. This will help to identify which competencies are essential for the job and which ones are nice to have. The weighting of each competency will vary depending on the organization and the priorities in your strategy.

4. Create the matrix

Once the competencies have been defined and weighted, they can be organized into a matrix. The matrix can be created as a spreadsheet to start. The matrix should include rows for each competency and columns for the related GIS job title or seniority level within the organization. The cells of the matrix can then be populated with the appropriate rating for each competency.

5. Assessing skills and abilities using self-evaluation 

Work through each role in the matrix and assign a rating to each competency. This process can include self-evaluation of skills for team members so they can rate their level of experience in the competency categories. There are various ways to rate a level of competency. One standard method is to use a scale of 1–5, with 1 being entry-level or novice (little to no experience) and 5 being expert (fully capable, experienced, needs no assistance).

Once the GIS competency matrix with ratings has been completed, it can guide training and development activities at a tactical level within the organization. The matrix identifies gaps in staff skills and knowledge, and that insight is used to create customized training programs or professional development plans that target specific areas for improvement.

I’d also recommend developing guidelines for setting competency goals, which in turn contribute to achieving your organizational objectives. For example, over a three-year plan, leaders can set targets for skills development that align to milestones in your GIS strategy, ultimately helping to drive action plans toward increasing GIS skill levels in areas where staff need improvement or growth through development activities. These guidelines set expectations for management and staff on setting goals and measuring performance, ensuring that GIS competencies are understood in the context of specific geospatial capabilities required by the organization to meet its business agenda. 

In summary

A geospatial competency matrix helps you articulate your workforce’s abilities and illustrates the skills your staff will need to grow. Using a competency matrix, your organization can identify gaps efficiently and reach goals more quickly. Make sure that your matrix includes guidelines for advancing the essential skills your people will need to deliver geospatial capabilities within your organization. This way, you’ll both better understand your workforce’s strengths, and at the same time, be developing strategies to achieve your goals.

Let me know how it goes, and feel free to reach out if you need support in developing your competency matrix. We’re here to help!

Want to add more communication and business tips to your toolbox and grow your skills over time? Sign up for our newsletter, The Geospatial Edge, to get a fresh batch of geospatial strategy resources delivered right to your inbox once per quarter. Simply visit our Preference Centre and select “GIS Strategy” from the available options.

About the Author

Allen Williams leads the Management Consulting Practice at Esri Canada. He focuses on helping organizations build transformative geospatial strategies and roadmaps, giving them practical steps to maximize the value of location intelligence. Allen has worked with organizations at all levels of government and a broad range of industry sectors. He helps customers develop long-term geospatial strategies and governance programs resulting in modernization and innovation.

Profile Photo of Allen Williams