13 CHW Core Competencies Explained

What Is a CHW?

A CHW is the frontline health worker that most directly impacts patients’ quality of life and helps guarantee their access to proper medical care and assistance when needed.

Community health workers (CHWs), and other health promoters like community health representatives, promotores de salud, peer educators, and others play a key role in their communities’ long-term well-being. They work toward health equity and advocate on behalf of minorities and underserved populations. They provide health education, preventive screenings, promoting healthy lifestyles, and social support and guidance in terms of health care.

CHW Core Competencies

The following is a summarized list of core competencies to be a CHW. Each competency includes a list of key skills. Download a copy of this list in the Core Competencies Resources Guide to take with you.

Some states have individual core competencies for their CHW program, and many include professional development courses in health-specific topics such as managing chronic illnesses or maternal and child health topics. Some states offer certification, and some have grandparenting programs for CHWs with similar skills. Also read about the most important job skills to build a CHW career path.

1. Advocacy Skills

  • Connect clients with the right health care
  • Involve the community in clients’ issues by promoting causes and using existing resources
  • Educate community members, legislators, the media and other professionals or organizations about clients’ issues
  • Use social media as an advocacy platform

2. Community Outreach and Engagement

  • Build and strengthen communities
  • Educate community members about programs and services that benefit them using community outreach
  • Understand various populations and how to communicate with them
  • Understand the needs of different populations
  • Learn to build collaborative relationships with colleagues and partners

3. Communication Skills

  • Learn about the different ways we communicate, including verbally and non-verbally
  • Use active and empathetic communication skills
  • Look out for and overcome barriers to communication
  • Be a clearer communicator, both when speaking and when writing
  • Connect clients to resources in their language, including medical interpreters and translated documents

4. Promoting Healthy Lifestyles/Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL)

  • Inform clients about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity
  • Help clients manage or even avoid chronic illness by adopting healthy lifestyle habits
  • Improve health outcomes
  • Strengthen community linkages
  • Overcome barriers to healthy choices in environments, including food insecurity and other limitations

5. Cultural Competence and Responsiveness

  • Understand the role culture plays in a person’s health, including behaviors, language, customs, beliefs, and perspectives
  • Learn culturally appropriate and respectful ways of communicating
  • Use empathy to connect with people who come from various backgrounds
  • Deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients to avoid health disparities
  • Build relationships with partners and colleagues to deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services

6. Service Coordination Skills

  • Improve collaboration among team members
  • Appreciate the importance of support roles in case management
  • Learn to leverage community resources in patient care
  • Become an effective liaison with sources outside the community
  • Effectively manage cases from first instance to follow-up

7. Individual and Assessment Skills

  • Develop a keen understanding of contextual factors in assessing individuals within your community
  • Discover formal assessment methods to get actively involved in community initiatives
  • Feel confident designing, implementing, and interpreting individual assessments, including home evaluations
  • Learn to design, implement, and interpret community-wide assessments and initiatives
  • Help teams channel define unique needs within the community

8. Health Insurance Basics

  • Understand the local health insurance landscape
  • Help patients successfully navigate the intricacies of health insurance
  • Connect community members with the resources that best serve their needs and the key role preventive services play in long-term health
  • Provide accurate information about the types of insurance and the medical services available to the community, as well as potential costs
  • Inform the legal and technical aspects of the healthcare industry

9. Teaching Skills

  • Improve the ability to break complex topics into manageable information
  • Collect pertinent health information from and for community members
  • Plan and conduct health classes for varied audiences
  • Use cultural context to bring accurate, relevant information to community members
  • Measure community members’ understanding in key health issues to help predict outcomes

10. Organizational Skills

  • Organize schedules, shifts, and reporting on team members and priorities to maintain clear communication with supervisors or the work team
  • Plan goals for individuals and the organization, taking priorities, budget, and other aspects into account
  • Establish a safe space for coworkers with open, clear communication
  • Take charge of event organization, both internal and external (workshops, outreach efforts, educational presentations, and more)
  • Oversee project development and ensure that priorities and objectives are being met

11. Community Capacity Building

  • Help team and community members explore their capacities
  • Empower the community to make conscious choices
  • Build connections, support, and allyship within communities
  • Help individuals advocate for themselves through empowerment and education
  • Lead community initiatives confidently, as well as identify local leaders and provide them with support

12. Professional Conduct and Interpersonal Skills

  • Learn to manage time, resources, and priorities on an individual basis while balancing stressors
  • Assess situations and determine risk factors and potential solutions
  • Utilize the available resources to their best potential, including technology, assessment tools, and more
  • Adhere to ethical and standards including codes of ethics, laws, bills, and other institutional guidelines
  • Assume professional education and self-improvement as a pillar for personal development

13. Public Health

  • Develop a deep understanding of the public health structure
  • Understand the role and responsibilities that fall on CHW’s shoulders as frontline health workers
  • Identify challenges and opportunities in communities by addressing the four pillars of public health
  • Combine theoretical knowledge and culturally relevant experience to understand public health on a local scale
  • Dive into the complex nature and root causes of some of today’s biggest health challenges, and explore how these affect healthcare services and populations

We’ve compiled this Core Competencies Resources Guide to help you find the right program.