What’s the difference between Coach Certification, Accreditation and Credentialing?

I wanted take a look at some very commonly used terms in coaching of Coach Certification, Coach Credentialing and Accreditation to help you better understand what they might mean when we use them. Like all industries, there are certainly many specific terms or jargon used in coach training, qualification and the coaching industry as well, all of which can understandably seem more than a little confusing, however they do have important distinctions that are useful to know. Frankly, some of these terms often enough mixed up by many in the industry (including educators!) and even when we look to dictionary definitions they can begin sound very similar or the same which further adds to the confusion.

Here’s a few dictionary definitions I found doing a quick search:

Yet in the field of professional coaching, and certainly for the world’s premier professional coaching organization—the International Coaching Federation (ICF) — these three terms have very particular definitions. So let’s now look at what those are.


Applies to the training organizations themselves who must demonstrate that their organization and program meets an appropriate level of ethical and coach industry specific educational rigor to gain accreditation, and then all accredited organizations have to continue to show that they are maintaining these standards each year and also be more fully audited every 3 years by the ICF. This is why attending an accredited program means you can feel confident in knowing you’re actually being taught coaching and at an industry agreed professional level.


Is what happens at the end of one’s professional training. This would be issued by your accredited training organization once you’ve completed all the relevant training including proving competence through formal assessments. At that point your accredited training organization will issue you with a certificate which is what you must have in order to take the next step.


Is the domain of your coach training organization’s accrediting body such as the ICF, who then issues a credential to the coach once they’ve trained and proved competence (certified) with an accredited provider. Accrediting bodies such as the ICF generally have a few further requirements to ensure your suitability including an exam known as the Coach Knowledge Assessment (or CKA). While up to the end of 2022 they may also require you to submit additional recordings depending upon the accreditation level of your training organization, this will change in 2023 and your certificate at either Level 1, 2 or 3 (ACC, PCC or MCC) training should mean you will no longer be required to do so as this will be required of the training organization’s themselves. The credential also needs to be renewed every three years which require you to show you’ve been engaging in ongoing professional development over that time.

Once you certify and then credential, it’s the credentialing body such as the ICF who becomes your managing entity of sorts. They oversee the ongoing professional development and the coaches adherence to their code of ethical conduct in order to maintain their credential. All of this allows a client to feel re-assured that they’re actually working with a true professional and helps not only elevate the coach in the eyes of the public, but also the training organization, the accrediting organization and the public perception of coaching itself as a true profession.

While having a certification from an industry recognized trainer is a very important step it is only the first. Gaining and maintaining a credential, as you can hopefully now see, is also very important for many reasons. Equally, while the ICF is by no means the only accrediting and credentialing body it is truly global and the world’s largest and most recognized by the public at large.

I hope this has been clarifying and wish you success in your career as a credentialed professional coach.

Rod Francis

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