Canadian Armed Forces professional development framework

Education and Training in the Canadian Armed Forces

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. The threat to global peace, security and stability is not only constantly evolving but it is also expanding. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) a vital instrument for the Government of Canada to participate and lead in security and stability operations around the world in this challenging security operating environment.

In order to be that leader, the CAF must prepare its members intellectually and professionally, to meet the anticipated challenges in the ambiguous, chaotic and complex security environment. What practical experience has shown over and over is that warfighting skills alone are not enough.

Four major players are engaged in developing the soldiers of today and tomorrow. For that purpose, the Profession of Arms is supported by the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA) who heads the Colleges, and the schools working to educate our officers and non-commissioned members in the common trades’ domain. Recruits or Senior Officers, Cooks or Lawyers and else are defined by their common functions and education regardless of their uniform’s colour.

In the same way, the CAF environments also known as the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force direct their Schools and Training Centres at providing the needed skills to enable their sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen in doing their roles such as naval technician, an infantryman or a pilot for example.

Officer and NCM General Specifications

All members of the CAF must be capable of performing the common tasks contained in the Officer and Non-Commissioned Member (NCM) General Specifications. These common tasks are universal in nature and pertain to fundamental expertise, cognitive, social, change and professional ideology competencies, which when combined deliver the appropriate leadership and management capacities.

To perform these duties/tasks effectively, which involve activities outside their occupation and environment, members of the CAF must attain levels of competencies commensurate with their rank. These common competencies complement and reinforce the environmental and occupational skills and knowledge acquired through occupational training and enable members of the CAF to perform effectively at all levels in the CAF. It is these specifications that call up the type, timing, and quality of Professional Development (PD) required by each Officer at each stage of their development and consequently form the foundation of professional development in the CAF as reflected by the design of the Developmental Periods (DP) within the Canadian Forces Professional Development System (CFPDS).

The following information describes and establishes the framework for the planning and conduct of the (PD) of CAF. The CFPDS is the product of an evolutionary process extending over many years. This system is responsible for the PD of CAF members.

The procedures contained within this document and all subordinate procedures related to Professional Development will conform to the policies contained within the DAOD 5031-8 on professional development. They are intended to be dynamic and responsive to change and will be amended, as necessary, in accordance with the respective recommendations of the Professional Development Council and the Chief of Staff of the CDA.


PD is sequenced throughout an individual’s CAF career to impart skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to rank and responsibilities and to allow each member to exercise sound judgment. The CFPDS is a career – long, comprehensive, integrated and sequential development process of education, training, self-development, and experience. It provides a continuous learning environment to develop and enhance the capabilities and leadership of CAF members.


The purpose of the CFPDS is the ethical, social and intellectual development of CAF personnel and the accumulation of a sufficient Professional Body of Knowledge to deal with the broad range of leadership and staff responsibilities throughout the full spectrum of military activities that can be anticipated during an individual’s career.

Strategic Guidance

The following documents provide the strategic level guidance for PD and the theoretical foundation for leadership in the CAF. The CFPDS provides the education and training detailed in these documents to the CAF. To request one or more of the titles listed below, please contact us at

Defence Strategy 2020

The publication of Defence Strategy 2020 (also called Strategy 2020), a keystone document, was a major milestone in developing a strategic plan to shape future PD in the CAF. The CFPDS was developed in support of Strategy 2020 to position Defence as an employer of choice for Canadians by expanding the knowledge and skills base of our personnel and by providing them with progressive opportunities for development, career mobility and recognition for service.

Officership 2020

Officership 2020 is the strategic guidance for reshaping the Officer Corps to meet the anticipated challenges of the future. It is the next step in achieving the professional development objectives outlined in Strategy 2020 for the Officer Corps. The CFPDS was designed to develop an ethical, highly intelligent and proactive Officer Corps.

Non-Commissioned Member Corps 2020

Non-Commissioned Member Corps 2020 provides the strategic guidance for the PD of the NCMs for the next 20 years and is the companion document to Officership 2020. The professional development objectives described in Strategy 2020 and Officership 2020, are incorporated in NCM Corps 2020. The CFPDS was developed to support a distinctive NCM PD while reinforcing the common elements of the Officer/NCM team.

Canadian Military Doctrine

Canadian Military Doctrine is the CAF capstone doctrine publication and is published under the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). This manual specifies the roles and missions assigned to the CAF; provides the fundamentals of warfare and guidance for command, control and organization of the CAF; describes authorized command relationships and the authorities that military commanders can use; and formulates guidelines for operational activities embodied in CAF strategic policy. Also provided is the doctrinal basis for interdepartmental and interagency coordination. The guidance contained in Canadian Military Doctrine serves as the foundation upon which the CFPDS is designed.

Duty with Honour

Duty with Honour is a cornerstone document within the CFPDS. It provides an understanding and vision of the Canadian military profession and establishes the intellectual and doctrinal basis for all personnel and professional development policies in the CAF.

Conceptual Foundations

Leadership in Canadian Forces - Conceptual Foundations provides a broad conceptual understanding of military leadership and a systems overview of the requirements of leadership in the CAF. It also represents the primary source for the development of leader training and education programmes in all CAF Centres of Excellence for professional development.

Leadership Doctrine

Leadership in Canadian Forces - Doctrine is a companion document of Duty with Honour. It is the authoritative guide to leadership training, education, and practice throughout the CAF. It provides a unified doctrinal basis for all Officer-NCM leadership training and education in the CAF. The CFPDS serves as a roadmap to leadership development at all levels as defined in the Leadership Doctrine.

Leading People

Leadership in Canadian Forces - Leading People has drawn from Leadership Doctrine and Conceptual Foundation’s doctrinal and theoretical foundation to provide CAF military professionals with the practical guidance to effectively lead people. This manual is used extensively in all professional development centres across the CAF. The CFPDS provides Officers/NCMs a graduated leadership development within the first four DPs.

Leading the Institution

Leadership in Canadian Forces - Leading the Institution provides guidance to those Senior Officers and NCMs who serve in key/senior appointments, their staffs, and others with the abilities and commitment to contribute to CAF strategy. It offers direction for one to attain the knowledge, leader capacities, skills and professionalism required for becoming an effective institutional leader. The CFPDS provides the leadership development necessary for those institutional leaders in DP5.

Guiding Principles

The CAF is committed to:

  • providing CAF members with PD throughout their military careers; and
  • promoting a continuous learning environment, with a view to imparting new knowledge and developing skills and attitudes as the basis for enhanced mental agility, innovation and judgement.

PD is a shared responsibility between commanders and commanding officers on one hand, and individual CAF members on the other hand.

As bilingualism is intrinsic to CAF leadership, ability in both official languages becomes increasingly important for progression through the DP.


The CFPDS is designed to:

  • ensure that CAF members meet the applicable work and job requirements identified in appropriate Military Employment Structure specifications;
  • ensure that CAF members are capable of critical thinking, managing change, effective leadership and resource management, across the full spectrum of military service;
  • strengthen understanding of the military profession;
  • enhance general, environmental and occupational expertise;
  • enable CAF members to develop professional competencies and attitudes required to successfully perform their duties and tasks;
  • prepare CAF members for the demands of a progressive career; and
  • prepare retiring CAF members for transition to civilian life.


CAF Doctrine provides the fundamental principles upon which the CFPDS is based, including:

  • The Professional Body of Knowledge comprises: core knowledge, supporting knowledge and specialized knowledge;
  • The war fighting skills are those skills that allow a soldier to conduct the full spectrum of military operations from the tactical to the strategic level; and
  • The required leadership competencies are those competencies that span from leading people to leading the institution. They are contained in the Leader Development Framework.
Four Pillars of Professional Development. Text alternative follows.

Figure 1: The Four Pillars of Professional Development

The four pillars (Figure 1) are the basis upon which professional development is achieved during a career in the CAF:

  1. Education is defined as “the provision of a body of knowledge and intellectual skill sets, upon which judgement among competing facts, information and ideas can be critically examined, assessed and interpreted."
  2. Training is defined as “the provision of specific skills, knowledge and attitudes required to perform assigned tasks and duties."
  3. Employment Experience. Is defined as “the application and continued development of the knowledge, skills and attitudes obtained through education, training, and/or self-development in the performance of assigned roles and duties.”
  4. Self-Development is defined as “self-initiated training and/or education that refines or further develops an individual’s body of knowledge, intellectual and/or professional skill sets, and attitudes that leads to improving the level of a desired competency or competencies. Self-development is normally done outside of formal professional development activities.”

Policy Framework

The Orders, Policies and Instructions which govern the CFPDS are contained within the CAF Defence Administrative Orders and Directives, CDA Policies with respect to professional development and CAF Military Personnel Instructions. They were developed in consultation with the Designated Training Authority, Training Authorities, and other major stakeholders and approved by the Armed Forces Council (AFC). They constitute the CFPDS policy framework which is applicable to all Officers/NCMs.

Developmental Period Structure

The CFPDS delivers professional development across five developmental periods for officers and for NCMs. A DP is a timeframe in a career during which an individual is trained, employed and given the opportunity to develop specific occupational or professional skills and knowledge. DPs are distinguished by progressive increase in the levels of accountability, responsibility, authority, competency, military leadership ability and the knowledge of operations and war.

Canadian Military Professional Ideology

The CFPDS is comprised of several elements. One of these elements is the Canadian military professional ideology consisting of two components:

  1. theory-based body of knowledge defining the profession's specialized expertise; and
  2. profession's value system.

The former is referred to as the General System of War and Conflict, and the latter is the Canadian Military Ethos.

The General System of War and Conflict

In any profession, practical skill grows out of an abstract system of knowledge and control of the profession lies in control of the abstractions that generate the practical techniques. The CFPDS is designed to provide CAF members with the right professional development at the appropriate DP to ensure understanding of the General System of War and Conflict at the tactical, operational, strategic and political level(s).

Canadian Military Ethos

The uniquely Canadian military ethos is made up of three fundamental components: beliefs and expectations about military service, Canadian values, and Canadian military values. The CFPDS was designed to ensure that the professional development of CAF members throughout their careers takes into account these components: establishing the desired institutional culture of the CAF, in which CAF members perform their mission and tasks to the highest professional standards and meeting the expectations of Canadians.

Leader Development Framework. Text alternative follows.

Figure 2: Leader Development Framework

The Leader Development Framework (LDF) (Figure 2) was developed as a result of the work done in the production of Officership 2020 and NCM Corps 2020 and the additional research conducted in support of the writing of Duty With Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada, and the CAF suite of leadership manuals. It was determined that the existing approach to professional development anchored in the Canadian Forces Individual Training & Education System needed to be augmented with a professional development model clearly based on competencies. Once developed it was recognized that the LDF could also serve to guide succession planning and support the performance assessment system.

The LDF consists of five meta-competencies that are addressed as the individual, officer or NCM, progresses through four levels – Junior, Intermediate, Advanced and Senior. Viewed through the current structure of the professional development system, therefore, Junior equates to DP-1 and DP-2, Intermediate DP-3, Advanced DP-4 and Senior DP-5. The 20 "cells" resulting from this framework are populated by the specific competencies that must be developed through the four pillars of the CAF’s PD System – education, training, experience and self development.

The meta-competencies are Expertise, Cognitive Capacities, Social Capacities, Change Capacities and Professional Ideology. The Expertise in question is centered on the General System of War and Conflict as described in Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Leading the institution. Cognitive Capacities are developed from linear, analytic thinking to systems thinking in order to cope with complexity. Social Capacities cover a range of inter-personal qualities and attributes ranging from team building to cultural intelligence and partnering. Change Capacities include the concepts underpinning the Learning Organization and risk management. Finally Professional Ideology embraces the concept of the CAF’s Military Ethos.

Leadership and the Professional Body of Knowledge

The CAF, Professional Body of Knowledge (PBK) is unique to the Profession of Arms in Canada. It is comprised of “Core”, “Supporting” and “Specialized” bodies of knowledge. The CAF’s Core and Supporting bodies of knowledge are the knowledge that are required to operate within the General System of War and Conflict (GWSC) model and are what makes a member of the CAF a “Professional” within the “Profession of Arms”.

Core Knowledge is the unique, theory-based body of knowledge at the core of the profession of arms as it is related to the GSWC. This knowledge includes tactics and tactical doctrine, the broad and deep discipline of operational art, the operational, technological, logistical and social dimensions of strategy, civil-military relations, command and leadership theory and practice, and the theory and practice of military professionalism.

Supporting Knowledge includes everything necessary to support a large organization whose primary function is to operate effectively across the spectrum of conflict, up to and including combat. This expertise is normally organized through highly differentiated systems of support, such as the communications, logistics, human resources, legal, and professional development systems. Also in this category is a very wide range of expertise encompassed in such disciplines as Canadian history, military history, political science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and management theory, among others.

Specialized Knowledge. The profession of arms in Canada is also characterized by the presence of groups whose expertise is not specific to the military, but organized in its own right by civilian professions. Doctors, lawyers, clergy, engineers and psychologists, to name but a few, belong to external professional associations and hold themselves responsible to a second professional ethic, as well as the military ethos. In effect, groups external to the military profession can legally discipline these professionals under certain circumstances.

The CFPDS provides the knowledge and skills unique to the leadership and management of armed forces in war and peace, commonly referred to as military art and science. This Professional Development, integrated and shaped by employment experience in the military environment, is recognized as the CAF Professional Body of Knowledge.

Armed Forces Council

The AFC mandate is to provide the CDS with decision support/advice with respect to issues of strategic importance related to the overall administration and management of the CAF. AFC considers CAF institutional issues including personnel policy. As such, it does not include membership of the operational commanders. Its role is to provide a forum for the discussion of military personnel policy issues that will assist the CDS with guiding the development of CAF personnel and approving CAF-specific personnel policy.

Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned (LL) means the adding of value to an existing body of knowledge, or seeking to correct deficiencies in areas of concepts, policy, doctrine, training, equipment or organizations, by providing feedback and follow-on action.

In the flow from doctrine to training, exercises and operations, the operational LL process provides feedback and follow-on action to ensure that there is constant learning, correction of mistakes and reinforcement of what was done correctly.

The aim of LL is to effectively capture, document, disseminate and action observations and best practices in order to improve organizational learning.

LL is an integral component of a learning organization; a deliberate process designed to capture and analyze observations and best practices enabling value-added feedback and follow-on action.

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