ISSP Sustainability Professional Certification Core Competency Areas

The list below is the Job Task Analysis (JTA) upon which the ISSP Professional Credentials are based. The JTA outlines the Core Competencies and sub-competencies that are assessed, along with education and experience, in determining eligibility for the ISSP Sustainability Professional Certifications.  Assessment questions are drawn from each of these Core Competencies, which represent the Knowledge, Skills and Attributes (KSA's) of a Sustainability Professional. For more information on the research behind this effort, read the two ISSP reports on the process: The Sustainability Professional: 2010 Core Competency Study and the 2013 Body of Knowledge report.

Core Competencies:

ISSP has outlines six Core Competencies, described below.

  1. Core Sustainability Concepts
  2. Stakeholder Engagement
  3. Plan Sustainability Strategies
  4. Implement Sustainability Strategies
  5. Evaluate Sustainability Efforts
  6. Adjust Plans

Scroll down or click on each competency or sub-competency to learn more.  Within each section, Tasks represent the key tasks and responsibilities expected of a sustainability practitioner; KSA's are Knowledge, Skills, and Attributes pertaining to that task; and Evidence details performance evidence and threshold level of competence for this sub-competency, including the evidence that a sustainability professional should be able to provide or demonstrate and at what level of performance.

Contents

  1. Core Sustainability Concepts
    1. Explain ideas and concepts of sustainability to various audiences
    2. Choose appropriate third-party sustainability resources.
  2. Stakeholder Engagement
    1. Identify, map and prioritize stakeholders and their primary interests or concerns
    2. Develop a strategy and means of engaging with each stakeholder
    3. Implement and institutionalize procedures for engaging and communicating with internal stakeholders (e.g. senior management, functional leads, line employees)
    4. Implement procedures for engaging and communicating with external stakeholders (e.g. suppliers, industry partners, NGO's community members)
    5. Build relationships across organizational functions
    6. Prepare communications with input from key stakeholders
  3. Plan Sustainability Strategies
    1. Develop a high level, long- term sustainability road map
    2. Articulate the business case for sustainability
    3. Articulate a long term vision of sustainability for the organization and a strategy to achieve it
    4. Create an overarching project framework to support the higher level framework, that can be operationalized and implemented
    5. Identify material issues and the relevant key indicators, specific metrics and targets
    6. Identify the critical components of an SMS
  4. Implement Sustainability Strategies
    1. Establish effective support and governance structures for the implementation of sustainability strategies and initiatives
    2. Implement an SMS in alignment with accepted standards and protocols
    3. Integrate sustainability principles into organizational functions, policies and practices
    4. Manage complex projects
    5. Communicate sustainability plans and concepts and choose strategies for buy-in from all members and levels of an organization
    6. Launch and support teams and work groups
    7. Drive innovation, improvement and continuous learning
    8. Distribute communication and determine process for gathering feedback
  5. Evaluate Sustainability Efforts
    1. Conduct an impacts assessment of organizational or community inputs, operations, outputs and stakeholder relationships
    2. Design, implement and maintain data systems for collecting accurate, timely and reliable data (maximally integrated with other data collection systems of the organization).
    3. Analyze data and draw conclusions about progress.
    4. Gather data, case studies, examples, and logically compile and order them
  6. Adjust Plans
    1. Maintain and continuously refine management systems
    2. Prioritize action based on analysis and set targets
 

1. Core Sustainability Concepts

 
Task
KSA's
Evidence
1.1 Explain ideas and concepts of sustainability to various audiences

Skills:

  • Prepare presentations for executives, employees and key stakeholders on sustainability.
  • Give a short explanation of sustainability, its benefits and strategic importance.
  • Distill research from the field and make use of reliable and current data.
  • Design informational messages appropriate to target audience.
  • Recognize different learning skills.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively in understandable language

Knowledge:

  • Demonstrate familiarity with global and local, economic and scientific issues, by describing key trends, impacts and perspectives relevant to their industry.
  • Explain frameworks and principles and describe how they are used.
  • Explain concepts of social justice, ecological systems, systems vs. reductionism.
  • Recognize and summarize historically significant events, concepts and findings (e.g. Agenda 21, Kyoto, Brundtlund):
  • Understand the interplay of various elements of concepts such as waste, water, pollution, social issues, etc.
  • Demonstrate general (or specific) level of expertise in areas such as buildings, transportation, or materials since these are often the largest contributors to a business or community GHG inventory.

Attributes:

  • Practice Generative / integrative thinking

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  • Degree / certificate demonstrating key concepts (see Social Justice under Knowledge in middle column)
  • Describe basic ideas and concepts in 1 to 2 sentences.
  • Review of a presentation and ability to determine if complete and if not, what is missing.
  • Prepare example presentation material
  • Resume showing experience with a diversity of audiences
1.2 Choose appropriate third-party sustainability resources.

Skills:

  • Apply appropriate frameworks, etc.
  • Evaluate and choose relevant information for the needs of the audience / system.

Knowledge:

  • Apply Systems thinking
  • List regulatory trends and policies (e.g. whistle blower, Sarbanes-Oxly).
  • Give examples sustainability claims, eco-labels and certifications
  • Understand the landscape and architecture/hierarchy of global institutions, frameworks and standards relevant to the organization, its sustainability issues and its stakeholders
  • Familiarity with relevant trends, technologies, approaches related to common sustainability initiatives (e.g. energy reduction and production, life cycle assessment, life cycle costing, bioremediation, etc)

Attributes:

  • Critical thinker.
  • Integrative thinker

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  • Pick relevant resources from a list for various applications
 

2. Stakeholder Engagement

 
Task
KSA's
Evidence
2.1 Identify, map and prioritize stakeholders and their primary interests or concerns Skills:
  • Facilitate stakeholder groups
  • Identify driving forces behind stakeholder motivations
  • Prioritize stakeholder needs and concerns
  • Develop stakeholder maps

Knowledge:

  • Familiarity with personality styles
  • Familiarity with environmental issues, community issues and interdependencies

Attributes:

  • Listener
  • Open minded
  • Organized
  • Effective communicator

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  • Identify key stakeholders for a particular organization or project that could include (but are not limited to) senior management, functional management, employees, suppliers and vendors, community members, NGO’s, consumers and regulators.
  • Recommend the key attributes of key stakeholders.
2.2 Develop a strategy and means of engaging with each stakeholder Skills:
  • Analyze and evaluate key person(s) within each stakeholder group
  • Understand leverage points of action
  • Select appropriate organizational planning techniques and strategies appropriate for each stakeholder
  • Access, engage and include stakeholders influencers and trusted advisors in dialogue

Knowledge:

  • Describe industry issues and stakeholders
  • Describe effective techniques for engaging stakeholders
  • Online and offline stakeholder engagement tools, techniques, resources

Attributes:

  • Collaborative
  • Listener
  • Open minded
  • Empathetic

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  • Lead, influence and motivate stakeholders to action
  • Describe, select effective stakeholder engagement techniques.
  • Demonstration of stakeholder engagement = video…etc
2.3 Implement and institutionalize procedures for engaging and communicating with internal stakeholders (e.g. senior management, functional leads, line employees)

Skills:

  • Manage projects
  • Conduct action planning with stakeholders
  • Apply appropriate engagement methods for varied groups
  • Deliver feedback on effectiveness
  • Develop metrics for determining effectiveness of engagement
  • Build effective stakeholder teams

Knowledge:

  • Familiarity with variety of tools and techniques for engagement of groups
  • Describe organizational structure and communication techniques

Attributes:

  • Authenticity
  • Collaborative
  • Empathetic

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  • Develop and execute a clear, concise procedural document that outlines engagement and communications with internal stakeholder’s.
  • Submit example procedures.  Ability to craft or edit an existing procedure. 
  • Select appropriate metrics for engagement.
2.4 Implement procedures for engaging and communicating with external stakeholders (e.g. suppliers, industry partners, NGO’s community members)

Skills:

  • Facilitate conversations and meetings
  • Build consensus among diverse groups
  • Identify each stakeholder’s motivations, needs and history
  • Conduct community impacts assessments

Knowledge:

  • Understand multiculturalism and diversity
  • Understand nuances of working with various stakeholder groups

Attributes:

  • Inclusive
  • Fair
  • Transparent
  • Ethical
  • Culturally sensitive
  • Emotionally intelligent

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  • Recognize leadership styles, influencers and power circles of stakeholders
  • Develop and execute a clear, concise procedural document that outlines engagement and communications with external stakeholder’s.
  • Recognizes cultural differences versus substantive differences.
2.5 Build relationships across organizational functions

Skills:

  • Identify and build relationships
  • Recruit people to participate in committees, teams and meetings
  • Explain/sell value of supporting organization and its initiatives
  • Communicate in appropriate taxonomy
  • Identify/leverage informal communication channels.
  • Define expectations of team members and supports

Knowledge:

  • Transition management
  • Behavior modification
  • Organizational cultures and structures

Attributes:

  • Persuasion
  • Listening
  • Collaboration
  • Empathic
  • Influence

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  • Describe strategies for building trusting relationships with stakeholders.
2.6  Prepare communications with input from key stakeholders

Skills:

  • Demonstrate ability to work with multiple communication media
  • Understand risks of communication
  • Prepare balanced, honest in transparent communication

Knowledge:

  • Communication mechanisms and styles (visual, words, charts etc.)
  • Sustainability reporting frameworks
  • Understand green marketing and green washing aspects

Attributes:

  • Compromise
  • Honesty
  • Ethical
  • Fair

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  • Appropriate communication provided at each level of engagement
  • Draft appropriate communication for each level of engagement with stakeholder’s.
 

3. Plan Sustainability Strategies

 
Task
KSA's
Evidence
3.1 Develop a high level, long- term sustainability road map

Skills:

  • Develop project framework with components for timelines, Key Performance Indicators, resources, personnel, training needs, leadership development, management systems, etc.
  • Coordinate and strategize multiple concepts and expectations into a clear path forward (the road map)
  • Work with and integrate multiple perspectives and priorities

Knowledge:

  • Strategic frameworks and planning models and approaches (eg. backcasting, SWOT)
  • Organizational business knowledge and strategy

Attributes:

  • Organized and attention to detail
  • Accountability mind set

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  • Create a plan using a strategic planning framework
  • Facilitate, create and document a strategic plan using a strategic planning framework.
  • Define and show appropriate applications of SWOT and backcasting techniques

3.2 Articulate the business case for sustainability

Skills:

  • Identify drivers and concerns relevant to the stakeholders of the system.
  • Identify trends related to sustainability that are relevant to a particular organization
  • Demonstrate how sustainability initiatives can be accomplished to reduce financial/ regulatory risk to organization
  • Express sustainability initiatives as strategic opportunities as well as corporate responsibilities
  • Handle and address stakeholder objections
  • Quantify benefits

Knowledge:

  • Business case indicators for sustainability
  • Relevant business trends
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Professional ethics

Attributes:

  • Persuasiveness
  • Integrity

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  • Write a rationale for sustainability tailored to the needs of a particular organization and its situation
  • Select appropriate sustainability drivers for different stakeholder groups.
  • Chose appropriate tools and techniques to handle top management and stakeholder concerns and objections.
  • ‘Translate’ sustainability jargon into business lexicon.
  • Calculate a cost-benefit anaylsis.

3.3 Articulate a long term vision of sustainability for the organization and a strategy to achieve it

Skills:

  • Describe a fully sustainable version of an organization.
  • Demonstrate facilitation skills to create a vision.

Knowledge:

  • Sustainability frameworks and definitions
  • Principles and attributes of sustainability
  • Understanding organizations current strategy/ business plan document
  • Business case tools and frameworks
  • Visioning and mission facilitated process

Attributes:

  • Influencer
  • Ability to engage

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  • Facilitate the creation of a meaningful vision for the organization
  • Chose critical facilitation skills for vision creation.  Ability to select most effective example of effective facilitation.
  • Recognize and define sustainability frameworks and definitions.
  • Recommendations or testimonials from organizations assisted
3.4 Create an overarching project framework to support the higher level framework, that can be operationalized and implemented

Skills:

  • Develop a mechanism to continuously evaluate and adapt as circumstances change
  • Connects and prioritizes sustainability ‘initiatives’ into meaningful categories and milestones

Knowledge:

  • Use project management techniques
  • Conduct a risk Assessment
  • Identify areas of strength and weakness
  • Identify opportunities and threats
  • Identify costs and fees
  • Identify system leverage points
  • commitment to the process
  • Calculate financial ROI
  • Set smart targets

Attributes:

  • Organized
  • Flexible

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  • Document action, task and project items into a project management system.
  • Experience/resume showing successful project management.  Experience with project management tools
  • Recommendations from those overseeing project management of applicant
3.5 Identify material issues and the relevant key indicators, specific metrics and targets

Skills:

  • Select and frame indicators in a way that is relevant to the organization’s culture (including beliefs and the broader professional practices relevant to the country in which the organization operates; a sensitivity to gender-related issues and other issues of diversity)  and context. (alignment to strategy)
  • Process and synthesize complex information and create strategy
  • Link metrics to pay; create pay for performance systems
  • Prioritize major impacts and focus efforts

Knowledge:

  • Identify methods to measure, track and display metrics
  • Assess a range of frameworks and select most relevant for the organization (eg. GRI)
  • Select material and relevant metrics (eg. Leading, Lagging indicators)
  • Differentiate the use of the various types of efficiency indicators
  • Synthesize organizational goals and objectives into planning
  • Recognize and integrate stakeholder interests
  • Identify environmental and sustainability challenges
  • Identify organization’s readiness and commitment to the process

Attributes:

  • Logical
  • Integrated thinking
  • Observant
  • Fair
  • Empathic

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  • Develop and articulate indicators, metrics and targets that are relevant and in alignment with organizational and strategic goals.
3.6 Identify the critical components of an SMS

Skills:

  • Design or integrate processes and systems for the full PDCA (Plan/Do/Check/Act) cycle
  • Define an SMS and components for SMS to the scale of the organization
  • Develop process maps for the organization

Knowledge:

  • Describe PDCA cycle and concept
  • Define SMS as people and supporting documentation
  • Recognize (understanding) of applicable ISO and other PDCA (e.g. AA1000) standards

Attributes:

  • Analytical
  • Observant
  • Collaborative

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  • List and explain functionality of SMS.
  • Select correct definition for each part of the PDCA cycle. 
  • Given a case study organization:  develop or critique a process map
  • Apply management system elements to sustainability
 

4. Implement Sustainability Strategies

 
Task
KSA's
Evidence
4.1 Establish effective support and governance structures for the implementation of sustainability strategies and initiatives

Skills:

  • Recommend needed support and governance structures
  • Define roles and responsibilities and staffing needs
  • Acquire needed resources
  • Creating effective structure
  • Facilitate conflict management

Knowledge:

  • Understand governance models, processes, decision frameworks
  • Organization governance structure

Attributes:

  • Logical
  • Possessing characteristics that facilitate effective governance
  • Good listener, communicator
  • Logical
  • Flexible

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  • Lead, guide, and consult, individuals and an organization to accomplish sustainability strategies and initiatives.
4.2 Implement an SMS in alignment with accepted standards and protocols

Skills:

  • Develop appropriate control documents and records
  • Establish appropriate levels of documentation
  • Establish information security protocols
  • Manage projects effectively
  • Employ change management techniques

Knowledge:

  • Identify all relevant ISO standards
  • Explain the business of systems implementation

Attributes:

  • Organized
  • Attention to detail
  • Persistent
  • Resilient

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  • Given a description of a situation, identify what elements and functionality would be included in an SMS given the context of an organization or initiative.
4.3 Integrate sustainability principles into organizational functions, policies and practices

Skills:

  • Manage across complex functional matrices of relationships and systems

Knowledge:

  • Organizational change theory
  • Operational management
  • Project management methodologies
  • Systems thinking

Attributes:

  • Organized
  • Adaptable to competing and changing priorities
  • Broad thinker

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  • Write, develop, refine or revise policies and procedures to support sustainability initiatives.
4.4 Manage complex projects

Skills:

  • Plan, manage and coordinate projects
  • Provide follow up and accountability to project teams
  • Track and manage action items
  • Establish and maintain appropriate priorities

Knowledge:

  • Project management methodologies
  • Risk management

Attributes:

  • Organized and attention to detail
  • Accountability mind set

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  • Lead, manage, or coordinate a project that results in activities being accomplished within a desire timeframe and team participants are engaged in the process.
4.5 Communicate sustainability plans and concepts and choose strategies for buy-in from all members and levels of an organization

Skills:

  • Ability to communicate and navigate multiple levels in an organization and cross functional matrices

Knowledge:

  • Communication and engagement tactics
  • Project Management
  • Transparency processes

Attributes:

  • Ability to influence
  • Confidence
  • Credible
  • Integrity

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  • Write and craft communications in the form of emails, presentations, press releases or articles that describe strategies in a clear, concise, understandable manner.
4.6 Launch and support teams and work groups

Skills:

  • Build consensus in divers groups
  • Facilitate groups through decision making
  • Hold teams accountable for results
  • Lead teams through the stages of team development

Knowledge:

  • Conflict management
  • Business process improvement
  • Performance management feedback

Attributes:

  • Empowering, supportive and recognize others, Courageous, Fair

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  • Facilitate and lead project teams that result in activities being accomplished in team members being engaged.
4.7 Drive innovation, improvement and continuous learning

Skills:

  • Ability to synthesize the organization and identify opportunities and failures
  • Collaborate/coordinate with continual improvement specialists

Knowledge:

  • Innovation theory, processes as defined by E. Rogers.

Attributes:

  • Innovative, creative thinker, ability to lead and inspire others, Proactive, reliable, organized, communicate effectively, adaptable, creative

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  • Lead and facilitate project teams in understanding challenges and developing solutions to improve strategies and initiatives.
4.8 Distribute communication and process for gathering feedback

Skills:

  • Anticipate and prepare for reaction to communication
  • Clarity of what a meaningful communication and feedback process should include

Knowledge:

  • Communication and design of communications
  • Design of feedback process
  • Managing the feedback process
  • Organization communications approach and methods

Attributes:

  • Can anticipate and adapt
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Ethical, fair

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  • Design a communication process that fosters honest and clear feedback from others.
 

5. Evaluate Sustainability Efforts

 
Task
KSA's
Evidence

5.1 Conduct an impacts assessment of organizational or community inputs, operations, outputs and stakeholder relationships

Skills:

  • Create a systems map/identify and overlay different mapping and assessment methods
  • Evaluate assessment results against vision/goals
  • Identify opportunities and priorities
  • Conduct a materiality assessment
  • Bring together relevant participants (cross-functional team, key stakeholders) to gather feedback to use in strategy planning and development/adjustment of a roadmap
  • Diagnose business model/community practices/elements that are fundamentally aligned/not aligned with sustainability
  • Share results of impact assessment and use in strategy planning

Knowledge:

  • Process management
  • Design for environment
  • Lean manufacturing concepts
  • Assessment and evaluation techniques

Attributes:

  • Logical
  • Flexible
  • Ability to listen

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  • Conduct and facilitate assessments to understand completely the impact of sustainability initiatives.
5.2 Design, implement and maintain data systems for collecting accurate, timely and reliable data (maximally integrated with other data collection systems of the organization).

Skills:

  • Assess ability of current systems to collect indicator data
  • Create or enhance existing data tracking systems
  • Review system periodically
  • Assure or verify data quality
  • Analyze and report qualitative and quantitative data

Knowledge:

  • Understanding of current business systems
  • Recognize strengths and weaknesses of additional relevant data systems and methods
  • Identify and select appropriate data collection and management systems

Attributes:

  • Integrator
  • Attention to detail
  • Professional judgment

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  • Develop processes and implement an SMS System for an organization or initiative.
  • Given several tables/metrics,  select the most effective data sets
  • Select an effective work instruction for data collection and analysis
5.3 Analyze data and draw conclusions about progress.

Skills:

  • Identify where  specific technical skills are needed and coordinate its inclusion in the evaluation process
  • Calculate high level GHG emissions following accepted protocols
  • Determine when LCA would be necessary and accurately interpret LCA data
  • Material flow and accounting
  • Ability to engage and ask questions

Knowledge:

  • Statistics/uncertainty
  • Research methods
  • Knowledge of relevant contextual benchmarks

Attributes:

  • Detail oriented
  • Organized
  • Analytical
  • Empathetic

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  • Review assessment and provide critical thinking and analysis on information that results in providing recommendations on improvements to initiatives.
  • Given case studies, analyze data and draw conclusions (select best conclusion from a list)
  • Give situation, appropriately determine the role of LCA.

5.4 Gather data, case studies, examples, and logically compile and order them

Skills:

  • Verification of data quality (what is your system)
  • Management system of review process to:
  • ...organize and collect data
  • ...synthesize critical info and determine what is communicated to right audience
  • ...connect stories with the data so that it is meaningful and engaging

Knowledge:

  • Understand organization and priorities of your stakeholders
  • How to reach target audience

Attributes:

  • Organized
  • Creative
  • Open minded
  • Logical
  • Understanding statistical significance

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  • Conduct research and find pertinent and relevant data and information that specifically relates to strategic initiatives.
 

6. Adjust Plans

 
Task
KSA's
Evidence

6.1 Maintain and continuously refine management systems

Skills:

  • Use internal auditing
  • Audit existing management systems
  • Assure accountability for the process
  • Engage top management and executive owners and experts
  • Implement follow-up

Knowledge:

  • Describe the internal audit process

Attributes:

  • Organized
  • Analytical
  • Collaborate
  • Enforcement

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  • Conduct assessments on the use of management systems including integrity of data, internal management system audits, reporting functionality and process of using system.
  • Given a situation, recognize nonconforming situations with the SMS.
  • Recognize the key parts of an internal audit process
6.2 Prioritize action based on analysis and set targets

Skills:

  • Project management

Knowledge:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Identify areas of strength and weakness
  • Identify opportunities and threats
  • Identify costs and fees
  • Identify system leverage points
  • Demonstrate commitment to the process
  • Identify incentives and mandates
  • Identify financing options
  • Asset management

Knowledge

  • Financial ROI
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Smart target setting

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  • Review timelines and adjust due dates of activities to meet deadlines and/or adjust to new timelines.
  • Recommendations from those knowledgeable of candidates project management skills

 

 

 

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