Writing a Position Description

  1. Step 1 - List All Activities
  2. Step 2 - Group Activities into Responsibilities
  3. Step 3 - Group Responsibilities into Purpose
  4. Step 4 - Describe Scope
  5. Step 5 - Describe Knowledge, Skill and Abilities

Step 1 - List All Activities

List all activities that are required in the position. Business plans and/or current position documentation can be used. It is also helpful to discuss the activities with colleagues in the same or similar positions. This list should represent 75–90% of your current position at this point in time.

Example of Activities: Human Resources Officer

  • Advises employees and Academic/Managerial staff on a variety of Human Resource policies and programs
  • Participates on Committees
  • Initiates and Coordinates recruitment activities
  • Provides advice to supervisors and employees related to position content and departmental structure
  • Conducts employment interviews

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Step 2 - Group Activities Into Responsibilities

Responsibilities:

This is the most important section of the position description. Its purpose is to describe the main duties and responsibilities of your position and the percentage of your time spent on each. Start with the most important function first and list the remainder in descending order of importance. Exhibit I, at the end of each of these notes, provides detailed instructions on how to describe each major duty or responsibility. Start with an action verb and then describe WHAT you do, HOW you do it, and WHY you do it.

Position description defines the major accountabilities expected from the position. They are usually the measurable results that must be accomplished - not specific tasks or activities. This is a critical section of the position description and usually comprises of three to five statements. Describe the major or most important duties assigned to this position. Be sure the tasks give a clear picture of what the employees must do in the position. Do not include duties assigned solely for employee development or temporary duties. Do not include marginal job functions.

Consider the following questions:

  • What are the key outcomes/objectives of this position?
  • What are the major functions of this position?
  • How are these functions carried out?
  • What outcomes are expected from this position?
  • What outcomes or results show the duties of this position are performed effectively?
  • What does this position do?
  • What methods are used to achieve the major accountabilities?
  • What assistance is available and from whom?
  • With what frequency are the various major functions undertaken?

Suggested Format

Begin with WHAT is to be achieved (the end result of actions). Then describe HOW that action is taken.

EXAMPLE:

The Technical Officer provides technical services to academics and research staff for teaching and research by operating and maintaining the instruments, equipment and facilities of the faculty's laboratories.

Breaking the example into its components we have:

WHAT (the end result of actions)
Provides technical services to academics and research staff for teaching and research.

HOW
By operating and maintaining the instruments, equipment and facilities of the faculty's laboratories.

Describe in five to ten statements the key tasks and activities of this position. Functions performed by this position as distinguished from those performed by its subordinates. Consider the following.

EXAMPLE:

The Technical Officer:
Performs maintenance work in order to ensure the power and machines laboratories are in good working condition. This involves the design and construction of electronic equipment that are not readily available.

  • works directly with undergraduate and postgraduate students to instruct and advise on laboratory experiments and equipment

The Committee Officer services a wide range of University committees by:

  • formulating draft recommendations
  • preparing committee agendas
  • collecting, producing and circulating papers pertinent to the committee
  • booking meeting rooms
  • accepting and transmitting apologies
  • Maintaining membership lists

Normally the activities can be grouped into 4-6 different categories, each defining a responsibility. This avoids overlap in the position description and helps to clarify what the position is responsible for.

Example 2 of Responsibilities: Human Resources Officer

Responsibitity #1

What: Recruitment
Within: Departmental requirements
End Result: Short-list of eligible candidates
Activities:

  • Develop position postings and advertisements
  • Screen resumés and conduct interviews
  • Discuss short-list of candidates with hiring manager

Responsibility #2

What: Inform employees
Within: As requested
End Result: A more satisfied employee group better able to handle position duties
Activities:

  • Attend meetings as an expert in HR systems and processes
  • Maintain employee files within privacy and legal requirements
  • Proactively contact employees with new or changed HR information

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Step 3 - Group All Responsibilities into the Position Purpose

Purpose:

This is to be a brief summary of the primary function and purpose of your position. The purpose of this section is to provide information at a glance on the type and level of work performed. You will probably find it easier to complete this section once you have completed the remainder of the position description form.

Example:

"This position is responsible for developing goals and programs which will contribute to the personal and community growth of residence students, for residence administration, and to act as a resource person in providing a service to students on matters of personal and social concern."

1. PURPOSE

The purpose of the role is described in a brief one or two sentence statement that answers the following questions:

  • What is this position expected to accomplish?
  • Why does this position exist?

You need to use a word or phrase to link the 'what' and the 'why' of the accountability objective, e.g.: in order to; to ensure; to achieve. Use an action verb that gives a clear indication about the level and degree of accountability or authority.

For example ensures means something quite different from contributes to or assists so take care to choose a verb that accurately describes the action.

This section of the position description provides quantifiable data that helps describe the scope and size of the position and the work area it operates in. If this position controls a budget show the value of that budget here.

Show all relevant measurable areas e.g.

  • Enquiries
  • Research grants/activities
  • Applications
  • Value of assets
  • Number and size of projects
  • Budgets $
  • Staff numbers /payroll
  • Number of courses
  • Number of students
  • Number of programs
  • Committees
  • Number of laboratories
  • Geographical/campus spread

An example of the purpose of the Human Resources Officer position, based on the identified responsibilities follows:

Example of Purpose: Human Resources Officer

What: Provide human resource services and consultation to the Faculty
Within: Within policies, procedures and the Faculty's plan
End Result: Resulting in a well-formed employee who is able to optimize their employee performance


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Step 4 - Describe Scope

The scope details the challenges, problem-solving requirements and decision- making capacity of the position. In articulating the challenges facing the position and problem-solving, you should consider:

  • What are the major issues the position must confront in achieving the specified work output (e.g. need to prioritize, changing client demands, limited resources, need to devise new procedures or implement change)?

  • What are the complexities of the problems the position will typically face and the level of analytical capacity to address the situation(s)?

  • What is the variety of problems and what level of solutions already exist in the position or is creative thinking required to undertake responsibilities (e.g. Does the position have readily available assistance in the form of documented procedures/guidelines or precedents)?

  • The purpose of this section is to provide information on the type of impact your position has on the effectiveness of the university as an educational institution. Describe the extent to which your position can have a positive effect on students, other employees, the function of the university or a specific department.

  • From where does the momentum for change originate in the position (e.g. legislation, technology, strategic/business plans, and client expectations)?

  • Is there a need to continually keep up-to-date with knowledge and/or skills?

Scope is factual, descriptive information that illustrates what internal or external areas the position impacts, and the diversity and complexity of the position. This information should support and clarify the position’s responsibilities. Some examples are:

  • Variety and size of projects
  • Variety and size of programs/functions and services
  • Distinct stakeholders and/or client groups
  • Amount of funds managed
  • Number of staff managed

Example of Scope: Human Resource Officer

  • Department of 32 managers, professional and administrative staff.
  • HR functions include compensation, benefits, labour relations and recruiting. No training and development.
  • Average recruiting of 12 positions per year.
  • Employees covered under 3 separate collective agreements.
  • Supervision provided to 2 HR Assistants.

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Step 5 - Describe Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

This section describes the skills, knowledge and abilities required for an individual to competently perform this position. Consider:

  • What specific training or particular information needs to be known to perform this position?

  • Does this position require formal qualifications? If so, what are they? Could this knowledge be acquired through experience rather than formal education? If it does require a qualification, how is it applied to the position?

  • What sort of experience would be needed to competently perform in this position?

  • What sources of information are needed for this position, e.g. legislation, regulations, policies, practices, local knowledge, higher education experience, trade certification and experience?

  • Be specific about the type of skill or knowledge required. List the name of the software packages, the policies, legislation, the type of licenses or personal skills e.g. Occupational Health & Safety, electricians license, Word and Excel packages, drivers license class B, Knowledge of UTS committee structure.

EXAMPLES:

Include types of knowledge and skills such as:

  • Policy/legislation/rules
  • Machinery
  • Software packages/hardware
  • Budgeting/bookkeeping
  • Equipment
  • Counseling skills
  • Licenses
  • Negotiation skills

The most important knowledge, skills and abilities required for the position and not (necessarily) of the incumbent are listed here. This includes knowledge about practical procedures, specialized techniques, etc.; analytical and conceptual skills; and skills needed for direct interaction with others. If specific training is a legal or professional requirement for the position, it should be listed. Other than that, we are asking for information on knowledge, skills and abilities, and not only on diplomas/degrees.

This section should support and clarify the position requirements identified by its responsibilities.

Example of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities: Human Resources Officer

  • Knowledge of Faculty's and/or Department's Strategic Plan
  • Interpersonal and interviewing skills
  • Knowledge of legislation, policies, procedures and collective agreements with respect to Human Resources
  • Ability to provide information and advice to all levels of employees in the department

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Organizational Chart

A current organizational chart should be attached to all Position Descriptions including Department Chair, Direct Supervisor(s), co-workers and staff (as applicable).