A Step Above: The Certified Master Facilitator Program


By Michael Wilkinson, CMF

Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.

I am an avid supporter of the Certified Master Facilitator program as a vehicle for raising the expertise level of facilitators while providing clients with a true mark of excellence that carries a brand expectation of high facilitation performance. Why am I such a strong supporter?

  1. First and foremost, the model provides a vision for highly skilled facilitation.  At the end of this article is a summary of the six major competencies.  I personally believe if every facilitator operated at the level described in those competencies, there would be little question about the value facilitators bring to the world.
  2. Clients can rely on the certification to indicate high levels of facilitation expertise. In my organization we are so sold on the CMF mark of excellence that for clients who use a CMF through us, we guarantee the facilitator’s work and will refund the fees if the client isn’t satisfied.
  3. The sub-competency model is based on observable behaviors and rigorously assessed for consistency and reliability.  Each sub-competency can be assessed based on knowledge demonstrated through a written submission or a performance demonstrated in a video created by the candidate in a simulated session based on role plays provided by INIFAC.  Assessors use a five-point scale with each competency, and the point system is clearly laid out with the assessor guide.  This provides a high-level of scoring consistency among assessors.
  4. The certification process is a development tool.  Every candidate receives a scored assessment in each of the 30 sub-competencies, along with an overall assessment of: apprentice, associate, accomplished, or advanced.  Those receiving the advanced rating who also meet the experience requirement are designated Certified Master Facilitators.  Those who meet all but the experience requirement are designated Provisional Certified Master Facilitators and given three years to complete the 30-session requirement.

Let me explain further by way of brief history lesson.

In the mid-to-late 1990s there were many training organizations coming out with their own certification program for facilitators.  By that time, my company, Leadership Strategies, Inc., had only trained a few thousand in facilitation skills.  Even then I recognized that it didn’t make sense for every training organization to have their own proprietary certification process.  How could that help the profession?  How could that help the customer?

In May of 1999, I was invited to serve on the North American Certification Panel for the International Association of Facilitators (IAF).  The panel was tasked with reviewing a certification model from Europe and making a recommendation to the IAF board concerning adoption for North America.  To help our panel evaluate the model I, along with four other panel members, went through the process and became the first five Certified Professional Facilitators in North America.

The work our European colleagues had done in putting together the certification model was impressive.  Not only had they codified the skills and abilities facilitators required, but they had also developed a process to ascertain whether a candidate facilitator showed evidence of these key elements.  Assessors used a written application from the candidate, a facilitated role play, and two interview sessions to make pass/defer decisions.

The panel recommended adopting the Certification Professional Facilitator (CPF) designation, which was later revised and continues to be improved to this day. The International Association of Facilitators has superbly overseen the development and execution of the CPF program resulting in over 400 CPFs worldwide.

There was an additional panel recommendation.  The panel recognized that the CPF was designed specifically to assess if a candidate had basic, essential facilitation skills.  As the IAF website explains, “The professional facilitator designation offers clients an assurance that those who are certified are qualified to design and provide basic group facilitation services.”  To move beyond the basic skills, the panel recommended the development of a higher level certification to which all facilitators could aspire.

In 2005, this recommendation was picked up by the International Institute for Facilitation (INIFAC).  An initiating committee, of which I was again a member, performed a study of existing certification programs and drafted 32 potential sub-competencies.  Through a survey of 450 facilitators and users of facilitation services (i.e., customers), the initiating committee gained input on the competency model.  As a result, over 40% of the drafted competencies were changed, resulting in the Certified Master Facilitator program.  The program includes six major competencies and 30 sub-competencies.

The Six Competencies of a Certified Master Facilitator
(The competency model equals 30 sub-competencies that detail the competencies)

Certified Master Facilitators bring PAC3E to every engagement.


Master Facilitators bring compassion and authority to the room. Through their verbal and non-verbal expression, they exude confidence, energy and self-awareness while also conveying a high level of warmth and caring. They make adjustments in their style to better serve the group.


Master Facilitators know and ask the questions necessary to accurately assess a client need. Based on their learning from past experiences, they create processes designed to address the client’s specific requirements. They carefully plan and prepare sessions. They recognize when a planned process is not working effectively and are able to define alternative processes quickly to reach the desired outcome.


Master facilitators are skilled communicators. They actively listen, making sure to playback and confirm important points. They have highly-tuned analytic skills which allow them to process information quickly, differentiate various content issues and isolate critical points in a discussion. They ask questions that help groups to engage effectively. They deliver instructions that are accurate, clear and concise. They effectively identify and verbally summarize agreements.


Master Facilitators create and maintain a productive and safe environment in which participants with diverse styles and from different cultures can engage in interactions that stay focused on achieving the goal. They maintain control of the session and an appropriate pace. They understand causes of disagreement and can effectively guide a group through conflict. They consciously take action to prevent, detect and resolve dysfunctional behavior.


Master Facilitators understand and consistently apply best practice techniques for such activities as starting the session, focusing the group, recording information, and closing the session.


Master Facilitators know and use multiple techniques for engaging a group, problem solving, decision-making, promoting creativity and raising energy.

While the CMF certification isn’t for everyone, it serves to distinguish those who have been assessed by their peers as possessing advance facilitation skills. As of this writing there are about a dozen CMFs worldwide.  I encourage you to add to this number.

Interested in learning more about starting the process in becoming certified?  Check out the public offering of the Facilitation Certification Preparation Class.

About the Author
Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company and author of The Secrets of Facilitation. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a much sought after strategic planning facilitator and speaker.

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