SAFe Agilist vs SAFe Scrum Master: An Overall Comparison

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Jul 08, 2024

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In this blog, we'll talk about the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), starting with some of its main ideas, like alignment, built-in quality, transparency, program execution, and Lean-Agile Leadership. These principles are important for everyone working in a SAFe setting because they are what the methodology is based on. We'll also talk about SAFe's role in helping big companies become more agile, focusing on how it effectively applies Agile principles from small teams to the whole company. This helps large, complicated companies be more flexible, quick to respond, and effective. We'll also talk about the different ways to get certified in SAFe, such as as a SAFe Agilist, a SAFe Scrum Master, or a SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager. This summary will make it clearer what each certification is for and who it's for, paving the way for a more in-depth look at the jobs of SAFe Agilist and SAFe Scrum Master.


I. What is SAFe ?

SAFe is a set of rules for applying Agile ideas and methods to big projects and companies. In a business, it gives a structured way to align teams, processes, and strategies so that they can deliver high-quality goods and services quickly and reliably. SAFe combines ideas and methods from Agile, Lean, and Product Development Flow. It's meant to help businesses figure out how to make these methods work at a larger scale. If you want to use Agile methodology in big settings, you need to understand SAFe and its principles. They show you how to handle complexity and get all the parts of a business working together toward a single Agile goal.

  • The SAFe principles are foundational to its framework, offering guidance and a robust philosophy for implementation:
  • Take an Economic View: Emphasizes delivering value in the most economically efficient way.
  • Apply Systems Thinking: Focuses on understanding the complex interactions within the system, rather than optimizing individual pieces.
  • Assume Variability; Preserve Options: Encourages exploring multiple options and solutions to find the most effective path forward.
  • Build Incrementally with Fast, Integrated Learning Cycles: Supports developing in small, manageable increments with regular feedback loops.
  • Base Milestones on Objective Evaluation of Working Systems: Stresses using tangible product increments as milestones to evaluate progress.
  • Visualize and Limit WIP, Reduce Batch Sizes, Manage Queue Lengths: Focuses on limiting the amount of work in progress to improve flow and reduce cycle time.
  • Apply Cadence, Synchronize with Cross-Domain Planning: Uses regular intervals of work and synchronization to create rhythm and alignment across teams.
  • Unlock the Intrinsic Motivation of Knowledge Workers: Prioritizes creating an environment where workers are motivated by their work and their contributions.
  • Decentralize Decision-Making: Advocates for empowering those closest to the work to make decisions, which can lead to faster, more effective problem-solving.


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II. The Role of a SAFe Agilist


A. Definition and Responsibilities of a SAFe Agilist

A SAFe Agilist is a leader in a SAFe environment who is responsible for implementing the Agile framework within an organization. This role often involves driving the Lean-Agile transformation, guiding the adoption of SAFe practices, and ensuring that the organization aligns with SAFe principles. A SAFe Agilist typically works at a higher strategic level, focusing on the overall health and effectiveness of the Agile process across the organization. So the major responsibilities of a SAFe Agilist are:

  • Leading the SAFe Implementation: Guiding the organization through the adoption of SAFe principles and practices.
  • Change Management and Transformation: Facilitating the organizational change required for a successful Lean-Agile transition.
  • Strategic Planning: Aligning Agile development efforts with business strategy and objectives.
  • Coaching and Mentoring: Providing guidance and support to teams and management in Agile methodologies.
  • Continuous Improvement: Fostering an environment of regular reflection and consistent enhancement of processes.
  • Program Execution: Ensuring effective execution of Agile programs and large solutions within the SAFe framework.
  • Stakeholder Communication: Bridging communication between teams, management, and external stakeholders to ensure alignment and transparency.
  • Measurement and Evaluation: Implementing metrics and KPIs to evaluate the effectiveness of Agile practices and make informed adjustments.

B. Key Skills and Competencies

The role of a SAFe Agilist requires a broad set of skills and competencies. This includes a deep understanding of Agile and Lean practices, excellent communication and leadership skills, and the ability to facilitate and manage change. They must be adept at strategic planning, problem-solving, and have a strong ability to coach and mentor teams and leaders in adopting Agile methodologies. So in simple terms, SAFe Agilists must have:

  • Deep understanding of Agile and Lean practices
  • Strong leadership and communication skills
  • Ability to facilitate and manage organizational change
  • Strategic planning and problem-solving abilities
  • Competence in coaching and mentoring teams and leaders


III. The Role of a SAFe Scrum Master


A. Definition and Responsibilities of a SAFe Scrum Master

The SAFe Scrum Master is a key team role in a SAFe organization, primarily responsible for ensuring the team effectively implements and follows Scrum and SAFe practices. Unlike a traditional Scrum Master who focuses on a single team, a SAFe Scrum Master may have responsibilities across multiple teams or a broader scope within the organization. Their responsibilities include:

  • Facilitating Scrum Ceremonies: Guiding and managing Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Reviews, and Retrospectives.
  • Team Coaching: Assisting the team in understanding and applying Scrum and SAFe practices and principles.
  • Removing Impediments: Actively identifying and removing obstacles that hinder team progress.
  • Promoting SAFe Quality Practices: Encouraging the team to adopt and improve quality and engineering practices.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Enhancing communication and collaboration within the team and with other teams and stakeholders.
  • Program Increment (PI) Planning: Facilitating team participation in PI planning and ensuring team alignment with program goals.
  • Continuous Improvement: Driving continuous improvement through inspecting and adapting processes and practices.

B. Key Skills and Competencies

In the role of a SAFe Scrum Master, a diverse set of skills and competencies is essential to effectively guide and support Agile teams. Foremost is a deep understanding of both Scrum and SAFe principles, providing the foundation for implementing these frameworks within teams. A SAFe Scrum Master must possess strong facilitation skills, able to lead various Scrum ceremonies and SAFe events such as Program Increment (PI) planning. Equally important are coaching and mentoring abilities, as the Scrum Master is responsible for helping team members understand and apply Agile practices in their work. In simple words a SAFe Scrum Master must have:

  • In-depth knowledge of Scrum and SAFe principles
  • Effective facilitation, coaching, and mentoring skills
  • Strong communication and team-building capabilities
  • Ability to identify and resolve team impediments
  • Skills in continuous improvement and Agile metrics evaluation


IV. Comparing SAFe Agilist and SAFe Scrum Master


A. Role-Specific Responsibilities and Focus Areas

The SAFe Agilist typically operates at a strategic level, focusing on the overall adoption and implementation of the SAFe framework within an organization. They play a key role in leading the Lean-Agile transformation, aligning Agile development with business strategy, and coaching leaders.

In contrast, the SAFe Scrum Master works at the team level, ensuring that Scrum and SAFe practices are effectively implemented and followed. Their role is more hands-on with specific teams, focusing on facilitating Scrum events, removing impediments, and coaching team members.

B. Required Skills and Knowledge Base

A SAFe Agilist needs a broad understanding of Agile and Lean practices, strategic planning capabilities, strong leadership skills, and the ability to manage organizational change.

A SAFe Scrum Master requires in-depth knowledge of Scrum and SAFe principles, excellent facilitation and coaching skills, and the ability to resolve team-level challenges.

C. Certification Process and Prerequisites

To become a SAFe Agilist, individuals usually need to have prior experience in software development, project management, or a similar field, followed by specific training and certification in SAFe.

For a SAFe Scrum Master, the path often starts with experience as a traditional Scrum Master, followed by additional training in SAFe practices and obtaining the SAFe Scrum Master certification.

D. Career Pathways and Growth Opportunities

SAFe Agilists can progress to higher management and leadership roles, driving Agile transformation at an organizational level.

SAFe Scrum Masters can evolve into roles handling multiple teams, or move into broader roles within the SAFe framework, such as SAFe Program Consultants or Agile coaches.


V. Comparison Table: SAFe Agilist vs SAFe Scrum Master


To provide a clear, side-by-side comparison of the SAFe Agilist and SAFe Scrum Master roles, we can summarize the key distinctions in a structured table format. This table will cover aspects such as key responsibilities, required skills, certification prerequisites, and typical job roles associated with each position.



SAFe Agilist

SAFe Scrum Master

Primary Focus

Strategic implementation of SAFe, leading organizational Agile transformation.

Facilitating Scrum and SAFe practices at the team level, ensuring effective team functioning.

Key Responsibilities

Leading SAFe adoption, strategic planning, coaching leaders, aligning with business strategy.

Facilitating Scrum ceremonies, coaching team members, removing impediments.

Skills Required

Broad understanding of Agile and Lean, leadership, change management, strategic planning.

In-depth knowledge of Scrum and SAFe, facilitation, coaching, problem-solving.

Certification Process

Prior experience in relevant fields, SAFe training, SAFe Agilist certification.

Experience as a Scrum Master, additional SAFe training, SAFe Scrum Master certification.

Career Pathways

Progression to higher management roles, Agile transformation leadership.

Evolution to multi-team facilitation, roles in Agile coaching or SAFe consultancy.

Ideal For

Individuals aiming for strategic leadership and organizational change roles.

Practitioners focusing on team-level Agile implementation and process improvem ent.




In conclusion, understanding the distinct roles of a SAFe Agilist and a SAFe Scrum Master is crucial for anyone involved in or aspiring to be part of Agile transformation initiatives in large organizations. While a SAFe Agilist focuses on the broader strategic application of the SAFe framework, driving large-scale change and aligning Agile practices with business goals, a SAFe Scrum Master plays a critical role at the team level, ensuring effective implementation of Scrum and SAFe practices to enhance team performance and outcomes. 

For professionals seeking to deepen their understanding of these roles, enhance their Agile skills, and lead Agile transformations, obtaining a SAFe certification is a significant step forward. StarAgile offers comprehensive SAFe Certification programs that provide the knowledge, skills, and practical insights needed to excel in these roles. Whether you aim to guide teams as a SAFe Scrum Master or drive organizational change as a SAFe Agilist, StarAgile’s certification courses equip you with the expertise to make a substantial impact. Take the first step in elevating your Agile career - enroll in StarAgile’s SAFe Certification courses today and unlock your potential as a leader in Agile transformation!


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What is the primary difference between a SAFe Agilist and a SAFe Scrum Master?

The SAFe Agilist typically focuses on strategic implementation and leading organizational Agile transformations, while the SAFe Scrum Master concentrates on facilitating Scrum and SAFe practices at the team level.

Who should pursue SAFe Agilist certification?

Individuals looking to take on leadership roles in Agile transformation at an organizational level, such as Agile coaches, project managers, and consultants, should consider pursuing SAFe Agilist certification.

What are the prerequisites for SAFe Scrum Master certification?

Generally, experience as a Scrum Master or in a similar role is recommended before pursuing SAFe Scrum Master certification, along with a fundamental understanding of Agile principles.

Can someone with traditional project management experience transition to a SAFe role?

Yes, individuals with traditional project management experience can transition to SAFe roles by gaining knowledge of Agile and SAFe principles through certification courses and practical experience.

How do the roles of SAFe Agilist and SAFe Scrum Master contribute to Agile transformation?


SAFe Agilists drive the overall strategy and large-scale implementation of Agile practices, while SAFe Scrum Masters ensure that teams effectively adopt and apply these practices, together facilitating a comprehensive Agile transformation.


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