Is project management a profession?

NOTE: This post is converted from a reply I made to Dr. Paul Gianmalvo’s comment on an earlier post (post here, comment here).

When I call project management a profession, I’m simply using one of the vernacular definitions: “a principal calling, vocation, or employment..” I don’t believe it qualifies for stricter definitions like: “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.”

IMHO, I doubt PM will become a profession in the sense of such legally-sanctioned monopolies like the legal or medical fields. In other words, I think it unlikely that all PMs will need legal sanction for their education, certification, and licensing.

Many PM practitioners would like more formal recognition of their calling. And it is true that PM certifications are required before firms can even qualify to bid on, never mind win, many government contracts. Perhaps PM will end up something like the engineering field, where there are explicit certifications and licensing requirements, but only for some roles. I find it hard to believe that we would get more recognition than that.

That said, it was only 100 or so years ago that lawyers only had to “read law”, so perhaps we should never say never about the professionalization of PM.

8 Responses

  1. I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic and I think it all depends on how you define the term “profession”.

    The increased demand on Project Managers and Project Management may as well turn it to a real profession (according to your definition, where PMs will become like Lawyers or Teachers).

    Russell Archibald wrote about this in the Profession of Project Management.

  2. Folks, you can wish all you want, but sorry, there is no extrinsic or intrinsic set of attributes which qualifies project management as a profession. Perhaps an EVOLVING profession, or an EMERGING profession, but at this point in time, my research supports the conclusions of Zwerman, Thomas et al “that project management is not now, nor is it likely in the forseable future, to be accepted or recognized as a profession”. And their research was funded in part by PMI.

    The “killer” is we neither own nor control the body of knowledge. Another couple of killers- as practitioners, we do not have the fiduciary responsibility to put the best interests of the consumer ahead of the commercial interests of companies. And the flip side of that coin, we do not have the financial accountability that comes with making mistakes.

    If anyone wants to read the dissertation, I would be happy to send it to you…….

    But the bottom line remains- IF we want to professionalize the practice of project management, then our only option is to EARN that right, and the only way to earn that right is by consistently delivering projects on time, within budget, substantially in conformance to specifications and which substantially fulfill the objectives for which they were undertaken. Anything else is just a lot of hot air….

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

  3. I think the problems in the definitions Paul is alluding to can be illustrated by this anecdote from my dissertation:

    “Tiger Woods is unquestionably a talented golfer. One would be very hard-put to dispute the obvious, which that he is very competent at what he does, perhaps one of the best ever. Therefore he meets the first test of being a professional (n) – skill and competence. In fact, he is sufficiently competent that he makes a very handsome living performing for pay what most of us
    consider a hobby; hence, applying the second criterion, he meets the ‘earnings test’ to be considered a professional (n). He is not an amateur.
    Having met both tests (highly competent and earning a living at what most do or a hobby) entitles him to be termed a professional (adj.) golfer.

    However, just because Tiger Woods meets the criteria to be called both a professional (n) and a professional (adj) golfer, golf does not qualify as a profession, although Woods might call it his profession (his paid job).”

    I am sure this will help explain the problems we are having for those who claim project management is a profession.

    Yes, like the rest of you, I too consider myself to be a professional project manager. However, as with the analogy above, just because we are professionals at what we do, does NOT mean that what we do is a profession.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta

  4. So what is the big deal with professions anyway?

    You want to be seen to be professional (your reputation and future career opportunities) but why do people feel the need to make project mnagement a profession?

    Paul your last line about lawyers – in my masters thesis I was looking at the applicability of project management to the practice of some areas of law; complex one off, timebound, performed by teams.

    Naturally the research indicated a positive correlation between the execution of PM processes and KAs and achieving successful (as expected) outcomes.

    What I also dug up in my research is the threat to knowledge based professions. We are all aware of it – it’s the freeing up of knowledge and the increased capability of IT systems. Lawyers are losing their place.

    And so are doctors – GPs at least.

    So, my thoughts are that the traditional (and technical) view of what a profession is needs a refresh. The old professions are going to be eroded by new things.

    Project management may be one of these new things.

  5. Hi Craig,
    Ah, well, that’s the other question, isn’t it? I’m not sure that becoming a profession would be an unmitigated good for project management.

    Of course, I come from an industry and company where certification is taken with a grain of salt. Sure, our co-CEO is a German physics PhD and ex-professor who works unsolved math problems to relax. But we call him Henning, not Herr Doktor Kagermann. We have thousands of PhDs — in hard sciences or math — few of whom flaunt their professional credentials.

    You can imagine the status of the PMP. The PMP here is acknowledged, but not the end all and be all.

  6. I think the problems in the definitions Paul is alluding to can be illustrated by this anecdote from my dissertation:

  7. […] Paul Ricthie; “perhaps we should never say never” […]

  8. […] management as profession#8221; remains a fraught subject (initial post here, survey here, survey results here).  I doubt it ever will, at least not fully like law, medicine, […]

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