Published here February 2000.


Musings Index

Major PM Associations contemplate Licensing of Project Managers


Exactly thirty years ago I wrote the following article for a local technical society's monthly news sheet. At the time, it dwelt upon the role of technical engineering societies in providing professional support and the wisdom of licensing. I wrote then as an engineer, but reviewing its content recently, it seems to me that I might just as well have been writing today as a project manager facing the same dilemma.

The original article follows. I have simply substituted "project manager" and "project management". wherever the words "engineer" or "engineering" occurred originally. However, I hope that readers will forgive me for writing in the "male mode". Thirty years ago that was still politically acceptable.

On the face of it, the purpose of a technical society is to provide objective technical information. Where does it get that information from and how is it provided? There are three basic sources, namely: original thought (theory), research (experiment) and application (case history). There are two ways of providing the information, by the written word and the spoken word. Simple stuff!

Considering that the average project manager should be able to read technical material at about 500 words per minute, whereas the spoken word issues forth at a hopefully optimistic speed of 180 words per minute, the advantages of the written word is clearly seen. And there appears to be no shortage of written material.

But the problem is not like that at all. Before we have words to read they must be written. Here an optimistic speed would be two or three words per minute, when allowance is made for collection of material and several rough drafts, So it follows that most of the written material is prepared by those who are paid to do it. Ignoring  straight promotional material, this takes care of theory and research. Even so the reader must still select the material he requires.

A Forum for Practical Experience

However, project management progress is built up step by step on the often painful practical experience of others. This is where the real effort and progress is made, by dedicated project managers who may not appreciate the need to record their work, however humble, for the benefit of others.

Here the technical society is of paramount importance in bringing together project managers of similar interests for the exchange of information and ideas both old and new. The suitability of symposiums, formal papers, discussion groups or questions and answers depends on the subject matter. It is the availability of an organization to foster such an exchange that is important. But that is not all.

A successful project manager requires a group of fellow men with whom he can satisfy his own human social needs for interaction on a professional level. He can also satisfy his own human ego needs by speaking on his own particular specialty. Young practitioners should take time to understand this need.

This is at the core of motivation for self improvement and maintenance of individual professional project management competence.

Is licensing the answer?

It is highly questionable whether the present licensing system [in Canada] can ever hope to achieve this end. Designed by legislation to protect the public, it is useful in lopping off the bottom end of the ladder. It provides, in fact, no assurance that the project manager who places his [signature] on [project] plans is up-to-date and making the best use of available experience and information. Nor will periodic re-examination, a rather negative approach, provide this assurance. Only recognition and esteem in the eyes of one's peers can do that.

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