Published here September 2012

Introduction | Contributors Providing General Information
Contributors who say PM is Not a Profession | PART 2

Contributors Providing General Information

Trevor Nelson:

I found this to be fairly interesting on the topic, from the Font of all Knowledge - Wikipedia. And while I don't hold Wikipedia to be an authority of any kind, the page/topic in question has been written and/or edited by over 600 people. See

Some excerpts - Main milestones on the way to becoming a profession:

  1. It became a full-time occupation;
  2. The first training school was established;
  3. The first university school was established;
  4. The first local association was established;
  5. The first national association was established;
  6. The codes of professional ethics were introduced;
  7. State licensing laws were established.

The first three agreed upon professions [are] law, medicine, divinity (the "learned professions"). Some subsequent professions have achieved the milestones above [e.g.] pharmacy, veterinary medicine, nursing, teaching, librarianship, optometry, social work, architecture, surveying, actuarial science, dentistry, civil engineering, accountancy, logistics.

And some further descriptors of profession; see how many apply to PMs:

  • "A profession arises when any trade or occupation transforms itself through "the development of formal qualifications based upon education, apprenticeship, and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights."
  • "Professions are typically regulated by statute, with the responsibilities of enforcement delegated to respective professional bodies, whose function is to define, promote, oversee, support and regulate the affairs of its members."
  • "There is considerable agreement about defining the characteristic features of a profession. They have a "professional association, cognitive base, institutionalized training, licensing, work autonomy, colleague control ... (and) code of ethics, ..."

It's interesting to note that, of all the professions listed, not one is related to business or management.

Max Wideman:

Trevor, at the end of your last post you observed: "It's interesting to note that, of all the professions listed, not one is related to business or management" In Wikipedia that is. As an interesting aside, in the UK, if you are a member of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) then you are a member of the profession of "Management" by virtue CMI's UK Royal Charter. This charter is relatively recent given their some 100 years of existence. E&OE.

But I see the issue a little differently. Not whether we are professional (I would hope that all of us are) nor whether we are a "profession" (in the generic sense - anyone that undertakes a consistent and acceptable productive process may be considered as acting as a "profession") but whether we are (or should be) a *registered* profession. There are many arguments for and against such a step. On balance there are more arguments against than for, so personally, I am against such a step, largely because of the extra bureaucracy, liability and expense involved.

However, there is also the issue of what sort of *project* might we be talking about? Getting breakfast for the first time on a camping trip could be managed as a "project" but that would hardly call for procuring the services of a registered professional project manager to conduct such an enterprise.

No, I think that project management is a life skill that everyone should be taught as a part of their general education!

Several decades ago, I recall that Dr. John Adams struggled with these issues [of what constitutes the elements of a profession] when we (on the Board of PMI) were contemplating the introduction of a certification program (now "PMP"). If I remember correctly, in his research John identified 5 key attributes of a "profession" namely:

  1. A distinct Body of Knowledge
  2. A training program
  3. A Code of Ethics
  4. A supporting organization
  5. A certification program

Subsequent authors have identified more than five. For example, Alex S. Brown. PMP IPMA-C suggests nine - see

So, as many have suggested, I suspect that the majority of so-called "project managers" are not members of the profession. However, that does not mean that such a "profession" does not actually exist.

Bill Duncan:

... the real issue is this ... why does it matter?

Max Wideman:

I suggest that it matters (to some people) because it is a question of status. Bill, you [also] postulate that "if profession = occupation, then there is no status in being profession." That is probably true except in the case where you compare it to those who have no occupation at all. However, in this case "occupation" should be qualified.

For example, this link suggests that:

"The following are the common characteristics of a profession:

  1. It demands possession of a body of specialized knowledge and extended practical training.
  2. It renders an essential social service.
  3. It demands continuous in service training of its members.
  4. It has a clearly defined membership of a particular group with a view to safe- guarding the interests of the profession.
  5. It involves a code of ethics.
  6. It sets up its own professional organization.
  7. It assures its members a professional career.
  8. It has a truth and loyalty.
  9. It has a transparency of work.
  10. It gives instantaneous results."

While members of PMI (for example) probably qualify under i; v; vi; viii, I am not so sure about the other six in the list.

Bill Duncan:

Max - there are several versions of the characteristics of a "profession." Personally, I'm not really interested in debating what those characteristics are or should be. I just think that if you ask someone, "is X a profession?" you should identify which one of those versions you are asking about so that you can get an informed answer.

Vladimir Liberzon:

Max, is "Welder" a profession? I know nothing about their unique Code of Ethics and professional organization.

Max Wideman:

Vladimir, I think welding is considered a trade. But that does raise the interesting question of whether "surgeon" is a trade or a profession.

Nick Hayes:

Fascinating stuff. Certainly in the UK a large proportion of the major employers regard competent project managers as important as the traditional "professionals" (accountants, lawyers, surveyors etc.), as they typically deliver added value that positively impacts the bottom line.

As a result, those corporate institutions acknowledging project management as an important professional business discipline are invariably implementing supportive frameworks to give such professional individuals recognition and status, and at the same time mapping a joined-up and visible pathway for the next generations of project management professionals.

Interestingly, there is also an undercurrent to not only recognize professional project management skills and competence, but also to acknowledge project management as a life skill at a much lower level, rather like the relationship between being able to count and being and a fully qualified accountant.

Furthermore, it is not just corporate institutions acknowledging the need for project management skills at a lower level across all aspects of their business, but as well as seeing an increasing number of full academic project management programs, we are also seeing academia recognizing the need to include basic project management knowledge on a modular basis into an increasing number of differing full academic programs.

David Hatch:

Bill, Re your question: "But the real issue is this ... why does it matter?" I'm sure you know as well as I do why this issue matters.

There are a number of organizations particularly in the USA, who are making a lot of money by charging project managers for so-called 'professional qualifications' based on the very premise that project management is a profession. Tied into that is the equally strong marketing message that any project manager who does not pay for their 'professional qualification' is not a proper project manager, and should not be employed as such. Therefore, for commercial reasons and for the future independence of those of us practicing project management as a skill, rather than selling it as a product, this is a very important issue.

Istvan Agg:

Wikipedia ( defines profession as follows: "A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized high educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain."

Oxford Dictionaries ( defines profession as follows: "A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification: his chosen profession of teaching a barrister by profession".

Are car mechanics, tailors, carpenters, or cooks professionals? Some go through long schooling to learn this trade, than some just learn it on the job over time. Since in many countries licensing is not required to carry out this job, learning on the job is accepted.

Project management is like a trade; one learns basic skills then becomes a "journey man" to obtain practical experience. Skill and experience together will make a good project manager. Nowadays, to demonstrate your skill many employers require you to have either a Prince2 or a PMP [certification]. Experience of course is a must.

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