Published here September 2012

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

Contributors who say PM is Not a Profession

Bill Duncan:

[I] maintain that the answer depends on how you define "profession." If you take the simplest and broadest definition of "profession" as being something you get paid for, then of course "project manager" is a "profession." If you apply narrower definitions (e.g., specialized education, extended education, government sanctioned license), then it just as clearly isn't. But the real issue is this ... why does it matter?

Pedro Ferreira:

Well, I believe that project management is somewhat different from a profession. It is more like an art. The art of creating new things from chaos, the art of keeping a team together and working in the same direction, even if everything else is falling apart. It is the art of being able to be a leader, a person that the team respects, admires and wants to follow.

Koorosh Kheirkhah:

Project management is not a profession; it is a methodology used by professionals to consistently deliver on their promises.

Sophia Joseph/Tinku:

A Project Manager is a professional (person) and not a profession. A Project Manager is a person who manages projects professionally.

Samir Penkar:

I voted no - Project Management is not a profession. I had read a paper once that resonated with me. Can't find it now, but it was a paper by a French professor. Here was his reasoning on why project management is not a profession.

First of all a profession is something that needs rigorous study and demonstration of competence. Examples are doctors and commercial airline pilots. They undergo rigorous study on the subject and then have to prove their competence to perform their job. A project manger hardly does rigorous study on the subject and proving competence is hard. Passing a PMP exam is not hard.

Second is the question of liability. Even plumbers have liability insurance. So if your project comes in late, will you accept a lower pay?

Third, sometimes we confuse the word profession. A professional baseball player earns his living playing professional baseball. He plays professionally, does that mean that baseball is a profession? It's a game.

These points really resonated with me and I do believe that project management by itself is a skill, much like general management. I know a lot of you will disagree with this, and I have had heated discussions when I have expressed this point of view.

Mark Carolan:

Great comments from all, and now I'll take a stab at it: I voted "Project manager" is not a profession. In my opinion, Project Manager is a role, just like others within an organization, e.g. Program Manager, Sales Manager, Product Manager, Manager, D & C Level Management, etc. A role is to be valued and for many organizations certainly a need. One that, done well, is value added for an organization. But in the sense of other globally acknowledged professions - like doctor or lawyer - project manager doesn't quite fit the bill.

We tend to answer these questions asking ourselves if we "are professional" or "act professionally", but that is answering a question that hasn't been asked. Anyone that strives to do their best can be thought of as "acting" or "being" professional. Persons that perform well and have acceptable and transparent ethical values are thought of as professional at what they do, but that is not the same as being a member of a recognized profession.

There are enough doctors and lawyers with low or no ethical values and poor performance track records, but are still members of a globally recognized profession. We need to be able to differentiate between these two distinct groupings and not feel threatened by the differences. Being/acting professionally can and should be enough! The project managers I know and respect are a) professional in their work, b) professional in their ethical views and approach, and c) professional in their day to day behavior - in and out of the job. That makes them professionals (like the football player), but not members of a profession (like doctors and lawyers).

Phil Hughes:

An interesting question, and some wonderful dialogue. My own thoughts are that we are not a profession in the strict sense.

If I consider the attributes of other Professions (engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.), I do not see how we as PM's can be considered to be "professionals". In the other professions, there are stringent educational and experiential requirements that must be achieved prior to accreditation, and legal and quasi-legal frameworks with respect to responsibilities and accountabilities, codes of conduct, sanctions for mal-practice and the like. We have none of these within the PM community beyond a code of ethics and a somewhat limited policing mechanism within organizations such as PMI (I haven't personally heard of anyone being "disbarred" for project failure, poor performance or other breaches).

The above notwithstanding, the fact that we as a body strive to gain relevant education and experience, and strive to behave in a professional and ethical manner, is a credit to us all. Perhaps one day, the evolution of PM accreditations will lead to us attaining true Professional status, but we are not there yet by a long shot.

Pavan Peri:

I feel that project management is more a methodology that people learn from experience than a profession. There are books, courses, certifications on project management which provide theoretical knowledge and direction on project management but just by theoretical knowledge no one can make a perfect project manager unlike finance or accounting.

Trevor Nelson:

I would vote no also. As others have said, Project Manager is a role, and while we all hope to be 'professional' in our work, and most of us are in fact professional Project Managers, it's still a role. I think for a role a Profession must have a few minimum characteristics. Some of these would include a certain level of education and/or training, accountability to some sort of governing body or authorizing agency, and a responsibility to the public. I think there is a limited field of focus.

When discussing Professions, those of Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant, etc. are used as examples. So when they're mentioned, while I may not know specifically what area they focus on or practice, I know what a Doctor does, I know what a Lawyer does, I know what an Accountant does. The same is not true if you say PM. Even when talking to another PM, most of us look at the specific industry to get an idea of what they do (i.e. an aerospace PM is very different from a software PM). I think that if you have to first qualify it then it fails the test.

But I think the biggest issue is that of the entry-point. Each of the example Professions requires some education, an exam, licensing, etc. there is a build-up process. Whereas in Project Manger, the concept of the "accidental Project Manager" is almost axiomatic. If you can show up for work one day and, with no training, be deemed a PM, then it can't be considered a Profession in the traditional sense.

Max Wideman:

My humble opinion is that simply holding the title "project manager", with or without being a member of PMI and with or without being a PMP does not make you a member of a profession in the eyes of the public. And that is notwithstanding PMI's constant reference to us as a profession. Of course if you surveyed the nearly 500,000 members of PMI you could quite possibly get 4 out of 5 saying that it is a profession if, for no other reason than PMI likes to think it is and says so (a very good marketing strategy!)

However, when my friends who are not involved in project work ask me what I do (or did) for a living, and I say "I'm a project manager", they look at me quite vaguely. However if I say "I'm an engineer" that is quite acceptable and I am treated with respect. And they rarely ask "What sort"! Perhaps that is the true measure of membership in a profession - being recognized at large as someone of influence.

Unfortunately, I see PMI currently having the opposite effect. Its literature constantly associates itself with upper management and the executive suite and thus sending the message that project management is just another function of executive management. Which quite possibly, at least in the IT world, it likely is.

David Hatch:

I voted No. I recognize that there are some people who consider themselves professional Project Managers, and there are organizations that promote this view in order to sell their services. But in practice 'project manager' is a role, which can be assigned to, and performed by anyone, and that sets it apart from other true professions that can only be undertaken by qualified professionals.

Mohammed Tanbouz:

I do agree with all those who describe it to be a professional quality but not a profession, and I agree fully with S.J. Kiester when saying it only needs "smart human beings". I would add that it might sometimes only need a true secretary/office manager to have an excellent project manager.

Sharon Kelly:

Speaking as one who used to be a project manager (with all the certification to support it!!), and as one who has seen significant industry change over the past 10 years or so, in my opinion project management is a skill rather than a profession. An architect, a surveyor, (for example) these are professions, and sometimes these individuals can and do become project/program managers on relevant projects, thus utilizing their PM skill.

I should also add that given the nature of this forum i.e. Project Managers (!!), it is inevitable that the result of the survey will be biased toward the fact that Project Management is a profession! Also, I have observed that 'anyone' can say that they are a Project Manager, but the same cannot be true for the traditional professions such as surveyors, architects, doctors, lawyers etc. Thus a doctor can also become a PM, but not vice versa.

Vladimir Liberzon:

I agree with Sharon. The survey does not include opinions of people that are not involved in project management themselves and thus does not show if project management profession is recognized by the society.

In PART 2 we will present:

General Information  General Information

Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page