Key-note address to
A Conference under the Northern Lights
by R. Max Wideman, President of the Project Management Institute, in Reykjavik, Iceland, August 31st, 1987

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The Attributes of a Profession

There are five attributes that are generally associated with all recognized professions, whether they be accounting, engineering, law, medicine and so forth. These are:

  1. A Unique Body of Knowledge
  2. Standards of Entry
  3. A Code of Ethics
  4. A Service Orientation to the Profession, and
  5. A Sanctioning Organization

I am indebted to my good friend and PMI colleague, Dr. John Adams, for the following elaboration of these attributes. It is taken from the text of a presentation which he made to the 1987 National Conference of the Project Management Forum, in Adelaide, South Australia, last March.

A Unique Body of Knowledge

This first attribute implies the existence of principles and concepts that are unique to the profession and are codified and documented so that they can be studied and learned through formal education. In most professions, the body of knowledge is taught in graduate or professional schools; for example, the specialized body of knowledge for the legal profession is taught in law schools. A degree does not necessarily qualify an individual to practice in the profession, but it does provide a means of assuring that the individual has at least been exposed to the basic principles on which the profession is based. Every profession has at least one degree that can be earned by those wishing a knowledge of the profession's principles. Many professions have several different degrees, allowing for specialized fields within the profession.

Standards of Entry

Defined minimum standards for entry into the profession imply progression in a career; entry standards define the place from which a career path begins. All professions must have an accepted route open to the public by which a person can become a recognized member of the profession. Law, engineering, accounting, medicine, teaching, all have entry standards. These standards typically involve formal education leading to an academic degree; several years of experience, as in an apprenticeship program or as a beginner in the profession; test score requirements, which may or may not be legally enforceable; or some combination of the three.

Code of Ethics

Ethical standards, or a code of ethics, are common to most professions. Their purpose is to make explicit what is considered to be appropriate behavior and to provide a basis for self-policing unethical behavior, thus avoiding or limiting the necessity for legal controls on the profession.

Service Orientation to the Profession

The Service orientation actually reflects an attitude of the members of the profession, an attitude by which members are committed to bettering the profession itself. Professionals will commit their time, money, and energy to attending conventions, publishing their ideas and experiences, and generally contributing to the body of knowledge and the administration of the profession. A professional's commitment to the profession is frequently stronger than to the employer. In many cases professionals will leave their employing organization rather than violate the profession's standards of ethics or practice.

A Sanctioning Organization

The authenticating body or sanctioning organization has many purpose. It sets standards and acts as a self-policing agency. It promotes publications and the exchange of ideas, encourages research, develops and administers certification programs, and sponsors and accredits education programs. Through public information and recognition of professionals, such organizations provide a voice for their profession. In a word, the purpose of the authenticating body is to administer the profession.

Developing a structure to support a project management profession has proven to be a major undertaking requiring the long term commitment of the Project Management Institute and a large number of its senior members. The task is not one that can be accomplished in a single planned effort and then be terminated as in completing a project. Rather it is an ongoing set of interlocking programs, each of which must be continually revised, adjusted and updated as the field of project management evolves in the face of changing technologies and environmental opportunities. The field is extremely dynamic. Programs designed to aid and guide its development must be continuing and dynamic in themselves or be quickly outmoded and left behind. Time does not permit me to elaborate on all of these, but PMI has established ground work in each of these five areas.

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