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Career progression: planning your professional development

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I was recently asked advice on which, in my experience, would be the most suitable professional development path within the project management industry. Depending on the background, role and industry of the person asking, this question could obviously be answered in different ways but what they will all involve on-going learning and training. Continuous professional development (CPD) is about maintaining the knowledge and skills you already have as well as developing new ones that might help you land a new job or simply keep up with the constant changes in your current role.

When it comes to deciding how to approach your CPD, there are no better or worse choices. It is more about striking the balance between all the formal and informal options available (training courses, qualifications, workshops, conferences and events, ideas sharing, reading industry-specific literature, coaching/mentoring and so on). So how can you choose the right solution for you without being overwhelmed by all the alternatives on offer?

Planning your CPD
In many cases, organisations will help to plan your career development but even when they don’t, we should all have a plan of what we want to achieve in the future and how we are going to do it. This can be more or less structured depending on your needs and preferences but it would be helpful to include the following points:

  • Define your professional objectives and how you would like to progress either in the short/long term or both.
  • Look at your current profile and role. A SWOT analysis, for example, could be very useful to identify your strengths and weaknesses in the context of your current position or for a future role you are interested in.
  • Identify where the gaps in your profile are in order to achieve your objectives and think about the skills, knowledge and experience that might help you develop the competence areas that need strengthening. In particular, when it comes to project management, a very useful tool that could help with this is the APM Competence Framework. It works both as a guide to key competences and a benchmark within the sector.
  • Based on the analysis of your current profile and of the industry benchmarks, identify the most appropriate activities that will provide you with the tools and techniques to fill the gaps in your professional profile.

Benefits of CPD
An effective continuous development plan will be not only a good source of new knowledge and best practices but also a powerful way to create a stronger and more authoritative profile both within and outside your organisation. 

Show competence and commitment to the profession
Committing to lifelong learning and development will increase your level of competence and your ability to adapt to the changing work environment quickly.

Increase confidence and perform efficiently
Gaining a qualification or simply sharing your ideas with like-minded professionals will make you more confident about your knowledge and capability to grow in your role or progress to a new one. Your improved performance will benefit both you as a professional and your organisation as a whole.

Progress in your career and achieve your objectives
Having a CPD plan will help you keep track of your progress and identify the most relevant opportunities to improve yourself and achieve your professional objectives.

Find out more about starting / developing a career in project management


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  1. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 09 January 2016, 03:08 PM

    Hi Valentina,Thanks for a thought provoking article.CPD and life-long learning should be a given for any aspiring project management professional. I guess it goes without saying that they we would expect them to join a professional association - ideally APM.I would argue that CPD is essentially a social activity and the best CPD comes through experiential learning! It's the principle of:"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."A great way to learn how to fish is through active participation in a SIG or Branch. You might take on a particular role such as publications lead or event coordinator.Writing and commenting on articles is a good way of putting theory into practice [fishing] and you may even find it to be cathartic. I know I do!I agree with Ed that curating and organising events such as conferences and webinars is excellent CPD too. I would like to repeat Ed's plug for #apmprogmconf on 10 March ... and before that ProgM SIG webinar Enhancing Performance using a Programme Dashboard on 12 January [700 bookings so far!]Merv . 

  2. Valentina Lorenzon
    Valentina Lorenzon 07 January 2016, 05:07 PM

    Thanks for your comment Edward. I completely agree with you on the importance of individuals owning their development. It doesn't need to be a complex plan. As you said, things like networking and lessons learnt  are quite simple yet essential elements of our ongoing professional development. Best,Valentina

  3. Edward Wallington
    Edward Wallington 07 January 2016, 11:10 AM

    Hi Valentina,Good post, and very complimentary to one I wrote last year on 'CPD is a waste of time!' needs to be a continuous process and needs to be 'owened' by the individual.  Although organistations may guide in CPD, my experience is that this rarely happens and we need to be self-directed, self-critical and self-evaluate - continuosly.I agree that CPD can take many forms, be it formal training courses through to self-directed study, reading or coaching.  It is also good to hear lessons learned and latest trends from industry leaders, and to netwrok with colleagues and peers.  The APM runs many excellent events that will aloow to build up CPD, and one we are running is the Programme Managemenrt Conference in March - hope to see you there!Regards.Ed

  4. Mike Floyd
    Mike Floyd 28 April 2017, 06:58 AM

    Career is an essential part of our success and we need to maintain this success rate to develop our personal skills and strategies. It also helps for professional development, therefore, we need to take positive steps and following these instructions to get better career success. Thanks for this wonderful post, it helps and guide us for better career success.