Reasons to be cheerful
Chiropractors, taxi drivers, the Marylebone Cricket Club and internal auditors. All of these have received a Royal Charter in recent years, as have many other organisations. The first one was granted to the University of Cambridge in 1231. So what does a Royal Charter mean?
The Privy Council (which grants them) says on its website that, nowadays, Royal Charters are granted to "bodies that work in the public interest... which can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field."1
Pre-eminence, stability and permanence. These seem to me to be particularly valuable at the present time. In a world where public discourse and mass politics are becoming more distrustful of expertise, we are facing more, not less, uncertainty. While respect for expertise is diminishing, its value is increasing. And we need a balancing force of stability.
But does it seem a little incongruous? Project management as a force of stability? We are all about change. Of course, permanence and stability refer to your professionalism in managing the process of change.
So, project management matters. I don't need to persuade you of that. But what I may need to convince you of is the reason to be optimistic. Because, if experts are decried, why would you seek to be one?
And what do I think will be the impact of APM’s Chartered status? I do expect it to raise levels of interest in the Chartered standard for APM. But I don’t think your colleagues will look at you differently, just because your professional body is Chartered.
But words matter, and APM clearly links Chartered status to professionalism. And that’s the word I’d like to explore. What does it mean?
Originally, a professional would profess an oath on entering their profession. This was a symbol of their commitment to ‘work in the public interest’. APM already has a Code of Professional Conduct, the ‘Accountability’ strand of its FIVE Dimensions of Professionalism. We need this now more than ever. It is about ethics and responsibility.
Of course, there has always been more to the professions than their oaths. There has been collegiality on the positive side and self-interest at the opposite extreme. And there has been rigorous training and standards. Project management has moved a long way on this in the past 20 years, and APM continues to lead us in the right direction.
But, for me, the biggest benefit of formal professionalisation of project management will be our role in business and public affairs. In APM’s application for Chartered status, it drew attention to the scale of government expenditure on projects. That is mirrored in the private and not-for-profit sectors.
Not only do we act as professional custodians of a vast amount of spending, but we also hold the reputations of vast organisations in our care. And there is an associated point I make when speaking to and training project boards and sponsors. Because project expenditure carries more risk than other corporate spending, the governance of projects needs to be all the stronger.
This should open up big opportunities for professional project managers. In recent decades, the IT (1984), marketing (1989) and HR (2000) professions have gained Chartered status. And, increasingly, we are seeing marketing, HR and IT professionals taking their seats on corporate boards.
I believe it is only a matter of time before a substantial proportion of UK businesses have a board-level director of project management. That is a reason for optimism, both for your career and for the success of your projects. Chartered status can only help to accelerate that welcome shift.
This article originally featured in the Spring 2017 edition of Project journal.