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APM leads the debate on professionalism

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What does professionalism mean? How is it applied in today's complex and ever-changing world? And how will it affect tomorrow's project professionals? Lead by Mike Nichols, chairman of APM, a panel of leading professional bodies, public bodies and major corporate organisations debated the role and future of professionalism.

Ethics and the public interest  

Mike Nichols, Association for Project ManagementMike Nichols, Chairman, Association for Project Management: "Research by the British Computer Society says: "A professional is a practitioner who has special skills routed in a broad base, has appropriate qualifications from a recognised body, undergoes continuous development and operates to a code of conduct." 

Mark Stobbs, Law SocietyMark Stobbs, The Law Society: "I would add public interest above self interest. Most membership organisations have a code of conduct, but are they anything more than a trade body? The concept of public interest can create a conflict between serving your profession, the public and your employer." 

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for LondonJennifer Shaw, Transport for London: "One has a duty of care to declare that conflict, which in many cases would be with the employer. The employer would have to accept accountability and responsibility. The public shouldn't be misled."

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified AccountantsTony Osude, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants: "The employee/employer/public triangle has tensions in it. Employers should understand a code of ethics but evidence shows that whistle blowers are not well treated. We have idealistic notions of what professionalism looks like in the wider environment."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Several professional organisations are regulated charities. These are being tightened significantly to serve the public good. The balance between a profession's loyalty to members and to the public in general can be a challenge."

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and WalesMartin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales: "If a person sits on a company board and are challenged to do things they feel are beyond what is acceptable, who do they turn to? Professional bodies provide a large support network for advice and assistance. Members can talk about ethical issues without fear of reprisal."

Mark Stobbs, Law Society"Care needs to be taken over the contents of a Code. The professionals' view of public interest can be very close to their own. The Law Society has independently appointed regulatory boards with lay people. One must be careful to ensure they don't become more professional than the profession."

Nicole Ziman, Association of Chartered Certified AccountantsNicole Ziman, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants: "Feedback from our disciplinary committee shows that accountants are harder on members than lay people."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Perhaps the challenge is to articulate the public good through enhancing the performance of members in a way that is beneficial to members and the public." 

Monitoring, measuring and CPD 

Joseph Alba, Ministry of DefenceJoseph Alba, Ministry of Defence: "Measuring how well we maintain continuing professional development is key."


Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Many professions encourage CPD but do little to regulate it."

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"The ICAEW have a CPD scheme for  members in practice, but there were no CPD requirements for non-practicing members. A mandated system was developed which assessed your development needs and identified activities required to meet those needs." 

John Rowley, KPMGJohn Rowley, KPMG"CPD is important in sustaining any profession. Equally important are the 'immeasurables'; behaviours and integrity."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Professions appear to mature away from a body of  knowledge, through a technical competence framework to behaviours and contextual issues. "

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants"One of the challenges we face is the commoditisation of knowledge. Years ago, professional organisations were elitist, highly protectionist associations. These days everyone is better educated and tends to question professions and its professionalism."

Joseph Alba, Ministry of Defence"If you were feeling ill, would you consult a professional doctor or do you make a self diagnosis?  The public goes to a professional because they want assurance; backed by a code of practice, conduct and ethics."

Influencing the outside world 

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"APM believes there are up to 250,000 people engaged full time in project management in the UK. Only a small percentage are members of a professional project management body. How far should an organisation reach out to those that seek the benefits  of membership, to influence their behaviours and competencies?"  

John Rowley, KPMG"For me, the big issue is that users of professionals must be able to identify standards, demand that they are met and measure the results."  

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
"That's all about protection of the public. Anyone can call themselves an accountant, so we have to differentiate in the marketplace. We need promote why people should use a Chartered or certified accountant. Through a code of ethics, skills, appropriate qualifications and CPD they will get a better service."

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants"Some of the business community are motivated and happy to use the services of unqualified people." 

Joseph Alba, Ministry of Defence"It's all about the perceptions of what added value a professional might provide."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Some institutions try to influence government. The Institution of Civil  Engineers produces an annual report aims to persuade government to improve the national infrastructure."

Mark Stobbs, Law Society"The Law Society's members advise government on statutes. We avoid party politics and keep out of major debates, but we're available to offer expert advice."  

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"Failure to consult can result in inelegant solutions to some government issues. A profession should use its accumulated expertise to give counsel and advice."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"APM is then on the right track in aiming to help the government benefit from project management."

John Rowley, KPMG

"A wider aspect you might consider is the very substantial infrastructure projects that have not gone well in recent years. If there were a Chartered project professional who could comment on something like that, it would provide a trusted opinion."

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
"The professional body usually speaks with more authority avoiding accusations of self interest." 

Specialisation - good  or  bad? 

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management "How do you maintain professionalism in a world of increasing specialisation?"


Mark Stobbs, Law Society"We ask people to provide evidence of their expertise. Then they are invited to become a member of a specialist panel. This encourages high standards, although we shouldn't compartmentalise too much."

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for London"If an individual becomes a specialist and is then asked to work outside this field, they must declare this. Otherwise professional standards may be compromised."

Mark Stobbs, Law Society"We have rules stating you must not take on work you are not competent to do." 


 Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants"Sometimes people are forced down the road of specialisation, which can enhance the profession. The challenge is not specialisations, but the assurances that there are a common set of values and interests."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Should a core body of knowledge and key competencies be common across the whole spectrum of a profession?"

John Rowley, KPMG "I'm not sure that any body of knowledge could be sustainable, given that priorities change in a profession. Specialists are deeply competent people, but their particular skill set may not be representative of the profession as a whole." 

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for London"Some newly qualified project managers are keen to start specialising straight away, but I advise caution. They will start to narrow down their options too soon." 

Education and experience 

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"The Privy Council - the entry gate to Chartered status - emphasises the need for a high proportion of graduates. Yet many professions do not have graduate entry as part of their professional success. Should we maintain a focus on graduates and ensure they are supported by the right standards?" 

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"I don't think entirely experiential routes are sufficient. A professional body should be available to anybody to join, providing they meet an appropriate threshold. This should deal with the issue prior experience."

John Rowley, KPMG"Graduates get certain credits and exemptions, but my body allows for mature students recognising experience. There are dangers of exclusively going down the qualification route or the experience route."

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"What makes a professional is the blend of experience, skills and knowledge."


Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management

"Is coaching and mentoring institutionalised within your professions?"

Mark Stobbs, Law Society"In the legal profession you have your graduate entry, vocational training under supervision, then three years in the office of a more senior solicitor before you can set up on your own."

Nicole Ziman, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants"In ACCA you can't be in practice on your own without five years' experience under your belt."


Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"To become a Chartered Accountant includes studying exams and three years supervised experience."

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants

"ACCA launched a new qualification which follows a workplace mentor model, allowing people a closer relationship with someone at work and a more rounded, symbiotic relationship with CPD."  

Collaboration: the way forward?

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Everyone is a sometime project manager and a lot of project managers start out in other professions. APM collaborates with other professions and conducts joint research. Everything is greatly enriched as a result. To what extent should there we be collaborating? And how far have we moved to a world where hardly anyone is in a single profession?"  

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants "Collaboration offers convenience and best practice which can aid a professional body."


Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Regardless of the profession we all have the same challenges, should we have a shared vision of the future in developing ideal behaviours?"

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"Accounting bodies have an umbrella organisation called the CCAB. This identifies the where the profession is better off collaborating." 

Nicole Ziman, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants"The accountancy bodies share the same behaviours. Experienced professions could give assistance to new professions and there might also be a sharing of professional regulation best practice procedures."  

The future of professionalism

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"What should professional bodies be doing in the next 10 to 20 years to respond to the challenges of the accelerating pace of change and globalisation?"

John Rowley, KPMG
"The challenge is huge - to react swiftly and appropriately before the legislators do something themselves."

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants "Consumers and clients are struggling to understand what is good information because so much information is available! Professions should help them sort the wheat from the chaff. Professional judgement is absolutely key to everything we do, we need professionals to bring even more trust and stability into our complex world."  

Joseph Alba, Ministry of Defence"Clarity in complexity is what project management brings together in a timely fashion."  

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for London
"We must be proactive using accumulated knowledge. This can influence business, rather than reacting to change. Globalisation means greater employment movement across nations and we have a duty to be proactive here." 


Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"We have to maintain the brand by providing real value to something the public wants."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"Competent project professionals take complicated situations and break it down so that it becomes intelligible and manageable."  

Mark Stobbs, Law Society
"APM needs a clear view of what the public wants from project professionals and how it can facilitate people getting into that market."  

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for London
"We are talking about a product that will be far superior to what somebody could buy off the shelf. And people need to know that they will benefit by buying in to the knowledge that is generated."  

The challenges for project management

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants "I always hear about the losses suffered in organisations such as the NHS and huge failures in project management that cost  taxpayers enormous sums." 

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for London "Poor project management results in overspending, rotational loss, high risks and lots of other problems."

John Rowley, KPMG "Yet there are a multitude of projects that go right that never get published."


Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management

"We have a major communications challenge - to demonstrate that effective project management really works."

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants
"What's needed is promotion of the high standards in the profession, and this can be done through Chartership."

Mark Stobbs, Law Society"
Many Chartered bodies exist because the public realised they stood for high standards, reliability and professionalism. APM needs to establish itself as the place where expert project professionals go. If you want to get a project through, you only go there." 

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"A profession is only as good as its members and one of the things APM must determine is who gets in and who stays."

Mark Stobbs, Law Society"How far do you control members' activities? How far do you regulate price? How far do you regulate what information you give to clients? I would urge against being prescriptive on these matters."

Jennifer Shaw, Transport for London"It would be good to explore how we attract more members and how we interact with other professional bodies. Also, I would like to understand more about how professional bodies discipline individuals for breaching their code."

Tony Osude, Association for Chartered Certified Accountants"How do you make a profession attractive for people to join it? Also, is the Chartered professional body model, which was created in the Victorian era, now the right one? Finally, how do you persuade people that project management is a sufficiently specialised to merit the enhanced reputation that Chartered status would give?" 

John Rowley, KPMG"To what extent does the project management profession need to reach out to government? APM has benefited from its relationship with the Office of Government and Commerce (OGC). Some of the largest procurement in the UK is for public sector projects; is government prepared to mandate that it uses Chartered Project Professionals?" 

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management "We're keen to understand what is beyond Chartered status, we partner with OGC in driving up professionalism in project management. This is just a beginning, but where this policy has been applied it has demonstrably improved performance."

Martin Hagen, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales"The biggest challenge facing my institute is that regulators have popped up on a global basis, we need to make sure we have the resources to engage on a global scale to represent the views of members. I imagine this would also apply to project management." 

Nicole Ziman, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants"How will you monitor project professionals? How do you monitor the work someone does on a project?"

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management"It is important that we model ourselves on the other professions as this challenge must be common to all. Our standards must have 'teeth', especially in project management." 

Nicole Ziman, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants
"Our department has doubled in three years, so I recognise the challenge of rapid growth. In the modern age there are increasingly stringent requirements for the quality of investigations and the manner in which decisions are reached."

Mike Nichols, Association for Project Management "We need project heroes; it's a well kept secret that project management is an extraordinarily enjoyable thing to do. It's the perfect job for me, but how do we make that known?" 

This article was originally published in Project magazine in September 2008, the views expressed in this discussion are those of the individuals concerned.






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