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Understanding the professional project manager: Cosmopolitans, locals and identity work

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This paper explores and examines the duality of ‘local’ knowledge (company; sector) and ‘cosmopolitan’ knowledge (specialist skills, often transferrable) that project managers have and rely on.


  • Cosmopolitan
  • Local
  • Work identity
  • Body of Knowledge
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What does the paper cover?

Project managers operate under a kind of ‘dual identity’.

They rely on their knowledge of the company or institution they work for and/or the industry sector they are employed in. They also rely on their expert knowledge of managing projects; a skill that can be transferable between employers and sectors.

This presents a dilemma for professional bodies and for employers.

Professional bodies will want to persuade project managers who rely mostly on their local knowledge to become more cosmopolitan in their outlook.

Recognition by a professional body, such as a qualification or affiliation, can give the individual practitioner some independence from a specific employer and a route to career progression.

Employers, on the other hand, will want their more cosmopolitan project managers to take local knowledge into account without compromising their professional skills.

The paper shows that project management is rich in identity work.

While there are project managers who clearly lean further towards one or the other, the majority of practitioners draw on both identities. In doing so, they are, in effect, challenging the concept of professionalising project management.


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