Should project managers be professionally licensed?
The global project management community has debated the merit of professional licensing for project managers. In this article, PM Oracles presents research and perspectives on the subject.
The formal licensing of project managers is perhaps a contentious subject; however, we hope that our readers will appreciate the information we present and will think objectively about the subject.
Three factors led to our agreeing on this topic:
- The current state of project management;
- The licensing requirements in other professions (e.g., architecture, medicine, accounting);
- The recent discussions and increase in opinions being voiced on this topic in online forums and other media.
It is generally agreed today that project management practitioners do not require a formal license to hold a job and/or work as a ‘project manager’. By formal we are referring to a government or chartered body recognised standard, although we are well aware that some companies have made provision for excellent internal project management training and minimum standards for seniority in project management, reflecting the scope difficulty of work that can be performed by their practitioners.
As an example of project management in the wider community, some project managers are registered engineers (e.g. chartered civil engineers) and perform project management tasks as part of their work. Others are officially recognised within their organisations as senior project managers by virtue of their internal training and qualifications.
There are numerous project management credentials and certifications available. One scenario in which this is significant is a company training or personal development program that may require project managers to obtain one or more certifications or credentials at a mandated interval.
One of us recalls seeing a recent PMI presentation that estimated that 20 million project managers (people with that job title) carried out project management work around the world. Given the approximations from global project management supporting organisations (PMI, IPMA, APM, AIPM etc.), perhaps 1 million, or approximately 5%, of those practising project management have at least one formal project management credential or certification.
This means roughly 95% are performing or practising project management type work without some form of globally or regionally recognised credential or certification, although this in no way suggests they do not have the required skills, experience or the right level of internal training in project management to get the job done. As a generic comparison of licensing, in the USA alone, there are 260 million licensed drivers and, although we could not find the data, we can assume there are several hundred million licensed drivers worldwide.
Numerous professions require ‘licensing’ issued by government or representative authority (e.g. a chartered body), and the person practising that profession is (de facto) assumed to have the relevant training and experience by virtue of having obtained that license and then gaining experience as they grow their careers. They are also ethically accountable and responsible, legally defensible and often insured since they can be sued if they are found not to be proficient or professionally negligent, and they need to maintain continued training and demonstrate proficiency to meet the licensing/chartered renewal requirements.
Doctors and most medical professionals, truck drivers, lawyers, Chartered Professional Accountants, pest control technicians, architects and professional engineers and, as another example, even cosmetologists cutting hair and filing nails need a licence to practice their work. In fact, in most if not all parts of the world, contractors, electricians, plumbers and others that a project manager may be managing are required to be licensed, while the project manager is not required to hold any licence.