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Should project managers be professionally licensed?

The need for licensed/chartered qualifications exists for a reason. For example:

  • A doctor needs to demonstrate knowledge and training.
  • A truck driver needs to demonstrate prowess at road handling and perhaps hazardous materials handling if they are hauling chemicals.
  • An engineer needs to have the necessary qualifications to design buildings so that they are structurally stable.
  • A cosmetologist can give you a bad haircut, but if they don’t manicure your nails correctly, you can develop an infection.

In these examples, the professionals described are legally accountable and defensible. Although the project manager’s circumstances are different, we wonder about the impact on people that manage millions of dollars worth of people resources, equipment and materials if they were required to demonstrate and have a licence. If a project manager mismanages a project, there are certainly consequences that can have a ripple effect on the project in terms of cost, time, scope (or all three) and other elements such as lost business opportunities, reputation, and so on.

Pros and cons of licensing project managers

Positives

  • Licensing project managers could bring project management into the ‘public eye’.
  • ‘Project manager’ could be considered a standardised profession and licensing standards could highlight the true capabilities needed by project managers.
  • Standards requirements would ensure a minimum level of competency based on education, experience, knowledge and demonstrated proficiency.
  • Professionally licensed project managers may be able to command higher salaries.
  • Training requirements could generate business opportunities for training companies, therefore creating jobs.
  • Licensing revenues could generate taxes.
  • ‘LPM’ or ‘CPM’ (our suggested terms for Licensed or Chartered Project Manager) could be a project manager’s professional initialisation following their name much like accountants use CPA.

Potential risks and considerations

  • Implementing the process as to establishing the standard requirements for a project managers. Variations in power and responsibilities of project managers across all industries would have to be standardised.
  • Impact on current project manager type credentials and certifications as to their inclusion and/or requirements in licensing.
  • Overcoming the current state of project managers working without a licence; “If we needed to do it, we’d have done it years ago.”
  • Crossover of various industries as a project manager is not identified with any one industry. Kowever, keep in mind that CPAs, for example, aren’t specific to any industry either.
  • What would be the licensing body for project management? One of the current global entities? Would these be merged? Should they be merged? Should the bodies be governmental instead?
  • Government regulation could make it easy, standard, and uniform or very difficult, pending the final result; states, as well as various counties/regions, could set their own requirements like a driver’s licence. Were that the case, multiple licences might be required for some project managers that work across various borders.
  • Could unions get involved and could project managers become unionised?  Would that help or hurt project managers as a whole? Project managers would probably have to assume the costs of licences/chartered status, liability insurance, and renewal training requirements.
  • Project managers could be considered ‘experts’ and might be more easily sued for mal-conformance or negligence.

Keep it simple

It is important to recognise that regional certification or chartered status is a topic under debate in several countries. We think it is worthwhile to keep it simple. For example, as a simple conceptual model for consideration, could there be three global classifications as follows, with specialised areas of focus such as LPM/CPM – Information Technology, LPM/CPM – Construction. The table below uses LPM as the example acronym:

Perhaps regional certification is also advisable. We know that some organisations are considering such measures.

In conclusion, we believe that the ‘LPM’ (Licensed Project Manager) or ‘CPM’ (Chartered Project Manager) could be a worthwhile path for the project management profession to follow, assuming the issuing entity is agreed upon and standardised. In doing so, project managers would be given both a professional ‘identity’ and the recognition enjoyed by many other professions. As with all change, there are positives and risks to consider, but the benefits may outweigh the negatives. We would welcome people’s thoughts on this subject.

admin
PM Oracles is Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, Jeff Hodgkinson and Duke Okes, all experienced PMO, program, and project managers who share a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management.
has written 29 articles for us.

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Comments from the community

  • Strange you make no mention of the successful candidate register that the APMG maintains for PRINCE2 and/or the Registered PRINCE2 Consultant status that is attainable. Both hold you in good stead, particularly with Federal Government, where 60% of Departments use PRINCE2.

    • Adeline Teoh says:

      My understanding is that PRINCE2, while certainly a methodology that enables competent project management, is not akin to a professional standard for a project manager the same way that being on the medical register would be for doctors. We’re really talking about chartered registration rather than the certifications and qualifications (such as PRINCE2) and demonstrated competency that precede it.

      • Adeline, yes to a certain extent but I think the new PRINCE2 Professional qualification which “… tests, through a two day residential Assessment Centre, a candidate’s ability to manage a non-complex PRINCE2 project across
        all aspects of the project lifecycle” may go some way forward.

        I think it is also a question of need/want/problem. From the client’s/employer’s perspective, do they regularly articulate a need or want to have chartered registration?

  • Dennis Graham says:

    There are so many Project Manager in so many industries. Some just a “Manager” but is called a Project Manager because he / she is managing a “Project” as everything nowadays are classified as a Project. It would be difficult to register PM accross all the industries.

    What will happen with current registrations, eg. if I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building ?? Will this be used to determine my registration level ??

    This is much much more complex than what we think. Just think about all the different PM qualifications out there. Sometimes Institutes even have problems deciding in which catagory some qualifications falls.

    This need to be discussed accross all the industries before even thinking of putting legislation in plase.

    Kind regards,

    Dennis Graham

  • Martin Kerr says:

    As a PM with a couple of quals (CPPM/CPPD) I think its “horses for courses”. I am a big one for competency based assessment like the AIPM. Whilst I am not qualified in P2 I leverage P2 and MSP on the back of my projects. I suppose the more projects you manage and the experience one gains opens the door to leverage different methodologies. Looking inward however (from the eyes of the sponsor taking the risk on a PM) there will be a balance between proven experience vs qualification. I know many PMs with experience who are very competent but I also know more who are qualified who are less competent. (Great article though as it has raised questions)

  • TONY MACKAY says:

    I strongly believe that professionalising project management is not only necessary but long overdue; however, I also think you need to consider looking at formal qualifications held by some in the profession as part of the licencing. This is something that is currently being considered by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), in consultation with AIPM. A draft paper on this subject has been commissioned by, and and provided to, DEEWR for consideration and I am happy to provide you a copy should you want. Whilst I believe that there is no substitute for experience, I am a little concerned about the notion that year of ‘undetected crime’ is necessarily a good measure of proficiency as 5, 10 or 20 years of stumbling along and not getting caught out should not be a measure of competence. I believe a fair assessment of qualifications, competence and experience is the way forward.

  • Rem Koolhaus says:

    Long over due! PMs need to be held accountable for their services. Clients are starting to wake up.