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Should project managers be professionally licensed?

PM Oracles
April 5, 2012

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:

  1. The current state of project management;
  2. The licensing requirements in other professions (e.g., architecture, medicine, accounting);
  3. 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.

PM Oracles
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.
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7 thoughts on “Should project managers be professionally licensed?

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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?

  2. 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

  3. 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)

  4. 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.

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

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