Project management practitioners are organising themselves, but the level and status of their work is still unclear.
If project management “escalates itself to professional status, we could be a small fish in a big management training and registration pond”, said Valerie Carmichael-Brown, reputational vice president of Project Management South Africa (PMSA).
A profession, according to most dictionaries, is ‘a vocation, art, or sport, in which amateurs also engage’.
If project management were a profession, there should be a formal degree, recognised by the Department of Education, and practitioners would register with a peer body. This is where project management is heading.
(Current developments in project management may be indirectly relevant to SHEQ officials. See relevant reports elsewhere on SHEQafrica.com -editor).
Skills based occupations require short courses, apprenticeship, and experience in a trade. This is the current position of project management.
Standardisation and self regulation issues came to a head at our Project Management South Africa (PMSA) conference in September 2010, where Services Seta CEO Ivor Blumenthal and project management academic Dr Paul Giammalvo debated whether project management was a profession, or a skills based occupation.
Conclusion of the debate still eludes us. Dr Giammalvo is a seasoned international project manager and a Global Alliance for Project Peformance Standards (GAPPS) work group member, based in Malaysia. He had completed a doctorate on project management professionalisation.
State and project management membership bodies would have to standardise our training, and apply to the Department of Education.
Relevant training providers would have to develop and register courses meeting the standard, and either a state authority or a unified membership body would become our registrar and take charge of recognition of prior learning (RPL), career paths, competency assessments, experience grading, and continued professional development (CPD).
Universities or Further Education and Training (FET) providers could the offer the relevant training, RPL and CPD needs.
Current project managers would then have to shape up to the new skills or professional standards.
Learn from other professions
Project managers know well how to uselessons learnt in similar projects in the organisation and in peer organisations. Consider the obstacles and time it took human resources management to rise from a skills based occupation, to a profession.
Consider obstacles introduced into accounting practice by Chartered Accounting entry exams, or the struggle of registrars like the security practice board to raise or enforce training and practice standards in their job.
Consider the failure of engineers to ensure safe construction practice in concrete slab design and construction, and the failure of the Health Professions Council of SA to reduce widespread medical malpractice.
Project managers have not yet had an opportunity to agree on a formula for self regulation.
The journey to professionalise and license our job would be slow and complicated. PMSA represents about 1000 South African project managers on the forums tasked with taking the giant leap to professionalisation.
Meanwhile we also have to consider the status of project management worldwide. Very few bodies of project managers are professionalised. Could South Africa set a benchmark for project management practice, and would the world learn from us?
• Valerie Carmichael-Brown is reputational vice president of Project Management South Africa (PMSA). This report is an extract from an article published in Miner’s Choice in February 2011.