Should project managers be professionally licensed or chartered?

Should project managers be professionally licensed or chartered?

If a person working on your hair and nails as a cosmetologist needs a license, why aren't PMs that manage $M of resource and materials required to do the same?

One of our goals when writing articles is to create awareness about the thinking within the global project management community. One subject in particular that we have been considering for a while (since July 2010) is the case and discussion in the community for being ‘professionally licensed’ as a project manager. In this article, we present our 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.

Let’s look at two perspectives or views

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 PM’s are registered engineers (chartered civil engineers, for example) and perform project management tasks as part of their work. Others are officially recognised within their organisations as senior PMs 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 PM’s 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 one million or approximately 5 per cent of those practicing project management have at least one formal PM credential or certification. This means that roughly 95 per cent are performing or practicing 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’ that is issued by government or representative authority (a chartered body, for example), and the person practicing 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 engineers (professional), and, as another example, even cosmetologists cutting hair and filing nails need a license to practice their work. In fact, in most if not all parts of the world, contractors, electricians, plumbers and others that a PM may be managing are required to licensed, while the PM is not required to hold any license. The need for licensing / 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 or the like.
  • 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 (something Jeff doesn’t have to worry about), 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 PM’s circumstances are different, we wonder about the impact on people that manage $M of resources, equipment and materials if they were required to demonstrate and have a license. If a PM mismanages a project, there are certainly consequences that can have a ripple effect on the project – be it in terms of cost, time, scope (or all three) and other elements such as lost business opportunities, reputation, et al.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of licensing project managers

On the positives:

  • Licensing PMs could bring the PM profession a profession more 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 PMs 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 PM’s professional acronym following their name (much like accountants use CPA and architects in the UK use RIBA).

On the potential risks to consider:

  • Implementing the process as to establishing the standard requirements for a PM. Variations in power and responsibilities of PMs across all industries would have to be standardised.
  • Impact on current PM type credentials and certifications as to their inclusion and/or requirements in licensing.
  • Overcoming the current state of PM’s working without a license, i.e., “if we needed to do it, we’d have done it years ago.”
  • Crossover of various industries as a PM is not identified with any one industry (however, keep in mind that CPAs, for example, aren’t specific to any industry either).
  • What would be the licensing body for PM? 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 license). Were that the case, multiple licenses might be required for some PMs that work across various borders.
  • Could Unions get involved and could PMs become unionised? Would that help or hurt PMs as a whole? PMs would probably have to assume the costs of licenses/chartered status, liability insurance, and renewal training requirements.
  • PMs could be considered ‘experts’ and might be more easily sued for mal-conformance or negligence.
  • What could be done?

    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 or 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 (examples of which we have stated above). 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.

    Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, and Jeff Hodgkinson are experienced PMO, program, and project managers who developed a mutual friendship by realising they shared a common passion to help others and share knowledge about PMO, portfolio, program and project management. In February 2010, they decided to collaborate on a three-year goal to write 50 PM subject articles for publication in any/all PM subject websites, newsletters and professional magazines/journals. They can be contacted at

    Read more in CIO Management.

    Other articles by these authors:

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