A note on project management, and different understandings of the nature of professions and professionals


By Alan Stretton 

Sydney, Australia


This is an extension of a one-page article I wrote many years ago in the Australian Project Manager entitled “What is a professional?” (Stretton 1997). That article was written for an Australian audience, and briefly discussed differences in common usages and understanding of the nature of a “professional” between Australia and the USA. It appears that similar differences may also exist in other cross-international contexts. This note expands on two different interpretations of the nouns “profession” and “professional” in a general context, and their relevance to the project context. 


In Stretton 1997 I pointed out that different understandings of what “professional” means had contributed to substantial misunderstandings on both sides in the Australia-USA project management context. These misunderstandings may have diminished in more recent times, but still appear to be significant. Further, there are grounds for believing they may also apply in some other cross-cultural/cross-international contexts. It therefore seems appropriate to expend this topic in a little more detail than was possible in the one page that comprised Stretton 1997. The focus of the following is on different definitions of “profession” and the noun “professional”, and choices made about which interpretations have been commonly adopted by different cultures.


Definitions of a profession are many and varied. Following are definitions from five different dictionaries, from Australia, UK and USA.

Profession n 

The Macquarie Concise Dictionary

1.   a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science, esp. one of the three vocations of theology, law, and medicine (formerly known as the professions or the learned professions);

2.  any vocation, occupation, etc. 

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (my numbering)

1.   A vocation, a calling, esp. one requiring advanced knowledge in some branch of learning or science, spec. law, theology or medicine;

2.   gen. any occupation as a means of earning a living

3.   The body of people engaged in a profession 


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About the Author

alan-strettonflag-australiaAlan Stretton, PhD     

Faculty Corps, University of Management

and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)

Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia) 

Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 120 professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at [email protected].