On the Big Reverse


On the subject of the December PMWJ editorial titled “The Big Reverse: Politics, Anti-leadership and the Looming Threat to Professionalism” 

22 March 2017

Dear Editor,

I read with interest and some surprise the rather different, political editorial piece on the Big Reverse in February 2017. I thought I would leave it for a while – it has never been truer that “a week in politics is a long time”. Who can say what may be happening by the time this communication and other comments may have been published.

I was intrigued around the application of applying established professional ethics for project managers to senior political positions and personalities. In my view such national political leaders are judged by different criteria in the main – notably through their oath of allegiance when taking up office, and the constitution; by the perceptions of public or the electorate; and of their tax returns with other disclosures; and in the media – as well as expectations of being presidential or statesmanlike. These criteria apply in very different ways to professional project managers – if at all – and again with other professionals – in sport, entertainment, health and medicine, law and law enforcement, in the military.

Some may argue that project management, with its art, science and practice, is not a profession – it is a skill, trade, craft or vocation – but that does not stop it being provided professionally. I believe the profession of project management is much more than the (important) ethical aspects mentioned in the editorial piece. For example the Five Dimensions of Professionalism promulgated by APM can be summarised as:

  • Breadth – of knowledge – as in PM Bodies of Knowledge.
  • Depth – of competence – to suit size and complexity of projects.
  • Achievement – as recognised, appropriate qualifications and portfolios of experience.
  • Commitment – to continued professional development (CPD) to maintain and develop skills.
  • Accountability – by adhering to a recognised code of professional and ethical conduct.

It is not a matter of achieving three or four out of these five to be professional; nor applying them now and then. Constant, contextual awareness and application with vigilance is necessary. However this is not easy by any means.

While there is a cadre of fully-committed, full-time managers of projects who understand and undertake such PM professionalism there are also many who are part-time, some-time or one time – with many team members and project colleagues with similar partial involvements. Many people work on more than one commission at a time, and over time, with differing requirements and pressures on their duties and professionalism – within different combinations of contexts. And then there are the possible distractions, directions and (poor) benchmarks which can lead to temptations of inappropriate or less-professional actions or inaction – as highlighted in the article.

At the end of the piece a jumble of ten questions are thrown out for discussion. These are serious and important questions. They are worthy of consideration in calm and serious manners; as part of the serious journey of the development of project management and its professionalism. This journey is taking decades – but it is worth it. In my view it should not be diverted or over-alarmed by passing perceptions of the politics or politicians and the confusion in one country or another.

As we all know no one nation has a dominant position in the world – and that includes the world of project management. We all have our own contexts, circumstances and cultures within our nation states, as well as between our communities and across borders, sectors and industries.

Finally let us not confuse the various “leaderships” – as statesmen in politics; as figureheads in business and academia; as commanders in the armed services; as managers and captains within team sports; as sponsors of projects or programmes and portfolios; with the professional facilitation of successful teams by modest, competent, professional project managers. To adopt such simple comparisons would be unfortunate, misleading and possibly confusing – in my opinion.

It appears that overall on the political leadership and directions in USA that the international jury is still out – but then again it often is.

Best wishes.

Tom Taylor
London, UK