Professionalism, have some.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work on projects large and small, in diverse industries and sectors.  From technology to development, business change, and events. This has given me the insight to project managers from a broad spectrum of focus areas.  The trait that I find to a key factor for success, based on my experience, not just limited to, project management is professionalism.

According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, the word was first used in 1846 and using the base definition professionalism is the methods, character, status, etc., of a professional.

Methods in this sense, do not mean one’s favorite project approach, PRINCE2, PRiSM, Agile based etc. but more manner by which one conducts themselves and the principles and values that are incorporated into how they do what they do.

I have long been an advocate in that honing oneself in how we engage others and carry ourselves can improve success in a multitude of ways.

Queue the dream sequence…

A little while back I was working on a program (a set of related projects that together will achieve a specified objective and not a “big project”) as part had to provide a status report to an executive board on a regular basis.

Delivering the report was something that I did with relative ease as I have a Type-A personality and do not get the shakes when I have to speak to individuals of “high” status. I had to leave the country and would have to have a project manager, who was leading one of the projects, fill in for me to report. I interacted with this person often, and they seemed to be polished enough to do the job. I helped this person prepare by having them attend the meeting with me so they could see how I deliver the report and then sat down with them afterward to do some coaching.

When I returned, I was told point blank to ensure that I always delivered the report personally as the PM who filled in for me never looked up from his document and read line by line, never making contact except to be pushy with a stakeholder that he had never met.

In the end, it came down to the fact that this person, who was stellar at project documentation, worked well with peers, and had many years on me as a PM did not have the acumen to engage high-level stakeholders in a professional manner. Needless to say, I was shocked. This is not the person that I had known or the outcome I had expected.

We met to discuss and was assured that there was no nervousness, it was just their “style” to stick to the facts.  This individual wanted to be a top PM but was unwilling to address areas of development that are required to get there and ignored the coaching.

In the end, the program achieved its goals and to this day is delivering benefits but this individual did not get to advance as a result when the opportunity was there for the taking.  Had this person understood more that professionalism in this context was lacking and should be taken seriously, the outcome for him, may have been more positive.

So what are some the keys to professionalism?

You can google professionalism and find dozens of lists.  I will outline five that I believe are important.

  1. Attitude – Your attitude in how you go about your work is infectious, and speaks volumes about who you are as a professional. Complaining or getting upset about trivial matters, situations that are out of your control,  or in an uncomfortable situation never improves the situation.  Always maintain a positive attitude, be confident, but not presumptuous.
  2. Integrity – Always be honest and earn your colleagues trust. Lead with a moral compass and treat people equally and fairly.
  3. Clear Communication – When addressing people in the workplace, look them in the eye. Understand your body language and the signals that they send. Speak to them respectfully and clearly.
  4. Appearance – Dress appropriately for the activity you are doing. Attending an important meeting with an “I’m with stupid” T-Shirt is not a good idea. Understanding what is the norm where you are is a must.  What is business and what is smart casual changes depending on where you are in the world?
  5. Owning Mistakes – Everyone makes mistakes. If you make one, own it and work towards a solution. If the mistake affects others or their ability to do their work, help out.

This is one of my personal favorite movie scenes from the movie Office Space.  “I am a people person!”

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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