“Professionalism in the workplace”. The concept challenged me in 2006 when the BCS made me a Chartered IT Professional. (See more.) I thought it was a goal to be achieved. I only discovered later that it’s a journey that continues forever.

What is professionalism in the workplace?

Three views below. If you aspire to professionalism, you’ll need to decide on your goal.

Dictionary view. “Professionalism most commonly means the state or practice of doing one’s job with skill, competence, ethics, and courtesy.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/professionalism

Institutional view. Many professions have organisations that certify practitioners for reaching a level of competence. It’s an achievement, rather than a broader aspiration. Chartered Accountants and Chartered Surveyors, are well known examples. In my own case of Chartered IT Professional, the BCS promotes it as an “achievement of competence, professionalism and ongoing commitment to learning”. https://www.bcs.org/membership-and-registrations/get-registered/chartered-it-professional/

Soft skills. At https://thebalancework.com/what-is-professionalism-in-the-workplace/ they look for skills that do not involve specialist competences. They list soft skills and values: appearance, behaviour, communication, attitude, work ethic, respect, integrity, accountability, commitment and accountability. It’s generic. For the “secret” part of the intelligence sector, the top priorities are probably secrecy, safety and mission.

Aspiring to professionalism – a commitment to others

My own goal has shifts as I learn more. At the highest level, I aspire to perform my job with as much skill, competence, ethical concern and courtesy that I can achieve. That requires continual learning, including with soft skills. I also add to the dictionary list of 4 priorities, a 5th: a commitment to helping others develop in their jobs.

It seems to me that ultimately, being professional is about helping other people, and the organisations for which they work.

Some questions

The definitions raise questions. I try to explore here, within stories and articles.

  • We have to do things at work that go beyond our core skills and competences. Does that make us unprofessional?
  • Should professionalism be an achievement or a continual aspiration?
  • If someone has a poor appearance or behaviour, does that make them a bad professional?
  • Do we trust people who are not certified as professionals?
  • Will we ever see Certified Intelligence Analysts?
The River Arno in Pisa. The city reminds me of discovering professionalism in the workplace
River Arno in Pisa, Italy, September 1989. Copyright: Adrian Cowderoy.

Stories and commentary

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