By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM 

The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® is the world’s most popular and desirable project management certification. The numbers alone tell the story: as of December 31, 2014 there were 639,237 active PMP credential holders. No other project management credential (of which there are many competitors) comes close. What’s the reason for the enormous success of the PMP? I have some ideas.

Having been in the project management profession for 40 years, and having earned my PMP in August of 1990 (PMP No. 431), I’ve worked with many individuals and organizations who have identified the PMP as the credential of choice for themselves and their employees.

Here are four key reasons (not in any order of importance) driving the success of the credential.

 The PMP certification positively impacts project success

 Although no definitive study exists that purports to prove that the PMP positively impacts project success, there are plenty of studies that suggest a link between the PMP and better project outcomes, namely:

A 2006 PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey found that “80% of projects classified as high-performing use a certified project manager”

PMI’s 2012 Pulse of the Profession report found that organizations that have over 35% of their PMs certified have a 72% project success rate (compared to 64% success generally)

A project manager can advance in his or her career, and make more money, if they hold the PMP

Foote Partners, LLC (a well-respected Vero Beach, Florida-based independent IT benchmark research and advisory firm that conducts salary surveys in the IT industry) has reported for years that PMP credential holders can earn as much as 15% more than non-certified professionals.

One of the reasons for this is that many organizations (corporations and government agencies alike) have developed career paths and professional development programs for their project and program management staff. To advance from one level to the next often requires that the project manager earn the PMP credential. Thus, the promotion that accompanies the earning of the credential, and meeting other requirements, comes with an increase in compensation.

Given that most people are interested in advancing in their careers, they work to earn the PMP and their organizations provide the financial support to do so. Many organizations now require that a project manager hold the PMP to be hired. So, whether you want to move up in your current organization or move to another one, the PMP becomes a valuable credential, a passport of sorts.

Project managers are intrinsically motivated to improve their performance

The best project managers are never satisfied with their work; they’re task focused and driven to excel. They are always looking for better ways to get the job done. Earning the PMP offers the opportunity to immerse themselves in studying and learning key project management concepts and practices so that they can pass the rigorous exam. Many project managers see the PMP as a challenge, something to conquer. Why? To paraphrase George Mallory, asked by a New York Timesreporter in 1924 why he would risk life and limb to attempt to summit Mount Everest, “Because it’s there.” You gotta love project managers who go for the PMP for the sheer thrill of seeing if they’re good enough to earn it!

Corporations can win more business (and earn more revenue) if their project managers are PMP certified

For more than 25 years, I’ve consulted with many Fortune Global 500 corporations whose revenue is earned by providing professional services to clients in the form of consulting, systems integration, and strategy formulation. In large measure, these firms are selling the capability and experience of their professionals. Clients demand that projects executed by these firms be staffed by a competent, experienced, and certified project manager, preferably one holding the PMP. Thus, the PMP becomes a mandatory requirement to be considered for award. Obviously, such clients believe that a professional services firm whose project manager holds the PMP will have a greater chance of success in delivering to the contract specifications, compared to a firm whose project manager is not certified.

Let’s face it, there will always be the “nattering nabobs of negativism” (a phrase used by former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew to refer to the members of the media with whom he had an acrimonious relationship) when it comes to the value of the PMP.  Some claim it’s nothing more than passing a test, it doesn’t test competency, and it doesn’t indicate if someone is a good project manager. Hey, everyone has a right to their opinion, no matter how wrong it is! (Just kidding of course.)

But let me ask you this: can more than 639,000 PMP credential holders be wrong? I don’t think so. I earned it. I’m proud of it, and I learned a lot in the process. Earning the PMP helped me in my career all those years ago, and it’s helping me today. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and it’ll keep giving to you as well.

About J. LeRoy Ward

LeRoy Ward is a recognized thought leader in project, program, and portfolio management and the facilitator of IIL’s interactive, video-based Project Management Certificate Program.With more than 39 years of experience in the field, LeRoy has presented to more than 200,000 professionals and authored nine publications. He is the 2013 recipient of PMI®’s Eric Jenett Award for Project Management Excellence.