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What is a Project Management Certification? And Why Do I Need It?

What is a Project Management Certification? And Why Do I Need It?

By Anselm Begley, PMP, PRINCE2, CBAP, CSM, APMG Managing Benefits

Project Management certification demonstrates an individual’s experience, knowledge, and skill in project management – and in many companies, it’s a requirement for new and current project managers. To achieve certification, candidates need to meet certain eligibility requirements and pass a certification exam developed by a governing body or professional association, such as the Project Management Institute (PMI)®, and the exam content corresponds to a global standard – such as PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

As a project management instructor, it would be terrific if I knew that every student who attended my Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification prep classes were enthusiastic, engaged, and motivated to learn the content and concepts necessary to succeed on the PMP® certification exam. However, when students attend a certification prep course, they quickly learn that additional time and effort will be required to become ready to sit the exam. At that point, their commitment wavers and they question their need. Occasionally there are attendees who are sent to the class by their management. Most of these draftees become enthusiastic while others are skeptical.

I detect the emotional shift in class and this sixth sense is essential Emotional Intelligence for any instructor. Questions increase the relevance and value of the certification. The most common questions are:

“I know what I’m doing, why do I have to do this?”

“In my area, there isn’t anyone who knows more than I do. How is this going to help me tomorrow? This does not have anything to do with what I do all day.”

To begin to answer these questions I need to depict the impact of not possessing a certification. I employ the following example: My brother, now retired, is a ‘board certified’ radiologist.  ‘Board certified’ are the keywords in his profile. When you and I are faced with selecting a family physician or specialist, we will review the list of the specialists on the insurance rolls and while perusing the name, specialty, and hospital affiliation as well as their board-certified status. In the absence of a personal reference, who are you likely to choose?

If there was a choice between two or more physicians, you, like myself, will probably choose the board certified one. Pursuing this line of thought, would you select an attorney with a JD but who was not a member of the state bar? Would you choose an accountant who has a CPA or one without?

So, how many times did an executive manager, manager, or director at your company pass you over for someone – perhaps less qualified – for an opportunity because they were a ‘board certified’ PM? Were you informed? Did anyone tell you the selection criteria? I think not. Why? Because for the corporation, there is too much risk for corporate liability if they do not assign a certified professional and you will never know.

So – what does certification do for you? Certification announces to your management, executives, customers, clients, hiring managers, steering committee, etc. that you are ‘board certified.’ As an instructor, I must possess certification to teach in each discipline. After working for 43 years, 35 as a professional, do you think I require a certification?

Truth be told, there are nurses who are better than the doctors they support and there are secretaries who are better executives than the managers they serve. Life isn’t fair and you will never know what opportunities you have missed. You could have been working on a different and more exciting project than the one you are on today or what you will be doing tomorrow. Likely, the absence of a certification has impacted you already.

In requisitions, hiring managers may stipulate “certification preferred” or “certification required.” Despite your history, it is less likely that your resume will be sent up for interview selection if the requisition has this requirement.  Government contracts will require a certified project manager. Companies propose to government contracts because they are large and lucrative so you won’t get to lead those. So, the absence of a certification will cause your resume to be excluded from the interview shortlist even if you are the most qualified. Some companies will not permit a project manager to join their PMO without a certification. The certification is the price of admission to a higher rank.

The preceding material is negative motivation but I need to get your attention. Let’s continue discussion of “Why do I need project management certification?” from a more positive viewpoint.

Here I’d like to point out that a project management certification is more valuable to the individual lacking a college degree and in some organizations, a certification trumps a degree. Possession of a certification may permit hiring managers or HR to ignore the absence of a degree.

The presence of a certification demonstrates your commitment to enhancing your professional skills. It shows that you sacrificed your personal time to pursue the enhancement of your skill set. Individuals with initiative and continuous skill acquisition are what hiring managers seek because necessary skill sets are evolving.

Authentic project management training organizations supply exam training with professional skill enhancement. They make the instruction apply to the exam as well as to a professional’s activities. Following an exam, I enjoy learning from students that the training remained with them. All was not brain flushed upon certification receipt and they saw what initially appeared to be superfluous to be an activity they were performing already but differently.

Project managers have transferable skills. We all possess experience and expertise in a specific area. Likely you were selected to become a project manager because you displayed leadership capabilities as a subject matter expert. This usually occurred when you were in an operations area, where we all usually begin following college. I have found project managers who learned in banks and later worked in film production.

In recent years, I have observed that universities are now jumping on the project management bandwagon, delivering preparation for the PMP® certification exam and creating Master’s degree programs in project management. I recall working as a high school student on Wall Street where few traders and brokers had a degree. Now times have changed and today, a degree from a “big name” institution is required to work there. I advise while there is a window of opportunity for project management, jump through.

Certifications that are available include:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)® and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®- developed by PMI® in the US
  • PRINCE2® – developed by AXELOS in the UK
  • Agile Project Management (AgilePM®) – developed by APMG in the UK

There are various project management certifications which have different requirements, different benefits and are recognized in different regions. None are a walk in the park to achieve and each has separate renewal requirements.

The PMP® was started by three industries: construction, manufacturing, and defense. Do you think you can learn something from those who developed the nuclear-powered vessels? Missiles? Computer operating systems? Assembly lines? Chemical plants? Or constructed the World Trade Center? Madison Square Garden? Your local school?

What do you take away from preparing for the certification exam?

I’ll answer this with another diversion. In class, it has been my experience that senior, experienced project managers state: “I wish I had taken this training years ago. I had to learn much of this myself through trial and error and it was painful. This training would have provided me a jump start. Most especially, I needed to know the tools, the processes and the sequence of processes. I would have been able to see how the project management process could be transitioned to other disciplines.” The senior professionals view this as a sabbatical that lets them examine their experience in a new setting.

I have taught classes worldwide, to professionals in industries from defense to retail. I can assure you that a project management certification is recognized everywhere and can open doors.

PMI, PMBOK, PMP, and CAPM are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

About the Author

Anselm E. Begley (MBA, PMP, CBAP, CSM, CSPO) has been teaching project management, business analysis, and general management for companies and government organizations worldwide since 2007. A retired business manager at HP, his career has spanned 30 years in systems analysis, network architecture, business support, business management and opportunity pursuit.  He was an adjunct professor at NYU, and he has lectured at City University of NY and Rutgers.

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