There is a debate going around the project management community about whether a Project Manager is a Professional. It's a slightly silly debate in the end, for the simple reason - in my opinion - that whether a PM is classified as a Professional or not will have little impact on the success of failure of projects.
Looking at other professions. Doctors, Airline Pilots, Lawyers. The certification of the professional status of these fields - for the most part - is rigorous. I know about two of these fields - Lawyers and Airline Pilots. Both hold "licenses" to performance their professional duties. Both professions have numerous examples of un-professional behavior. It is rare that we read about lawyers killing people. Airline pilots do at a rising rate in 2009.
But airliners still crash due to "pilot error," people still die on the operating room table due to negligence, lawyers get sued themselves for misconduct. These appear to be rare, but in fact they are not. A check of the Stats at the National Institutes of Health, or the stats at the National Transportation Board aviation accident database.
To the question of Professional Project Managers
There are upsides and downsides to being labeled a Professional Project Manager. Professional are liable for their actions in ways non-professionals are not. But there is a question of credentialing. Credentialing refers to mandated licensing and voluntary certification programs.
The "profession" of project management at this point is a voluntary certification program world wide. For example registered nurses are licensed to practice, but board certification allows them to access to specialty areas.
There is the prestige of being called a professional. And let's not forget those who provide training, education, and certification for professional designation. They've got lots to sell us and money to be made advancing the profession.
This by the way is why state certification of professional engineers is an good thing - since the state is not in the business of making professionals out of the engineers, but protecting the public from their actions. The states issue licenses
The step to become a Professional - whether PM's ever become professionals or not - is the start acting like a professional.
- Keep up to date on all things project management
- Become a member of organizations related to the "profession" of project management
- Be informed about matter concerning the "profession" of project management
Now to the Point
If you want to start down the road to acting like a professional, start by reading journals that contain information needed to be a professional
- Project Management Institutes Project Management Journal - irregardless of your opinion about PMI, the PM Journal has peer reviewed papers about the "profession" of project management
- International Council of Systems Engineering (INCOSE) - certifies Systems Engineers
- Society of Cost Estimating and Analysis (SCEA) - is a cost estimating professional organization, whose Journal of Cost Analysis and Parametrics contains papers focused on cost and its impact on projects mostly in the US Government Defense sector.
- International Society of Parametric Analyst (ISPA) - is the parametric side of cost analysis
- Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE) - is similar to SCEA is some ways, but heavily focused on the construction industry.
- IEEE Engineering Management Society - the management profession in the IEEE
- The National Society for Professional Engineers - has something to say about project management in the PE context.
What Does All This Mean?
First of there is to be any value from certifying - in some yet unknown way - project managers, there must be a clear and concise beneficial outcome to both those being certified and those making use of those that have been certified.
This top down approach - defining the unassailable beneficial outcome - seems to be missing from many organizations and individuals who have proposed assessing the capabilities of project managers in the context of a "profession."
Just as aside, everywhere I have every worked, the units of measure of this unassailable beneficial outcome have money in it somewhere.
So Show Me the Money
If we had Professional Project Managers - or even certified to some level of skill, knowledge, or competency - how can project success be improved? How can money be saved? How can safety be increased? A few of those annoying little things that people with the money ask, when someone asks them to part with it.