Professional is, as professional does

I’ve been paying attention to the use of the word ‘professional’.  And it’s got me thinking about what is meant about something ‘being professional’.

You might wonder, what’s this thinking got to do with knowledge work (which is the focus of this blog)?  I’d argue that professionals are knowledge workers, regardless of their profession.  It is their substantial knowledge and skill in a field or profession that warrants them the label knowledge worker. And they need to be cultivating that knowledge-base to maintain their professional credibility.

Here’s a sample of what I’ve come across in use of the word “professional”:
“It’s strictly a professional relationship.”
“The course is part of my professional development.”
“Their [company] website is very professional.”
“I wouldn’t use them again,  they weren’t very professional.”
“I get advice from my professional friends as well as personal ones.”
“I wear a suit as part of my professional appearance.”
“He plays tennis professionally.”
“If you want professional service, get someone accredited with the association.”
“The university makes a distinction between professional and academic staff.”
“It was a truly professional presentation.”
“I wish my staff would act more professionally.”

That last one, in particular got me thinking.  So what marks someone or something as ‘professional’? Here’s my list (a work in progress):

  • Done right and done well, high quality not mediocre
  • Done completely, nothing overlooked, attends to the right details
  • Do what they say they are going to do … or renegotiate
  • Respectful and courteous
  • Maintains appropriate boundaries, not overly familiar
  • Takes responsibility for action, consequences and mistakes, recovers in a mature manner
  • Has qualifications and credentials; endorsed by others
  • Has experience and expertise to be recognised at a particular standard
  • Confident and competent with established ways and means, not a novice
  • Has integrity, don’t share what is confidential, private  or not their right to share
  • Has reputation for achievement or delivery
  • Competent at managing time, resources, work, quality, risk
  • Compensated(with currency of value) for performance
  • Results in quality outcomes that are valued by the consumer/customer

What do you think? Got anything to add to my lists?

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and ways to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.


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