Eminence, why you want it and how to achieve it


Your value as a professional is determined by how much value you create. The more value you create, the more valuable you become. Eminence is about creating value at the highest levels, and correspondingly, driving your value to the highest levels.

As your own value increases, you will have greater opportunity, greater security, and greater possibility to achieve your career goals, whatever they might be, and thus derive greater satisfaction in your career.

This paper discusses the concrete steps that you can take now to help you achieve professional eminence in the field of project management.


What Is Eminence?

Literally, the word eminence means the quality of standing out. In our context, it means the quality of standing out in your profession. To be eminent means to be, and to be recognized as, among the best.

Is Eminence For You?

It would be a mistake to think that eminence is reserved for the special few, the particularly gifted, the anointed. It's not. It's for the person who is willing to understand what it is and how to achieve it. It's for the person who is willing to work for to achieve it. It's for you, and this paper can help you achieve it.

Creating value

To appreciate what eminence is, we need to consider how it is that you create value.

Value depends on being able to supply for a need. Implicit in this simple statement is that you have something someone needs, and can provide it. That implies that they are aware of what it is that you have and believe that it will in fact meet the need. What it comes down to is this: The possibility to create value depends on having both a product and a market for that product.

Your ability to create value begins with personal capability. Personal capability is the thing that you have that can supply for a need. That's your product. That much is necessary, but it's not sufficient.

You also need a market. Your market consists of those people who have a need that can be provided for by your capabilities, the people that you could create value for.

Value creation can only happen if your market knows you exist, knows your capabilities, and knows that you can use your capabilities to provide for their need. So, beyond having capabilities (your product), there needs to be a certain awareness of your capabilities on the part of your market.

Your ability to create value thus depends on two factors:

  1. Your capability to meet a market need
  2. Awareness within your market

Increasing Value to Achieve Eminence

You already possess a certain ability to create value. Achieving eminence means ratcheting up this ability to create value to the highest levels. You can create greater value by increasing along each of two dimensions—capability and awareness. The very good news is that both of these factors are completely within your control.

Now you know what to do to achieve eminence.

We've also talked about the fact that eminence isn't for the elect, the elite, the anointed, the few. It's for you. So we've also considered the who of eminence. You.

We've also talked about why. Your ability to create value in the market you serve determines your personal value. As your own value increases, you will have greater security, greater opportunity, greater possibility to achieve your career goals, whatever they might be, giving you greater satisfaction in your career. That's the why.

Eminence: How to Achieve It

The reasonable next question is, How? How can you achieve eminence? That translates to:

  1. How can you increase capability?
  2. How can you increase market awareness?

It Takes Work

I insist that eminence is achievable for anyone who wants to work for it. How do I know that? People say I've achieved eminence. I suppose I have. I know that I feel good about my ability to create value. And I certainly feel that my ability to create value has given me good possibilities and an enormously satisfying career and life.

Look around at other people you know that you respect and that you feel have achieved eminence. You'll find that they're remarkably, extraordinarily, ordinary! And yet they have achieved a certain eminence. So can you.

While on the one hand, I will say that you can certainly achieve eminence, I will also say that it takes a bit of work. It doesn't happen by itself, but it can be made to happen.


And as we've covered, the way to make it happen is to ratchet up your ability to create value by increasing along the two dimensions of value creation:

  1. Personal capability
  2. Market awareness

Your personal capability is what you have to sell. It's your product. It's what value is based on. By increasing capability, you increase potential value. When considering how to increase value through increased capability, there are two aspects that need to be taken into account.

  1. The first aspect is, What is the market value of the capabilities that you do or would like to possess?
  2. And the second aspect, of course is, What level of that capability do you want to achieve?

To be clear, modest expertise in a high-demand capability trumps ninja-level expertise in an obsolete capability. For example, there's not much value to be derived in the market for sending Morse code, no matter how good you might be at it.

Project Manager Capabilities

So the first aspect in how to increase the value of personal capability is market value. We project managers must develop capabilities in these three areas:

  1. The first area is within the technical domain that we manage projects. If we manage bridge-building projects, we need to know something about building bridges. Which technical domains have greater market value? In the world of technology, this is a moving target. We need to stay abreast of what's going on in the market and adjust accordingly.
  2. The second area where we have to develop capabilities is in project management per se. This means everything that we would find in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition (Project Management Institute, 2013) but also those things which apply uniquely in your context (your employer or your clients).
  3. The third area is certainly the most important. It drives the most value because it's relatively more scarce, it's more difficult to achieve and it's highly leveraged, that is, its impact across a project is considerably greater. I am referring, of course, to leadership and communications.

Choose Wisely

Within those three, there is a huge number of possibilities for what to improve on. Where do you start? How do you choose? It depends a lot on you: What are your strengths? What are your interests? What do you like?

It also depends on your market: What do they want? What do the value? What do they need?

The Ideal: When Your Capabilities Are Highly Valued in Your Market

Exhibit 1 – The Ideal: When Your Capabilities Are Highly Valued in Your Market

Ideally, you will be able to focus on things that occur at the intersection of what works for you and what has value in your market (see Exhibit 1).

Increasing Level of Capability

As I said earlier, when considering how to increase value through capability, there are two aspects that need to be taken into account.

  1. The first aspect is the market value of the capabilities that you do or would want to possess.
  2. The second aspect is your level of those capabilities.

How do you increase your level of those capabilities? There are any number of ways, these are among the possibilities:

  1. Learning by doing (on-the-job training)
  2. Taking courses (through any variety of methods)
  3. Reading books, articles, blogs, etc.
  4. Studying (which is different from just reading)
  5. Reflecting so as to understand better
  6. Teaching
  7. Observing
  8. Being mentored
  9. Asking a lot of questions

How much capability should you cultivate? Optimize toward value. In the time it would take to achieve ninja-level mastery of one skill, you might be able to achieve more than sufficient mastery of several skills.

The Mastery Asymptote

Exhibit 2 – The Mastery Asymptote

There's an 80/20 rule that applies here. It's about diminishing marginal return on investment – the so-called mastery asymptote (see Exhibit 2).

Continuous Improvement

The project manager who wants to achieve eminence cultivates the right skills and to the right level to be able to create the most value.

Is there a point at which you can be sure that you have learned enough and can stop learning? I'm sure there's not. It's a fleeting thing. You must continue to grow, to learn, to reevaluate, and to adjust. Markets change. Needs change. You change. You're never done learning. You're never done exploring. You're never done growing.

In fact, I would say that it is characteristic of the eminent professional that the learning never ceases. The eminent professional stays out in front of change, and that capability itself is hugely valuable.


As good as you might become, your capabilities have zero value without awareness. Awareness is a value enabler. But it's more than that too. It's a value multiplier.

To get any value at all from a capability requires some level of awareness. Somebody has to know that you have that capability. The value of that capability is multiplied to the extent that awareness of it increases.

With no further investment in a capability, the value derived from it can be multiplied many times over simply by increased awareness within your market. Your market needs to know you exist, know your capabilities, and know that you can use your capabilities to provide for their needs.

Know your product

To be able to raise awareness within your market about those things, you need to know yourself:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What are your capabilities?
  3. How can you can use those capabilities to create value within your market?

Do you know? Keep in mind Rule Number 1: If it's not written down, it doesn't exist. You can only be sure if you have articulated it in writing.

Know Your Market

Raising awareness within your market is Marketing. Don't let the term put you off. It's simply about letting people know who you are and what you can do for them to drive value for them.

Marketing is an exercise in communication, and as in all communication, the first prerequisite is to know your audience. This is useful on three levels:

  1. It helps you know which capabilities are most in demand and thus most valuable, and thus most important to cultivate. So it helps you improve along the first dimension, that of capability.
  2. It helps you understand where and how you can create the most value.
  3. It lets you know what you must communicate and to whom in terms of who you are, what you can do, and how you can create value for them.

Recall Rule Number 1: If it's not written down, it doesn't exist. You can only be sure to have a clear and accurate understanding of who your market is by articulating it in writing.

Build Your Brand

Within the context of your market, you're not you. You are only the perception that people in your market have of you. You are your reputation. You are your brand. Your first consideration, in increasing awareness, is to understand just what it is that you are making people aware of. It's not you. It's the image of you. It's your brand. Your brand is a proxy for you.

You may not think you have a brand but you do. You may not be managing your brand, but you have one nevertheless.

Your brand is the sum total of how people perceive you, the whole of you, and the reaction that is evoked when people think of you with respect to whether or not you really are capable of creating value for them.

You need to take control of your brand.

  1. You need for it to be a positive and accurate representation of you.
  2. You need for it to create a positive and accurate perception of you in the mind of your market.
  3. You need for it to reflect who you are, what your capabilities are and how you can use them to create value.

The good news is that in this age of social media and instantaneous communication, you have tremendous possibilities for cultivating such a positive image.

The bad news is that in this age of social media and instantaneous communication, you have tremendous possibilities for having your image get quickly and totally ruined.

Every tiny aspect of what your market sees of you contributes to your brand. The first and most important way to cultivate your brand is to use your head and not do anything that could damage it. It really does take years to create a brand and it really can be destroyed in just seconds.

When considering how you market your brand, there are many considerations. These are some of the most important considerations:

  1. The number of people you can reach
  2. How quickly you can reach them
  3. Who they are (are they within your target market)
  4. The strength of the impact you can make on them
  5. What they will learn about you

Your brand is made visible to your market in a number of ways. The most important of these are:

  1. Your direct face-to -face interactions
  2. The internet
  3. Other media (print, radio etc.)
  4. Word-of-mouth

They differ greatly in terms of number and impact and how to manage them.

Increase Exposure

Recall that any time we increase awareness, it is our brand that we are increasing awareness of. Your brand, your image, is about quality (what people perceive about you). Awareness is about quantity (how many people have a perception about you).

We increase awareness of our brand through exposure. So awareness has two components:

  1. The brand itself – the image of you
  2. Exposure

Face-to-Face Interactions

Although you may reach more people more quickly through other means, the impact you will have through direct contact is considerably greater.

The reputation you create through your face-to-face interactions will usually be a much closer approximation of who you really are than the reputation you create through other means.

As I said, everything about you contributes to your brand. So in a face-to-face context, you have to pay attention to external factors:

  • How you dress
  • How you walk, talk, sit, stand, eat, comb your hair
  • How you write
  • What you write
  • How you drive
  • What you drive
  • How well you do your work
  • The people you associate with
  • How well they do their work
  • And so much more

You can argue that all of these external factors shouldn't matter. Perhaps you're right. They shouldn't matter. Guess what. They matter. You have to take care of the externals. Make sure they reflect an accurate and positive image of who you are, what you are capable of, and how you can create value.

As much as the external things matter, the most intimate and important aspect of your personal image, your brand, is the feeling you create in other people when you engage with them.

Paradoxically, how people feel about you and react to you is determined in large measure by how you feel about them and react to them.
Take control of that interaction. Ensure that you approach each and every human interaction with

  • A positive outlook
  • An unselfish heart
  • A pleasant disposition

Breaking Out of the Pack

Our routine interactions with clients, peers, subordinates, team members, project stakeholders, managers, executives, suppliers etc., have the potential to create awareness in a very powerful and profound way.

That said, I don't think it's possible to achieve real eminence by limiting our reach to those with whom we interact routinely. We need to break out of that narrow context and enter (live and in person) into a much broader context of interpersonal interaction.

Participation in a professional association (such as Project Management Institute [PMI]) will give you many opportunities, both at the local and global levels, to extend your reach and influence. Possibilities include these:

  1. Simple networking
  2. Participation on standards committees
  3. Planning and running chapter meetings
  4. Serving in a leadership role

Going to professional conferences (within your own profession or in a client context) is wonderful because it allows you to do several things to increase eminence:

  1. Ratchet up your capabilities by attending track sessions
  2. Increase awareness by meeting other people

Interestingly, it can also help you create value in the community by becoming more aware of other people and their capabilities.

Keep in mind that our value as professionals is determined by the value that we are able to create, not just in the client context but also within our various other communities.

Other possibilities to really raise awareness and create value through direct interaction as a volunteer include:

  1. Managing projects for non-profit organizations
  2. Teaching at a local university or community college
  3. Speaking at fundraisers for community organizations

So that's a look at interpersonal interaction.

The Internet

In most cases, though, your brand is most visible, most quickly, to the most people, through the Internet. Any time you engage on the Internet, you are affecting your brand. There is no faster way to build your brand than on the internet. Correspondingly, there is no faster way to thoroughly trash it than on the internet. Keep that fact in mind as you post pictures on sharing sites, write blog entries, post comments on Facebook etc.

Your online reputation is very much a rather remote proxy for who you are. That means it's relatively easier to manipulate (for good or for bad).


Probably the single most important element of your on-line reputation is your LinkedIn profile. (Don't tell me you don't have a LinkedIn profile. You don't even exist professionally if you don't have a LinkedIn profile!) The most important step in managing your on-line image is to manage your LinkedIn profile.

Your On-Line Persona

Beyond using social media, you need to pay attention to your online persona. You need to understand the image of you that is on the web and manage it to be what you want it to be. There are a number of tools that help you do that.

Because of its speed and power, you can use the Internet to very quickly reach a great many people. There are two problems inherent in this:

  1. So can everyone else - there's more clutter that you need to rise above
  2. The people you reach may not be the right people

This is particularly a problem when it comes to social media. There are two good possibilities here to manage social media so that you can reach most of the right people and not so many of everyone else.

  1. Be aware of whom you are connected with
  2. Manage security and privacy settings appropriately

Other Online Possibilities

The Internet provides many possibilities beyond LinkedIn and Facebook to raise awareness. If you ever want to break out of the pack and achieve eminence, you need to consider those other possibilities. You might, for example:

  1. Blog for a professional association such as PMI
  2. Contribute to someone else's blog
  3. Start your own blog
  4. Publish a newsletter
  5. Participate in online discussions
  6. Create a website
  7. Post presentations on SlideShare or similar sites
  8. Post online book reviews
  9. Comment on articles
  10. Do webcasts.
  11. Post videos on YouTube
  12. Put a link to your LinkedIn profile in your email signature
  13. Put a link to your blog in your email signature

There's much more you can do. Just keep in mind that it all has more value to the extent that you reach more of the people you want to influence and fewer of the people you don't want to influence and are likely to irritate.

Any of these things that can be done within the context of the outside community (on the Internet) can and also should be done within the context of either your employer or your clients (on the intranet).

Other Media

Occasionally, and especially as you increase in eminence, you might have more opportunities to exploit more conventional media.

In general, broadcast media and popular publications have little value in terms of exposure and raising awareness. On the other hand, professional journals and magazines can have enormous impact in raising awareness as can other media that targets the project management or client community. Some things you might do:

  1. Write an article for a trade journal or magazine
  2. Contribute material to a book
  3. Write a book


What other people say about us (through whatever means) carries far more impact (for better or for worse) than what we might say ourselves. Word-of-mouth is the most profound and important aspect of our brand, and the one that we have the least control over. It doesn't usually have the potential to reach many people, but usually, it reaches exactly the right people (for better or for worse). The best way to influence your brand in this case is to ensure that your every interaction with others reflects positively on you.

Interpersonal word-of-mouth will always be a critical part of the human experience. Few things are more powerful in terms of impact than when someone else raises awareness about us. When it's good, it's powerfully good. When it's bad, it's very powerfully bad. In either case, though, the reach of word-of-mouth is small.

Social media gives us new possibilities to both increase and manage the word-of-mouth exposure that we get. Various platforms provide the ability for others to comment on us and contribute to both exposure and brand. This can take the form of something as trivial as a Like on Facebook, or a well-thought-out and carefully considered Recommendation on LinkedIn. We have the ability to solicit these things, and to otherwise manage what others are saying about us. This is good in a sense, but it also has the effect of diminishing the overall credibility of what's being said.

Whether through true interpersonal word-of-mouth or through social media or through any other means, the best thing you can do is guard your reputation jealously and ensure that everything you do and say is something that you would be pleased to have repeated about you.

Relative Importance

Harvey J. Coleman (1996) articulated proportions for how much each of the three contributes to success. (p. 21).

Factors that contribute to Success

Exhibit 3 – Factors that contribute to Success

Amazingly, even though absolutely everything else depends on capability (performance), it actually only contributes 10 percent in the value equation. Success depends much more heavily on the other factors. Image (your brand) contributes 30 percent and exposure (awareness) contributes fully 60 percent. Capability is highly leveraged by brand awareness and so we do well to raise such awareness (see Exhibit 3).

The Eminent Project Manager

The Market Value of Our Capabilities

As we've noted, eminence is achieved by increasing capability and by raising awareness, by marketing.

I would say that the biggest difference between the eminent project manager and the rest of the pack is that the eminent project manager not only develops capabilities with real market value, but also markets those capabilities. On a day-to-day basis, we have to ration our time among three things:

  1. Actually doing the work
  2. Increasing capability
  3. Marketing

Just to be clear, the proportions on the previous chart don't have anything to do with how we use our time. They have to do with the relative value derived.

A relatively modest amount of time well spent on marketing activities can radically increase the amount of value we can create.

Note as well that all the time in the world spent on developing capability will have no influence on our ability to create value apart from some level of marketing.

Ongoing Eminence

Is there a point at which you can be sure that you have achieved eminence? It's a gradual process, and it's hard to say. If you're not sure, you probably aren't there yet. Once you're there, you'll know.

In any case, eminence isn't a merit badge. Just because you've achieved it doesn't mean you have it for life. You must continue to grow, to learn, to reevaluate, to adjust. You must continue to market your capabilities and manage awareness, taking care of your brand and ensuring that you get the right exposure.

Planning for Eminence

As you think about managing your career, consider that the more value you drive, the greater value you have. Eminence is about creating value at the highest levels.

Achieving eminence would mean that you are capable of driving value at the highest levels. And correspondingly, of course, this would drive your value to the highest levels.

As your value increases, you will have greater opportunity, greater security, greater possibility to achieve your career goals, whatever they might be and thus derive greater satisfaction in your career and in life.

Eminence is something you can achieve. Treat it like a project.

  1. Make the long-term commitment to it
  2. Get a coach or Mutual Accountability Partner (MAP) – someone to work with
  3. Establish specific goals
    • Develop your capabilities
    • Market your capabilities
  4. Define the actions that will help you achieve your goals
  5. Make a plan (and remember Rule Number 1: If it's not written down, it doesn't exist)
  6. Evaluate your progress
  7. Reevaluate periodically
    • Your capabilities
    • The market
  8. Adjust as necessary

As you make your plan and consider how you will spend your time, keep in mind that time spent on marketing your capabilities can have nine times the impact that time spent on improving you capabilities can have. Marketing is a value multiplier. It's what truly distinguishes the eminent project manager.

It's Within Your Reach

I'd like to conclude by reiterating that eminence is not reserved for the special few, the particularly gifted, the anointed. It's not. It's for the person who is willing to understand what it is and how to achieve it. It's for the person who is willing to work for it. It's for you.

  1. Improve in the capabilities that your market values.
  2. Make sure your market knows that you have those capabilities and that you can use them to create value.

It's all about the value that you can bring.

Coleman, H. J. (1996). Empowering yourself: The organizational game revealed. Bloomington, IN: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

© 2013, Jim De Piante
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana



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