PMI's career framework

the case for a project management career path


The Project Management Institute, PMI®, with more than 157,000 members in over 150 countries, is the world's foremost advocate for the project management profession. The results of the most recent member needs assessment conducted by PMI, completed by members from the USA, Canada, and other geographic regions, indicate that “one of the top two reasons for membership in PMI were identical to the most frequently given reasons in 2000:

(1)        For access to information about project management

(2)        Interest in PMP® and other PMI certifications

Other high-rated reasons, consistent with 2000 findings, include:

(3)        For professional recognition

(4)        For access to professional development

(5)        For networking/affiliation

(6)        To support the profession”

Research conducted by the American Society for Training & Development, the eighth consecutive State of the Industry report, indicated that “organizations are linking learning to both individual and organizational performance. The most frequently mentioned strategies used to forge that link include:

  • Use of formal processes to align short- and long-term business strategies with competency, learning, and performance solution needs and priorities
  • Curriculum linked to competencies, which in turn are linked to individual development plans, performance reviews, jobs, and corporate goals
  • Electronic competency planners and learning maps for individuals
  • Measurement and evaluation through program metrics, tracking of individual learning history, and chains of linked organizational scorecards.” (Sugrue & Kim, 2004, p. 19)

The organizations that implemented the aforementioned strategies report

  • Increased ability to retain essential employees, employee satisfaction, quality of products and services, cycle time and productivity, revenue, and overall profitability.
  • Increases in retention and employee satisfaction were most often attributed to executive, management, and career development programs, and tuition reimbursement. One organization reduced its employee turnover rate from 9.7 percent to 1.2 percent following the introduction of a formal career development program.
  • Increases in customer satisfaction were attributed to new learning initiatives and systems. One organization moved its customer satisfaction scores from 0.48 to 5.4 on a 7-point scare in 5 months following a client-centric training and coaching program.” (Sugrue & Kim, 2004, p. 19)

Confirming this research are the results of a study performed for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). They find that “internal career development programs are a relatively recent phenomenon. Larger corporations began to develop them in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they are beginning to appear in smaller organizations…. The typical employee views a career development program as a path to upward mobility, the manager views it as a retention and motivational tool and upper management views it as a tool for succession planning. From any angle, it is a win-win proposition.”. “Career development programs within an organization can be an effective tool for retention, improving communication, broadening employee skills, raising employee morale and job satisfaction, and even attracting quality applicants” (Prochaska, 2000, pp. 1 - 2).

Finally, research conducted by PMI with 383 business and government senior executives from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, United States, and Canada indicated that:

  • Senior level executives generally agree that project management proficiency is a matter of strategic importance to their organization
  • Overall, the majority of companies overseas and in North America follow a standardized/formal procedure for managing projects
  • Slightly more than 50% do not have a formal project management career path
  • Asian companies are most likely to have a project management career path, followed by European, and lastly North American countries
  • Irrespective of country, the majority of temporary project managers are not given relief from their normal job responsibilities in order to manage a project

In summary, the case for corporate project management career paths is conclusive. PMI members join the association for information about project management, access to professional development, and networking. Corporations that align short- and long-term business strategies with competency and learning report increased ability to retain essential employees and increased employee satisfaction. Finally, slightly more than 50% of corporations do not have formal project management career paths.

PMI's Project Management Career Framework – The Current State

At present, PMI offers a number of programs related to creating a project management career path. Among these programs are:

  • The Project Management Professional (PMP®) and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) credentials
  • The Basic Knowledge Assessment (BKA), an online assessment product
  • SeminarsWorld® and eSeminarsWorld™ offerings
  • Courses offered by PMI Registered Education Providers
  • Articles and papers form the PMI James R. Snyder Center for Knowledge and Wisdom
  • PMI Global Congress Areas of Focus
  • Career Headquarters job service
  • PMI's Career Track magazine

However, the application of these resources, in their raw form, to form a project management career path is not intuitive. Essential components of a career path are skills/competencies, job descriptions, assessments, and professional development activities.

Project management skills/competencies are the foundation of a project management career path. They may be identified through examination of PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Third Edition or PMI's Project Manager Competency Development Framework. Additional sources may include references published by the Association for Project Management (APM), the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and the Japan Project Management Forum (JPMF) to name a few. Analysis of the references and sources listed above enhanced by working forums with members of PMI's Corporate Council have identified project management hard competencies, interpersonal competencies (soft skills) and leadership competencies (Exhibit 1).

Project Management Competencies

Exhibit 1 – Project Management Competencies

In addition to the categorization of the competencies by hard, interpersonal, and leadership competencies, the competencies are associated with managing projects and programs. With regard to leadership competencies, many corporations have identified leadership competencies to be applied consistently throughout the corporation. To cover the case where an entity had not identified corporate leadership competencies, a set has been included (Exhibit 1) (Smith, 2003). This set of hard, interpersonal, and leadership competencies are available, as a component of PMI's career framework initiative, to facilitate the creation of job descriptions. Additional dimensions to be considered as a corporation creates a set of project management job descriptions are the complexity of the project/program and any industry specific components of the competency, e.g., construction vs. vehicle design/development vs. pharmaceutical, etc. Typically, a subset of this comprehensive set of competencies is applied to the positions being created for the project management career ladder. Finally the level to which the competency is applied must be identified for each of the positions in the job ladder. Is knowledge of the competency sufficient; must the competency be applied with supervision; must the competency be applied independently; or must a mastery level of the competency be attained?

Another component of a job/position description is the definition of the job. The foundation of this definition, a one-paragraph definition of the job, has been created by PMI as an adjunct product of PMI's bi-annual Salary Survey (Project Management Institute, 2003). The salary survey is administered continually to members. Eleven (11) job definitions, which range from educator/trainer, consultant and specialist all the way to chief executive office, have been created to enable participants of the survey to identify their jobs as they respond to the survey. During this process, less than ten percent (10%) of the participants have been unable to identify their job from the eleven (11) definitions. This set of project management job definitions is available, as a component of PMI's career framework initiative, to facilitate the creation of job descriptions.

Additional components of a job/position description are level of experience, e.g., time in position, size of project team, size of the project measured as value of the project (typically amount of time and materials described in financial terms), and qualifications. These qualifications may be educational degrees as well as professional credentials. PMI has created a family of project management credentials, the Project Management Professional, PMP®, and the Certified Associate in Project Management, CAPM®.

Assessments are key components of a career ladder to either position an individual in a job on the career ladder or to enable an individual to identify areas for professional development. PMI provides the Basic Knowledge Assessment (BKA) as an assessment to satisfy this requirement. The BKA evaluates general knowledge of project management practices based on the five Project Management Process Groups (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing) of the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute). Developmental resources, ideally linked to a competency, are crucial for the development of knowledge or skill in that competency. PMI publishes books and standards, PM Network®, the Project Management Journal®, and proceedings from PMI's Global Congresses. Articles from each of these sources are being indexed to the relevant competency to enable individuals to locate references that might be used to enhance their knowledge and/or skill in that competency. Additional professional development activities, seminars and courses, are available from PMI through the SeminarsWorld®, eSeminarsWorld™, and web-based self study programs as well as from PMI Registered Education Providers. Finally, texts on relevant topics may be identified from the PMI BookStore or other sources.

The creation of a project management job description, assessment, and development activities from relevant sources is facilitated by PMI's Career Framework initiative (Exhibit 2). Typical components of a corporate career path, the job description, an assessment, and professional development activities, are located on the left side of this graphic. Relevant resources that provide the raw material for a corporate career path are located on the right side of this graphic. Items from PMI's Career Framework initiative are illustrated in the middle of the graphic. These items, mentioned above, are the relevant resources that may be used by corporations as they create a project management career ladder.

PMI's Career Framework Initiative

Exhibit 2 – PMI's Career Framework Initiative

PMI's Project Management Career Framework – The Future State

Additional products and services, viewed as part of the Project Management Career Framework, are the potential for a more prescriptive set of job descriptions, an updated set of competencies, and the implementation of a Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Content Management System (LCMS).

As PMI continues to perform research with a wide variety of organizations, there is the potential for the identification of a consistent set of metrics for the variables that influence the creation of job descriptions. Typically, as a corporation creates a job ladder, human resource professionals evaluate the level of experience, e.g., time in position, size of project team, size of the project measured as value of the project (typically amount of time and materials described in financial terms) and other variables as they create the job descriptions that are components of the ladder. In most instances, jobs higher on the ladder have increased responsibility as viewed by these variables. Additionally, however, these metrics also vary considerably based on the industry. An example of this is the value of the project measured in financial terms for a first level project manager. In some industries, a first level project manager has responsibility for a project valued at less than $250,000. However, in the case of the United States Department of Energy, a first level project manager has responsibility for a project valued at less than $20,000,000. In a similar fashion, project team size varies considerably based on industry. It would appear that a consistent set of metrics might be created based on industry type. Continued research in this area may confirm this suspicion.

As PMI publishes the Standard for Program Management and/or Portfolio Management, the update to the Project Manager Competency Development Framework, the update to the Project Management Professional (PMP) Role Delineation Study, and other relevant standards and references, the competencies (Exhibit 1) must be updated to reflect those competencies that are most relevant to the project management profession. The process to create or update these publications was to engage worldwide stakeholders, in some cases through regional meetings, to identify the relevant material and create the draft documentation that is passed through the publication process. Upon receipt of the updated references, a comprehensive evaluation of the competencies will be performed to verify the existing competencies and update the relevant resources within the Career Framework Initiative. To date, the competencies have been verified against A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge-Third Edition (PMBOK® Guide).

Learning Management Systems typically contain the entire set of corporate job descriptions, an assessment tool used to position an employee in a particular job within the ladder or to enable the employee to self assess themselves in the relevant competencies to identify areas for professional development. As envisioned by the Career Framework Initiative, companies would institute an LMS to help employees guide their own career and their professional development activities identified through a self-assessment or a 360° assessment. An LCMS is the tool employees would use to help identify specific professional development references or courses recommended by the corporation to satisfy professional development needs identified by the assessment. PMI is currently linking relevant resources in PMI's James R. Snyder Center for Project Management Knowledge and Wisdom to PMBOK® Guide knowledge areas and/or competencies. Current references contained in PMI's James R. Snyder Center for Project Management Knowledge and Wisdom are PM Network® articles, Project Management Journal articles, papers presented at PMI Global Congresses, and relevant project management texts. In the future, PMI plans to link relevant seminars delivered through PMI's SeminarsWorld® or e-Learning programs as well as those supplied by PMI Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.) program. PMI aims to spread the use of these tools from the larger organizations that have them now into smaller organizations, thus helping employees in those organizations mature and furthering the project management profession as a whole.


The case for corporate career paths is conclusive. Large corporations began to develop career paths, in many cases as they created corporate universities, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Employees view career paths and the corresponding professional development references as an employee benefit. Research has identified career paths as sources of increased employee satisfaction and retention. However, slightly more than 50% of corporations do not have formal project management career paths. The Project Management Institute, to advocate the profession, has recognized this need and is providing a set of tools that may be used by corporate human resource departments as they create project management career paths.


Prochaska, S. T. (2000). Designing organizational programs for employee career development. Retrieved 01/04/2005 from

Project Management Institute. Assess your pm knowledge. Retrieved 02/10/05 from

Project Management Institute. (2003). The PMI project management salary survey, third edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Smith, A., & Rogers, R.W. (2003). A Blueprint for leadership success. Pittsburgh: Development Dimensions International.

Sugrue, B., & Kim, K.-H. (2004). 2004 State of the industry: ASTD's annual review of trends in workplace learning and performance. Alexandria: American Society for Training& Development.

© 2005, John T. Roecker
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Edinburgh, Scotland



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