Every day I receive links to articles where the word ‘professionalism’ is used in articles around the world.
The word tends to be used to describe something ideal about the work of a person, group of people or an organisation, which is what I would expect. When it is used in a negative context, it is usually about how a person, group of people or organisation didn’t live up to the concepts related to ‘ideal’ performance in their jobs.
But what I find interesting is that the word ‘professionalism’ is rarely used by itself when it’s being used to praise someone. A few examples from recent articles are people being praised for their “quality, expertise and professionalism”; and their “skills, preparedness and professionalism” and also simply their “composure and professionalism”.
I wonder why that is?
I have two thoughts.
The first thought is this – I wonder if the word has come to be used as a catch-all to mean “and everything else”. People seem to choose a few more specific words to praise someone, such as being ‘skilful’ or ‘prepared’ but then want to give more general, undefinable praise when the first two words don’t seem to be quite enough.
Secondly, I wonder if people mean that professionalism doesn’t include the words they use beside it? If someone is ‘skilful, ethical and professional’, does that mean that they are both ‘skilful’ on the one hand and ‘professional’ on the other? ‘Ethical’ on the one hand and ‘professional’ on the other? Does this mean that skills and ethics are not a part of professionalism?
That would somewhat undermine my model or professionalism, wouldn’t it? To me, skills and ethics are visceral components of professionalism. They are necessary conditions for professionalism.
I suspect that the first thought is probably right. It’s a case of people using the word as a catch-all – they highlight one or two features of someone’s performance but then want to give them higher praise – and what higher praise is there for someone in their work than professionalism?
The implication of this use of the word is that while people agree that professionalism is ‘a good thing’, it is still very much a nebulous concept; one without a precise definition or shape or form that one can cling to.
But if it is indeed ‘a good thing’, isn’t it worth having a better understanding of what it means in our everyday working lives?
We want to be praised for our professionalism, partly for the praise itself, but mainly for the reputation of being professional and the opportunities that this can open up for us. Career progression, more responsibility, maybe even higher pay!
For a start, I don’t believe that professionalism is a nebulous concept, a catch-all for all that is good. I think that there is a structure to it that can be applied to any person in any work-role.
In fact, like skills and like knowledge, professionalism can be practised and developed. If you know what it is, you can consider the things that you need to do in order to be more professional.
It’s true that professionalism for each and every person is subtly different because so much depends on the type of work-role you have and your own personal attributes that you bring to your work, but the same components all need to be present, such as skills, knowledge, morality, an approach and an appropriate identity.
Let me know what you think in the comments, below.