Professionalism: What does it mean?

Ever thought what it means to be a professional?

Like me, many of you reading this would describe yourselves as a professional, and almost every day we meet and interact with people who profess their intention to guarantee us a professional service.

For many years I have lectured about professionalism, exploring the concept within healthcare practice, considering its role and association with the establishment of codes of conduct and the professionalization of occupations. Now in my role as an education and training consultant I have been prompted to revisit the concept of professionalism; reflecting on the characteristics my clients will value and come to expect of me and how my actions will be perceived.

The concept

Professionalism is a concept that is hard to define, but it is predominately viewed as a set of principles, values, attitudes and behaviours that are applied throughout our working practices. Professionalism is significant because it creates trust and without this you cannot effectively serve the interests of clients or gain their confidence.

If you were to compile a list of the things you feel define you as a professional and then compare this list to that of a colleague who does similar work to you or a friend who works in a different field, you will probably find variance in the values and behaviours you each see as being important to professionalism.

This is because professionalism is context dependent and multi-faceted. No one factor defines professionalism and it is influenced by the nature of our work, educational and cultural backgrounds. It is also a dynamic concept; as our roles and responsibilities change, other desirable qualities and characteristics will become more significant. Professionalism is therefore something that needs to be ‘renegotiated’ from time to time.

Models of professionalism

Various models of professionalism do exist and not surprisingly they all differ in terms of content, each giving prominence to different characteristics, expected behaviours and service ideals. So too do the professional codes of conduct many of us are required to uphold as part of professional accreditation and regulation. However, one thing that appears to be consistent is that it is not enough to simply have knowledge of expected standards and behaviours, we each must live up to them and make a commitment to employing these within day to day practice. Indeed, failure to do so is unprofessional.

Each organisational community will be diverse, consequently there will be ambiguity amongst its members about the meaning of professionalism; different interpretations will give rise to different behaviours and common values may not be shared.

Personal traits and attitudes underpin our actions and whilst many of us possess characteristics fundamental to professionalism, we are likely to face situations and dilemmas never previously experienced which may constrain our capacity to act in a professional manner. This is particularly true for new and inexperienced employees who may, not yet fully appreciate their role and responsibilities and the professional attitudes and behaviours that need to be adopted.

Professionalism is therefore something that also needs to be nurtured. Organisational culture plays a key role in aligning personal perspectives and attitudes in accordance with professional expectations. Many factors within the working environment serve to influence the type of professional being developed. Situational variables impact upon the outcome and it cannot be assumed that professionalism will be shaped consistently or in a positive way.

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Professionalism is often portrayed as an individual pursuit when really it is a collective responsibility requiring co-operative engagement between individuals, peers, employers, educators and professional associations to ensure values and standards are established and maintained.

To effectively nurture professionalism, individuals within organisations, need to come together and be proactive in their approach. It is important to take ownership of expected values and behaviours; defining the way professionalism should be characterised within practice. In constructing an organisational specific model of professionalism teams can map out their future aspirations and negotiate ways to collectively enhance professionalism. Establishing convergence in attitude, an unvarying commitment to professional standards and a culture which actively fosters professional development, can only be a positive thing. It potentially heightens personal and organisational reputation, and leaves you better placed to serve the interests of clients and other stakeholders.

Workshop helping employees fully appreciate their role and responsibilities and the professional attitudes and behaviours that need to be adopted.

Professionalism is an essential component of long term business success and is of vital importance to clients. Therefore, professional development should not be left to chance. Veda Education and Training Consultancy Ltd offer a series of staff development workshops that focus on understanding the meaning of professionalism, alongside the values, attitudes and behaviours that reinforce it. This is a great place to engage your workforce in exploring the internal and external factors which influence professional behaviour and the significance of these in relation to reputation, client satisfaction, service quality and outcomes. Our workshops provide an opportunity to appraise current practice and consider how to enhance and maintain a culture of professionalism. By learning how professional values and standards are acquired within the workplace individuals can enhance their own capacity to nurture professionalism in others. Thus helping to sustain professional ideals and organisational success.

For more information about our workshops and how we can support you and your organisation to enhance professional orientation please contact us:

Comments in relation to the content and debates presented within the blog are welcome too via the contact page

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