Can professionalism stand for something bigger?

Rosemary McLean, Director at the Career Innovation Company, reflects on PARN’s theme of ‘Promoting Professionalism in the 21st Century’.

PARN’s Autumn conference considers big questions for professionalism today. I have been considering this, as a member of three professional bodies with very different profiles and approaches, and in the context of the shifts that are impacting businesses, public services and professional services firms.

Professionalism and career identity

Being a ‘professional’ for some, is core to their identity, and deeper than simply behaving in a professional way. Research suggests that some people do the work they do because of a career calling. This might relate to the work itself, the impact it has on others, or the status it affords.

Whilst not everyone will have this sense of calling early on, finding an evolving sense of purpose, and gaining meaning from work, is strongly linked to career satisfaction and productivity. Many organisations are helping their employees connect more directly with their need for ‘Purpose at work’ by making it an explicit business goal. Unilever have been particularly successful in connecting their employees with a wider sustainable business model.

So how can professional bodies and professionals alike continue to find their purpose and place in the changing workplace?

A ‘disrupted’ professional landscape

Having a professional identify provides continuity over a career and life span. Our professional body is the companion in this, equipping us to develop professionally whilst connecting us to like-minded colleagues. This is very much business as usual, but some of the disruptions we see now are challenging the traditional models of a profession, and the role of a professional body.

The rise of A.I. and digitalisation is expected to change some core activities in most work. In recruitment for example, technology is already well established as a means of replacing traditional interviews. Some argue that it’s the more mechanistic tasks that will be replaced, but that human and relational skills will become more important.

So as A.I. starts to remove some of the key areas of practice and expertise associated with a profession, how do we respond? Might there be dangers in hanging on to the core professional identity and practice we have valued? Will professional bodies adapt by taking a future-focused approach?

Re imaging Professionalism

I’d like to think that the professional bodies I belong to are anticipating the changes in my field of work. If the work is changing, is there an opportunity to redefine and promote how a profession adds value? One of my professional bodies is the CIPD, who are working to connect and inspire members towards a bigger purpose. They have recently introduced a more holistic profession road map designed to enable people professionals to maximise their impact, with a core focus on principled practice.

Should professional bodies have a more prominent voice when it comes to issues affecting their sector, so individual professionals feel they are standing for something bigger? The Chartered Institute of Housing connects with its members by being the ‘independent voice for housing’ and champions many housing related issues such as affordable housing.

No doubt some of the key aspects of professionalism will remain central, such as maintaining the public’s trust in the integrity and practice of professionals. Yet, ethical dilemmas and stewardship may become more complex with the increasing interplay of A.I. and human intervention.

What can I do as a professional?

As a dedicated professional you may deliver service and value daily but may not look to the future for yourself, nor your employer. The risk is that you lag behind in the ‘skills for the future’ and fail to embrace new technology and best practices.

So firstly, don’t see your CPD as a tick box exercise to keep up your registration. Lifelong professional development is essential to ‘future proof’ yourself and keep abreast of emerging knowledge and skill requirements in your sector. In an earlier PARN guest blog we provided 3 practical steps to futureproof your career.

If you have lost your motivation or inspiration, try this activity to help you build a picture of a better version of yourself. It will help surface some of the key ‘human’ attributes you value in addition to your core professional capabilities. This is based on Repertory Grid technique and work by George Kelly.

Step 1


  • Identify up to 8 people in your field or profession; people you admire for the way they do their work, but also include 2 people who you see as a bad example
  • They can be from any time in your career
  • Write down the words you associate with each of them; their skills, qualities, knowledge, and style of working
  • Use a separate piece of paper for each one
Step 2
  • Group your people by how similar they are or by how they differ
Step 3
  • Choose 3 that have the most positive shared features or characteristics
  • Reflect on the qualities they have in common, what this tells you about your values and the sort of professional you want to be


My hope for the Professional Body sector is that it can truly help members equip themselves for the skills of the future by being relevant, adding value and aspiring to a bigger purpose. I’m looking forward to a professionalism conversation with you at the PARN conference.


The Career Innovation Company works with membership organisations worldwide, putting in place large-scale online support for professional and career development. Their flagship services and Be Bold in your Career empower members to develop their careers within their professional community.

For help on creating career strategies, online career development courses, tools and resources, please go to, or connect with us @careerinnovator or LinkedIn.

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