Project related professions

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Gianluca di Castri, DIF, EIE/ICEC.A

Paper presented to ICEC 2014 World Congress in Milano



The purpose of this paper is to look at the project professions as they are now in order to envisage a new vision of the profession in the near future, through a process of simplification and reduction to no more than two or three well-defined professional fields.

This is being done by taking into consideration the actual status and variety of project related professions, together with the peculiarities of different cultures as well as the difference of the professional structure in continental Europe and in the rest of the World.

An integration among the different associations acting in the project professions in recommended.

Keywords: project, profession, association



The word “profession” can be defined in different ways, whose detail can be found in the note[i] . On semantic point of view, the meaning of this word changed

  • from the original meaning in Latin, where “professio” was a public declaration, mainly referring to the “professio fidei” as the public declaration of one’s religious belief. The meaning of “publicly declared art or activity” is secondary. Also Webster’s, as first definition, says that profession is a “public declaration”, “an act of openly declaring or publicly claiming a belief, faith or opinion”, “the act of taking the wows that consecrate oneself to special religious service”
  • to the modern understanding of “profession” as “a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation”.
  • “Liberal professions” are, according to the Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications (2005/36/EC), those practised on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public”.

To be noted that, in recent times, has been introduced in the United States the term “paraprofessional”[ii] to identify “a job title given to persons in various occupational fields, such as education, healthcare, engineering and law, who are trained to assist professionals but do not themselves have professional licensure”


The European Qualification Framework (EQF)

The European Union has defined an European Qualification Framework that, in eight levels describes what one “knows, understands and is able to do”. The EQF is summarized in the table below (from Wikipedia)


Lev. Knowledge Skills Competence Background
1 Basic general knowledge basic skills required to carry out simple tasks work or study under direct supervision in a structured context Basic knowledge
2 Basic factual knowledge of a field of work or study basic cognitive and practical skills required to use relevant information in order to carry out tasks and to solve routine problems using simple rules and tools work or study under supervision with some autonomy Basic knowledge and certified competencies, lower secondary school
3 Knowledge of facts, principles, processes and general concepts, in a field of work or study a range of cognitive and practical skills required to accomplish tasks and solve problems by selecting and applying basic methods, tools, materials and information take responsibility for completion of tasks in work or study; adapt own behaviour to circumstances in solving problems Professional operator qualifications, grade A in UK
4 Factual and theoretical knowledge in broad contexts within a field of work or study a range of cognitive and practical skills required to generate solutions to specific problems in a field of work or study exercise self-management within the guidelines of work or study contexts that are usually predictable, but are subject to change; supervise the routine work of others, taking some responsibility for the evaluation and improvement of work or study activities General, technical or vocational high school
5 Comprehensive, specialised, factual and theoretical knowledge within a field of work or study and an awareness of the boundaries of that knowledge a comprehensive range of cognitive and practical skills required to develop creative solutions to abstract problems exercise management and supervision in contexts of work or study activities where there is unpredictable change; review and develop performance of self and others Technical superior diploma, Higher National Diploma (UK, Malta, Nigeria)
6 Advanced knowledge of a field of work or study, involving a critical understanding of theories and principles advanced skills, demonstrating mastery and innovation, required to solve complex and unpredictable problems in a specialised field of work or study manage complex technical or professional activities or projects, taking responsibility for decision-making in unpredictable work or study contexts; take responsibility for managing professional development of individuals and groups University Degree, level (Bachelor, Laurea)
7 Highly specialised knowledge, some of which is at the forefront of knowledge in a field of work or study, as the basis for original thinking and/or research

Critical awareness of knowledge issues in a field and at the interface between different fields

specialised problem-solving skills required in research and/or innovation in order to develop new knowledge and procedures and to integrate knowledge from different fields manage and transform work or study contexts that are complex, unpredictable and require new strategic approaches; take responsibility for contributing to professional knowledge and practice and/or for reviewing the strategic performance of teams University degree, 2.ns level (Laurea Magistrale), Specialization, Master level or equivalent
Level 8 Knowledge at the most advanced frontier of a field of work or study and at the interface between fields the most advanced and specialised skills and techniques, including synthesis and evaluation, required to solve critical problems in research and/or innovation and to extend and redefine existing knowledge or professional practice demonstrate substantial authority, innovation, autonomy, scholarly and professional integrity and sustained commitment to the development of new ideas or processes at the forefront of work or study contexts including research Doctorate, Master 2.nd level

It is worthy to compare this table with the summary of the work levels based on the original theories of Elliot Jaques and further studies:


Level Grade Time span of discretionality Level of abstraction Decision Military STANAG codes Companies
I D 1 day Perceptual concrete Prescribed, pragmatic OR1 to OR9 Labourers
C 1 week Semiskilled Employees
B 1 month
A 3 months Skilled worker
II C 6 months Imaginal concrete Routine Technicians, specialists Coordinating employees
B 9 months
A 1 year
III C 16 months Imaginal scanning Interpretative, scheduling OF1 and OF2 Low or junior Management
B 20 months
A 2 years
IV C 3 years Conceptual modelling Programming, planning OF3 to OF5 Senior Management, Management of middle size companies
B 4 years
A 5 years
V C 5 to 10 years Intuitive theory Policy and coordinating policy OF6 to OF8 General Management
VI B 10 to 20 years Institution creating OF 9 and more Top Management of major companies
VII and more > 20 years

Scholarly and academic background

Degrees, as well as any school or academic background, can be classified according to the ISCED (International Standard Classification of Education), a statistical framework maintained by the UNESCO. It has been updated in 2011 as:

  • Level 0.1: early childhood education, below the age of 3
  • Level 0.2: pre-primary education
  • Level 1: primary education
  • Level 2: lower secondary education
  • Level 3: upper secondary education
  • Level 4: post-secondary non tertiary (non university) education
  • Level 5: short-cycle tertiary education
  • Level 6: bachelor or equivalent
  • Level 7: master or equivalent
  • Level 8: doctorate or equivalent


License – certification – qualification

Besides the scholarly or academic background, that give the knowledge that is necessary, but it is not enough, for the professional life, there is the need to certify the professional competences. This is why certification (or qualification) exists, as a designation earned by a person to ensure that he has the competences for a job; certification can be issued by universities, professional associations or other public as well as private certifying bodies, in most cases in different levels aiming at certifying different levels of competence, professional experience and skill.

Competence can be defined as a combined action of knowledge and ability, whose schema is shown in picture no. 1. (see attached PDF)

Still we are to find a proper way to measuring the professional seniority level, theoretically corresponding to the time span of discretionality that measures the level of work in organizations.

 In theory, competence levels (and then certification levels) could be classified as

  • entry level, relevant to young people with proper education and formative background but without any experience, that need training on the job
  • practitioner, that did not go through a complete education and formation path, but due to his experience on the field, actually can do the work
  • junior professional, that after a proper training on the job can work professionally but still need some supervision
  • certified professional, with a certified work experience, that can work without any supervision
  • senior professional, that can manage a team of professionals or work in complex
  • master professional or equivalent, that can give innovation to the profession and establish new methods

Certification or qualification are important either for person who work within a structured organization as well as for self-employed people. In most of countries, at least for some profession, there is a further requirement that is the license or equivalent. In Latin countries the license is issued by professional orders under government rules, while in English speaking countries the system is based ion chartered professional associations. Normally, the license is given after a defined and certified work experience as well as through a public examination process.


In the majority of Common Law countries, Cost Engineering and Project Management have had a separate development, like two fully independent disciplines. The relevant professions are separate, like in England, in the majority of the Commonwealth countries, in the United States of America. In countries belonging to the Civil Law group of countries, and mainly in Continental Europe, the profession of Cost Engineer, Planning Engineer and Project Manager have had a common and sometimes confused development. This can also be understood from terminology: while in Anglo-Saxon countries we have different definitions for Cost Engineering, Project Management, Planning Engineering, Quantity Surveying, in Latin countries the overall term of Ingegneria Economica (Ingenieria Económica, Financiera y de Costos) has been used since the beginning. Since 1998,  this overall concept has been accepted also by the ICEC, as Total Cost Management, whose meaning is corresponding to the meaning of Ingegneria Economica, as far as the different languages will allow the correspondence.

Project management and controls – Total cost management


Up to fifty years ago, Project Management and Total Cost Management were known and developed only by major Engineering and Construction companies working in countries where a project culture was actually needed. It is funny to note that some of those companies, whose methodologies for project management and project controls have been considered as advanced on a world-wide basis, have developed and used such tools only abroad.

For instance, in Italy it would not have made any sense to use an advanced tool in a contract for public works, where all the contractual milestones were bound to procedural and bureaucratic steps completely beyond of any control. This is why the real completion time was actually unknown, this is why all contracts for public works were subject to heavy claims for disruption and longer contract time.

In private sector situation was better. However, till the beginning of the Nineties, the major investment in Italy were either public works or investment of State owned companies. Such projects, although not considered as public works on legal point of view, have been actually managed with the same criteria.

Situation is slowly changing due to the European integration.


Organization, practice & methods

In major, international engineering and construction companies, the main roles in a project organization are:

  • The Project Director, whose responsibility is normally extended to several projects, is part of the senior management of the company and, in most cases, is part of the Directing Committee (namely to the higher committee of the management) or of the Board of Directors. To be noted that some confusion can be due to the use of the word Director, whose Italian equivalent (Direttore) has a meaning equivalent to Top Manager, while the members of the Board are identified with the title of Amministratore.
  • The Project Manager, one for each project, is part of the top or  middle management according to the size of the project compared with the yearly turnover of the company
  • The Project Office or Project Team is composed by the following sections (useless to say, each section can be formed of one or more people according to the size of the project itself):
    • Project Engineering,
    • Planning & Project Control,
    • Contract Management,
    • Cost Engineering.

In minor companies, the situation is more confused, the Project Management or Co-ordination being considered as part of the Engineering or Construction Department.

In recent time, project management has been extended to multi-project, programme and portfolio management. The terms “project”, “programme” and “portfolio” are defined in the glossaries of the PMI and of the AACE International. The glossary of the AFITEP only defines “projet” and “programme”.


The roles are evolving, probably we need to differentiate the project management roles (project managers, project engineers, project coordinators, site managers, site engineers, construction managers) from the project economics roles (cost managers, cost engineers, project controllers, planners, quantity surveyors, contract & claim managers or engineers, risk managers or engineers)



Managing and controlling

It is of paramount importance to understand the difference between managing and controlling a project (picture no. 2 – see PDF attached).



While project management is an activity that is typical from engineering & construction companies and, in some different way, of the owners, project controls (with different denominations, such as project monitoring or auditing) exist at other levels (employer, owner, end user, banks and financial institutions, government authorities, etc.)

Project management can be defined as the application of knowledge, competences and methodology,

to the management of a complex project, through managing the scope, the time and the resources (costs).

Project controls, according to the terminology adopted by the AACE International, is the process of developing targets and plans; measuring actual performance and comparing it against planned performance and taking the steps to correct the situation. The project controller, either from engineering & construction or from the owner, has some right of interfering in the management of the project, while project monitors or auditors have limited right, such as the right to complete access to the information sources, their primary duties are reporting and giving advises.

Project management and project controls have quite the same body of knowledge, while differentiation exists in competencies and their application to the profession.

Project controls has more to do with project metrics, such as measuring site and complexity of the project, find the right parameters for such measuring (workload in standard man-hours or equivalent units, location factors and other indicators) and controlling (progress, time and costs, find proper indicators for quantity and complexity), find the metric way to identify the completion of the various phases such us mechanical completion, running and reliability test completion, substantial completion, preliminary and final handing over), identify the metrics for contract and claim management and so on.

There is some confusion between the terms “project”, “controls”, “manager”, “director” and others, that  are not semantically equivalent in all languages. For instance:

  • the Italian “controllo” and the French “contrôle” have a restrictive meaning if compared to the English “controls”,
  • the Italian “progetto” does not mean “project” but “design + engineering”,
  • in military terminology, even English,  “command” and “controls” have a different meaning.

In Continental Europe, there is not a complete understanding of project controls (maîtrise de projet, controllo di progetto) vs. project management (management de projet, gestione di progetto), their boundaries seems to be less defined. While in European engineering & construction companies the project  controls can be either subordinate to the management or a function within the administrative branch, properly project controls should be an «indirect functional area» in staff to the general management.


The Owners

The real project directing function should belong to the Owner or to the Employer, where different from the Owner. In its organization, there should be a Project or Programme Director with its Project Monitoring Office. This Project Director should be part of the senior management of the Owner’s organization, for projects considered of primary importance for the Owner itself, while for minor projects or maintenance and refurbishing project a middle manager could be enough.

In some industries, the function of the project ownership has been deputised to the Purchasing Departments. This is wrong, since the Programme Management or Directorship, being a basic function of the Owner or Employer, should be strictly related to the General Management of the Owner itself, without being deputised to any functional department.


Risk management

In major private works, a correct procedure for risk management is being introduced. In general, there is a distinction between the contingencies for work variation and other contingencies (disruption, force majeure, delays, etc.), both being managed under the direct responsibility of the Project Manager.

In public works, as well as in minor works, the situation is more confused.


Human factor

In the Italian companies, as an example, people is classified as employees of various levels, semi-managers (quadri) and managers (dirigenti). In some, major companies there is a further contractual distinction between middle managers and top managers (dirigenti superiori).

The career path, in major engineering and construction companies, starts with Engineering or Site responsibilities at a minor level, such as Planning Junior Engineer, Cost Junior Engineer, Site Junior Engineer, Design Junior Engineer, and so on. This is still considered as employee level.

In general, only after having some experience as a full Engineer, the person can obtain a secondary responsibility as Project Co-ordinator or as Assistant to the Project Manager. This should be at semi-manager level.

The further step is the full Project Manager responsibility, normally at management level. To be noted that some companies try to save money by giving qualification and level lower than it is expected according to the actual responsibilities. This is a wrong policy, source of bad results. Unfortunately, still is more used than it should be.

A summary of roles is shown in picture no. 3 (see PDF attached).

Consultants are working as project management consultants or as specialists in contract and claim management. This is a growing profession in Italy, although still new and still in the starting phase.

Total cost management

Total Cost Management has to do with the whole life cycle of a project, starting from the strategic and feasibility phase until operation and later on  revamping or dismission. It includes then for strategic project planning (sometimes defined as strategic project management), project management, planning and scheduling, project measuring and controlling, contract management and forensics, asset management and operations as far as the quantitative aspects are concerned.

In the most recent view, Total Cost Management includes for:

  • Total Life Cycle Cost Management (Strategic Asset Management), Business Planning
  • Project Cost Management,
  • Project Metrics
  • Project Controls (planning and scheduling, cost engineering; project, programme and portfolio controls; project based company control)
  • Contract & Claim Management, Forensic Applications

A summary of Total Cost Management activities is shown in picture no 4 (see PDF attached).




The certification in the project professions is still a work in progress. On a conceptual point of view, we can define three different methods to qualify the professional competences:

  • Horizontal, through a procedure that grants the acceptance by the peers. This is what is normally done by the professional association and even by the chartered professional bodies in the UK
  • Vertical, through a top down procedure under government control, such as the licensing procedure of the professional orders in continental Europe, where, at least up to now, the professional have been are qualified by the government, while the professional associations have has some importance only on a cultural point of view
  • Vertical, through a bottom up market assessment

If we refer to some between the  of professional associations or certifying bodies of whom we have a better knowledge, we shall find basic differences in procedures, levels and methodologies of certification: the IPMA has an unified competence baseline and an unified certification process while the ICEC gives accreditation to the bodies of knowledge and certification processes of the member organization. There is a strong need of bridging the certification levels: the levels represented in thie table below only qualitative, while the levels described as ICEC levels are actually the levels belonging to the AICE certification system, that allows for two basic levels, practitioner that includes for the entry level and the practitioner properly so said, and expert; inside the expert level, seniority allows for an higher standard fee.

An effort to measure seniority and then quantify and compare levels of certification should be welcomed. Reference could be made to the levels of PMI,  NVQ or to the GAPPS.



The structure of all professions are changing, not solely for project management, but more holistically. Change is prevalent in the European Union, in the reform of professions in Italy and as such, all the project related professions have to be reconsidered.

A trend has commenced by some governments where  they  promote large infrastructure projects with an anti-cyclical approach to the economic trend.

Irrespective of the validity of Keynesian economic policies, the result is a growing unease by the electorate due to the lack of confidence in the ability to execute large investment projects on time and within budget. This matter really affects us directly and causes additional pressures on the profession.

Unfortunately, while in other fields of activity, the professional organizations impartially represent the entire profession, the “project profession” is divided into a plethora of organizations representing various specialties (project managers, cost managers, contract managers, risk managers, construction economists, planners, etc.), who do not speak with a unified voice. The result is that no one can demonstrate, with the due authority, the possibility that a project is carried out on time and within budget.

This fragmentation results in lack of representation both nationally and internationally,  lack of exposure, inconsistent or duplicated  standards and technical vocabulary as well as limited or unclear career path progression.  Consequently, there has been a decline in recruitment into the profession and enrollment into professional organizations. Ultimately, what we need is a body representing all the project professionals, a kind of conglomerate or federal organization, where the various specialties can maintain their identity (picture no 5 – see PDF attached).

The ICEC and IPMA are considering if and how to become  active parties in the creation of this body by involving other professional associations (RICS, PMI, FIG Commission 10, FIDIC, DRB, NETLIPSE, independent associations of QS, etc.).


It is of paramount importance, however, to realize that there are semantic problems both within the associations and between the associations and the market, so the message is consistent, but lacking mutual understanding.

However, other items have to be taken into due consideration:

  • As things are now, the understanding of the nuances of the various certifications is unclear in the professional environment, as well as in industry and in the market.  Often the certifications are considered comparable, without an understanding of the levels within these. A policy of mutually agreed certifiable competence levels will be required.  We do not need to develop new elements or to define existing elements from another point of view. We should concentrate to structure the existing elements, to re-identify them with common understanding, to upgrade the training and certification of individuals.
  • The possibility to create certification paths (and hence career paths) with a number of transitional touch-points between the certification types, enabling transition across specializations. This means that those who wish, for example, move from ICEC to IPMA certification or vice versa, can ensure their level of expertise is recognized, rather than restarting the certification process
  • More attention to the training and guidance will be required. An appropriate balance between generality and specialization, increased attention to continuing professional education.
  • More attention and alignment to market trends is necessary.

The threat comes from unrecognized internet certifications, which are not linked, to a professional organization. The commercial advantage of these institutions is the complete lack of barriers to entry and low total cost of participation


From the text above, should be clear that all the project related profession are on the way to undergo a lot of changes. From that, we deduce that, if we do not actively pursue a common goal to consolidate the profession, the “project profession” will be diluted to the detriment of the reputation and value that certified professionals bring.

Some limitation of this study is due to the Author’s professional experience, that is relevant to Europe and Middle East, therefore for a complete comprehension of the matter we need to integrate this study by confrontation with professions whose experience is related to other parts of the World.



  1. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Encyclopaedia Britannica (Merriam, 1981)
  2. Georges – Calonghi, Dizionario latino italiano (Rosenberg & Seller, Torino, 1960)
  3. CNEL, Libro bianco sulle professioni in Europa – Roma, 1993
  4. La riforma della disciplina delle professioni tecniche 1929-2009 (Cristiano Fiorenza under direction of prof. Sabino Cassese)
  5. Elliot Jaques, A General Theory of Bureaucracy (Gower Publishing Company Limited, 1976)
  6. Ralph Rowbottom and David Billis, La stratificazione del lavoro e la progettazione organizzativa in “Il servizio sanitario” edited by Elliot Jaques (Etas Libri, 1978)
  7. Gianluca di Castri, Time span of discretionality: a way of measuring job levels in public or private organizations (MTISD, 2008)
  8. Gianluca di Castri, Project Management per l’Edilizia (Flaccovio, 2009)
  9. Skills & Knowledge of Cost Engineering (AACE International)
  10. Total Cost ManagementFramework (AACE Inteernational)
  11. Cost Engineering Terminology (AACE International Recommended Practice 10S-90





  • The word profession originates from Latin “professio” whose first meaning is public declaration, “professio fidei” is the public declaration of one’s religious belief. The meaning of “publicly declared art or activity” is secondary. Also Webster’s, as first definition, says that profession is a “public declaration”, “an act of openly declaring or publicly claiming a belief, faith or opinion”, “the act of taking the wows that consecrate oneself to special religious service”
  • as far as we are concerned, according to Webster’s (item 4 of the issue), profession is “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive preparation, including instruction in skill and methods, as well as in the scientific, historic, or scholarly principles underlying such skills and methods, maintaining by force of organizations or concerted opinions high standards of achievement and conduct, and committing its members to continued study and to a kind of work which has for its prime purpose the rendering of a public service”, also “a principal calling, vocation or employment” as well as “the whole body of persons engaged in a calling (form an association that will reflect a credit on the profession”. The word “profession” is here described as a vocation to render a service and, subsequently to that, as an activity render in order to receive a proper compensation: the service comes first, the fee afterwards.
  • Webster’s also defines the learned profession (item 2 of the issue) as “any profession in the preparation for or practice of which academic learning is held to play an important part”
  • if we look to Wikipedia, we find a quite similar definition, albeit more modern: “A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain. The term is in essence a rather vaguer version of the term liberal profession, an Anglicisation of the French term profession libérale. Originally borrowed by English users in the nineteenth century, it has been re-borrowed by international users from the late twentieth, though the (upper-middle) class overtones of the term do not seem to survive retranslation: liberal professions are, according to the Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications (2005/36/EC), those practised on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public”

From the above, we deduct that, to be a professional, the main requirements are

  • the publicly declared willingness to render a service, with proper economic compensation that is subordinate to the service itself, the service can then subsist even without any compensation
  • a canon of ethics
  • a defined body of knowledge
  • a proper academic background and a licence or equivalent (certification, qualification, etc.) that certifies the knowledge and competence needed for the profession.



The word paraprofessional, according to Wikipedia, is “a job title given to persons in various occupational fields, such as education, healthcare, engineering and law, who are trained to assist professionals but do not themselves have professional licensure”. The Greek prefix para as used here indicates beside or side by side (as in parallel); hence, a paraprofessional is one who works alongside a professional. The paraprofessional is able to perform tasks requiring significant knowledge in the field, and may even function independently of direct professional supervision, but lacks the official authority of the professional. For example, a person who hires a paralegal in lieu of a lawyer to complete bankruptcy forms is still considered to be filing pro se.

Some paraprofessional occupations require special testing or certification in the field, while others require only a certain level of education. In some occupations, such as that of teaching assistant (see paraprofessional educator), requirements differ geographically although duties are essentially the same.

This concept of a paraprofessional exists predominantly in the United States; it is not commonly found in the sociology of professions in the UK or Europe, for example”



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