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The relevance of trait theory for the professionalisation of the new corporate professions: a case study of project management.

Lawman, Alison


Alison Lawman



The aim of this study is to explore the extent to which trait theory is relevant to the new corporate professions through a case study of project management. The award of a Royal Charter to the UK-based professional body, Association for Project Management (APM), in 2017 was seen as the culmination of significant efforts to raise the profile of project management, and to recognise the profession and its contribution to society. It is a complex field with a population of practitioners as diverse as the projects they deliver. Whilst there has been extensive research into the professions, the challenge remains as to what we recognise as a profession, particularly the newly emergent corporate professions such as project management. Project management is often viewed as an "accidental" profession due to the diverse backgrounds of practitioners, and this has implications in terms of respect and recognition. The literature has sought to consider the professionalisation of project management, but this has largely been through the prism of the professional bodies and the institutional setting, with limited focus on the practitioner perspective. This current study has been influenced by an interpretivist philosophical approach employing a qualitative methodology, using semi-structured interviews to undertake an in-depth exploration of practitioner views, experiences and expectations of the professionalisation of project management. The findings paint a complex picture that illustrates wide-ranging and often polarised views, from within a profession that is seemingly comprised of a somewhat non-homogenous group of practitioners, with differing priorities and disciplinary backgrounds. Contradictions are revealed in relation to the importance of certification and competency, and a desire to be seen as an inclusive profession whilst sceptical of informal entrants. The study exposes practitioner frustrations at the absence of recognition of the skills required to successfully deliver project objectives, both by other professionals and by senior management within organisations; however it also uncovers an overriding concern over the lack of respect. The research reveals that, despite being a discarded field of inquiry, trait theory should be considered a relevant approach to the profiling of new corporate professions. A revised trait model is offered, which reflects such professions operating within the organisational settings of the twenty-first century.


LAWMAN, A. 2021. The relevance of trait theory for the professionalisation of the new corporate professions: a case study of project management. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 23, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2022
Keywords Professionalism; Project management; Trait theory
Public URL
Publisher URL
Award Date Oct 31, 2021


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