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Building transferrable skillsets White Paper

White Paper

Building transferrable skillsets White Paper

White Paper

  • White Paper
  • Career progression
  • Professional development
  • Skills

Author  Emer O’Sullivan

August 21, 2018 |

 10 min read

  • White Paper
  • Career progression
  • Professional development
  • Skills

Here at Axelos, we value Continual Professional Development, otherwise known as CPD. We work with our staff to ensure they have viable plans for their future growth in the workplace, and we allocate money for the training that will take them to the next stage of their career.

Our belief in the value of CPD goes beyond our own staff. We specialise in Global Best Practice and work closely with training organisations to create courses that will help service managers and project and programme managers to develop the knowledge and skills with which to thrive in the modern work environment.

As part of the latest Axelos PPM Benchmark Study, we surveyed over 500 project managers from a range of geographies and industries to help us understand the attitude and approach of organisations around the world to CPD. This report explores the trends that underlie the survey. (For a breakdown of the people surveyed, please see the Appendix).

In recent years, the rise of agile concepts and ways of working have transformed the way products and services are delivered. As Project Management Offices (PMOs) today navigate the contemporary landscape – how deeply should they get into agile practices?; how do PRINCE2 and other structured project management methods fit into this? – it is crucial for project managers to adapt their approach when confronted with a changing business environment.

Over three quarters of project managers we spoke to described themselves as ‘interested and active’ when it comes to their continual professional development (CPD). Almost 80% of this group believe they are gaining transferrable skills as a result of the professional development activities they undertake. When project managers are operating in an ever-changing workplace, it is reassuring to see that they are arming themselves with a developing skillset that can be transferred across roles, organizations, and ways of working.

Organizational support for Professional Development: belief versus reality

We had a positive response to the survey. 75% of the organizations who responded claimed to support the professional development of their project managers. However, only 12% of those organizations could confirm they assigned the budget and operational procedures that were required to fulfil that commitment. Concerningly, near 40% suggested they had committed little or no budget at all. This reveals a disparity between an organization’s attitude towards professional development and the investment they are willing to put in to support it.

The Benchmark Study revealed similar issues around project management maturity. Over half the organizations who responded have a PMO (Project Management Office) in place, yet only 17% spoke of established processes in regular use, with ongoing improvements based on monitoring and feedback. Worryingly, 10% admitted they have no clear or consistent processes in place.

This suggests that there is a disconnect between an organization’s understanding of itself and its operational reality. This spreads beyond professional development and is something that is evident across the project management landscape as a whole.

There were two priorities that stood out when organizations discussed their reasons for introducing CPD:

  • a desire to improve business efficiency and productivity;
  • a wish to improve the effectiveness of their teams.

Similarly, project managers cited a desire to do their job as effectively as possible as the main reason they sought out CPD. Yet, it is interesting to note that among the lowest priorities for organizations are the need to ensure the organization keeps up-to-date with industry standards and the wish to retain staff.

This is at odds with the goal of improved business efficiency. If organizations genuinely want to improve the productivity and effectiveness of their teams, then it is vital to retain staff and ensure the work they do meets industry standards. Likewise, business efficiency and productivity can only be achieved with a suitable budget and an appropriate level of operational support. Without this operational commitment, the desire to make the most of CPD is irrelevant, which is a shame when over 75% of project managers recognise its potential.

Our ITSM Benchmark Survey, the ITSM counterpart to this study, corroborated that the key reason to introduce CPD was to improve business efficiency, yet there was an interesting disparity between the two reports. IT service managers look to CPD to help drive innovation; it was their second most pressing factor in introducing CPD. On the PPM side, though, innovation ranked just sixth.

IT is such a fast-paced industry so it is unsurprising that ITSM professionals placed a high value on new approaches to the work, whether that’s new software, new hardware, or new ways of working. Equally, they know that their staff need to be fully trained to make the most of these opportunities. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case in PPM. So here’s a word of warning to project managers: innovation is a high priority for your colleagues in other teams within your organization. Project management should be careful not to be left behind.

Professional Development: Closing the gap

Project managers are interested in their professional development. Over 75% are ‘interested and active’ in CPD, and close to 40% describe themselves as ‘extremely interested’. However, a fifth of those who showed an interest are unsure how to go about developing their capabilities. This is unsurprising when only 12% of correspondents believe their organization has the budget and procedures in place to support professional development. Without this structure, project managers are forced to rely on their own resourcefulness.

53% of project managers use LinkedIn as a source of information for CPD, while 66% put themselves forward for training outside work. Meanwhile, direct marketing, newspapers, and tradeshows and exhibitions are at the bottom of the list of places the modern project manager looks for information on how to grow their career.

In a world of digital transformation, it is no surprise that LinkedIn takes the lead. However, organizations might want to consider what they can do for the 20% of project managers who need guidance on how to begin their professional development journey. Introducing procedures and processes to help their staff discover the path their career could take might be the first step.

Project managers as learners

The average project manager:

  • takes 15 days out of the workplace over three years for formal training;
  • takes 4 days out of the office each year for informal training.

Leading forms of informal training include:

  • attending external industry conferences or seminars (72%);
  • attending informal events within the company (55%);
  • and mentoring (38%).

Promisingly, 79% of those who have undertaken formal training in the last three years acknowledge that it provided transferrable skills which will come in useful in future roles, in other industries or for new ways of working. More and more often, project managers are being asked to run projects in an agile way. Project managers need updateable, transferrable skills to keep up. It suggests the training industry is as relevant as ever, which is good news.

It is important to identify relevant learning styles when mapping out professional development. Project managers fall into two camps: pragmatists (39%) and activists (29%). Both categories are defined as ‘do-ers’. Pragmatists are characterised by an experimental attitude; they like to test out new ideas to see if they work. Activists prefer to get stuck in, learning as they go along. Both approaches imply a desire to get involved, to dive in and figure out what works for them, and what doesn’t. It makes sense that project managers are actively involved in their professional development, even if their organizations aren’t.


Project managers are active and interested in their own professional development, motivated by a desire to embrace their current role and with an understanding that the skills they are developing will be useful in their future career. They use online platforms such as LinkedIn to gather information and keep themselves up-to-date with developments in the industry, attend industry conferences or seminars, and undertake formal training courses and exams.

As Agile transforms the way project managers work, their drive to embrace professional development should be commended. Organizations, however, need to keep up. If, as they state, they are keen to use professional development as a tool to improve business productivity and the efficiency of their teams, then they need to invest both financially and operationally. Organizations which fail to support their staff’s professional development, run the risk of sabotaging the business productivity they seek to achieve. Project managers recognise the transferability of their growing skillset, which puts them in a strong position to take these skills elsewhere.


We had 562 respondents to our 2017 PPM Benchmark survey. This section provides some of the demographic breakdowns from the research, which provides context to some of the findings in this research.

Image shows results of 2017 PPM Benchmark survey in which 562 people took part, showing demographic breakdown of the research such a gender, employment status, age, region, industry and role

Building transferrable skillsets