Professionalism - Term Overview

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Professionalism is a very diffuse, but nonetheless widely used concept. Everyone seems to understand what we mean by it. But do we all mean the same? And what is it really about when we talk about professionalism?

Also professionalism is defined as 'doing its job in a professional manner'. Professional, according to my dictionary, means 'doing its job in a serious way'. As synonyms are mentioned: skilled and professional. Obviously, professionalism has something to do with professionalism in the context of the profession that is practiced. But what is meant by working on professionalism ? What are you working on? Gathering knowledge and skills increases your expertise and action repertoire, but do you automatically work on your professionalism ? After all, knowledge and skills are not necessarily linked to a profession.


Enough confusion for a closer look. We observe that professionalism is in any case not equal to expertise, although it's important, and that there is only something like professionalism when it's linked to a professional context. Also, professionalism is not something that can be enforced; it's something that everyone is working on themselves.

Everyone does this within the context of an organization (this also applies to self-employed persons). An organization is a collective of people who work together in the pursuit of a goal. For example, Apple is working on making complex technology accessible, a partnership for appropriate education for every student, a school to provide good education and a service organization to deliver added value for customers. Besides having expertise, having a relationship with others and having an organization are important. After all, a professional works on realizing added value for customers (relations) within certain frameworks (organization). Professionalism is derived from three pillars: expertise, relationship and organization. The degree to which someone acts professionally,

1. Expertise

The first pillar concerns knowledge and skills: the required expertise and skills in the professional context of the primary process. Someone who is a plumber needs certain expertise and skills to do his job well. Other knowledge he has - for example about the American Civil War - is also expertise, but is logically not part of his professionalism.

Relevant expertise and skills within the context of services in the context of Appropriate Education include knowledge of a specific target group of pupils, of their (im) possibilities, educational needs and disability experience and of the organization of Appropriate Education in the region. You can also think of the skill to, for example, give a training.

2. Relationship

The second pillar is about the relationship someone enters into with the outside world. Matters such as communication skills, entrepreneurship and reliability play a role in this.

Within the context of Appropriate Education, representativeness, negotiation skills and acquisition techniques are more important today than in the past.

3. Organization

The third pillar is the professional's organization, the context in which he operates. Sometimes the organization has a role as employer, but self-employed people also have to deal with an organization. In all cases, it's about more than the role of employer. By 'organization' we mean the total of agreements, frameworks, procedures and working methods. For example, a collective labor agreement, a law, business operations and accounting are also part of this pillar.

A service provider for Appropriate Education must, for example, register its hours, contribute to the development of products and services and account for the quality delivered and the results achieved.

In conjunction: three professionalisms

When we connect the three pillars, a sketch is created of the professionalism of the professional: someone who, as a representative of an organization, uses relevant expertise to provide added value for his relationship (s). If we present this schematically, three types of professionalism emerge:

1. The professional uses his knowledge and skills within his network. This is not so much about having certain expertise or having a customer, but about being able to apply this expertise in a way that leads to added value. In addition to his knowledge, he also uses relational and communication skills to achieve the goal. The focus can be closer to the expertise (expert role) or closer to the relationship (coach role).

2. The representative is aware that he is a representative of his organization. He is representative, uses his relational skills for the benefit of his network and makes acquisitions for the organization for which he works. Conversely, the commitment of the representative to the organization also provides added value, because the organization can, for example, provide replacement in the event of illness, professionalisation, etc. This benefits the continuity and quality of the service. The representative can also explain the procedures and frameworks that belong to the organization to his relation (s). A center of gravity that is closer to the pillar of relationship could be someone in a field service. If the center of gravity is closer to the pillar of organization, then one could think of a director, for example.

3. The employee works in a professional culture. He is a colleague or partner of others and acts accordingly. He / she honors agreements and addresses others about it if this is not done, takes responsibility for his own professionalization and has knowledge of the context in which his organization operates, such as the Appropriate Education partnership. An employee in the back office will focus more on the pillar expertise. A manager more at the pillar of organization.

The three pillars are necessary for a complete profile. A service provider without expertise is like a car salesman without a driver's license: he does not know what he is talking about. A service provider without an organization is not part of a larger entity that it can fall back on and is adrift in its own network. A service provider without a relationship has no customers and quickly goes bankrupt.


When you do consider this theory, the following becomes clear:

  • You only invest indirectly in professionalism, namely through the three pillars. The direct responsibility for professional action rests with the individual.
  • This body of thought can be applied at an individual and organizational level. There is also such a thing as collective knowledge and there are relationships between organizations.
  • Professionalism is a precondition for offering added value. None of the three pillars is directly concerned with the realization of revenues and results. A professional can only influence this.

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