Standards and certification in Project Management

This article serves as a background to understanding the learner-centred outcomes-based approach employed by the Practical Certification Programme in Project Management (PCP) in pursuit of alignment to the Project Manager Competency Development Framework (PMCDF).

This is especially relevant to South Africans and Namibians who want to be recognised for their competence in Project Management.

What are the standard qualifications in Project Management?

There are many. To understand this, we must define qualification and standard.

What is a qualification?

The definition of qualification depends on the context or standard.

By general definition, someone is qualified to do something if he has proven that he is capable of fulfilling the role, i.e. if they have the necessary skill, the sense of responsibility, the permission, the contextual insight into the requirements of the situation, and other essential qualities, abilities and attributes demanded by his position.

In South Africa, the government definition of qualification is defined by the standards for set out by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The NQF defines a qualification as the formal recognition of the achievement of the required number and range of credits and other requirements at specific levels of the NQF determined by the relevant bodies registered by SAQA.


An international degree, diploma or other formal certificate is not necessarily acknowledged as a qualification in South Africa, and vice versa.

A certificate is not necessarily a qualification. Some certificates can be obtained by doing a short course, but a qualification such as a National Certificate or National Diploma requires a longer period of formal study. Getting a diploma in Project Management typically takes more than a year, and may cost in the region of R80,000. There are certain educational prerequisites to enrolling on a diploma course.

Although the intention is that a formal qualification should qualify a person to fulfil a certain role, someone who holds such a qualification is not necessarily qualified. (You can get 100% in an exam without being qualified to manage a project or to make a better contribution to a team than someone who does not have the qualification.)

None of the Unit Standards require that the learner should extract his learning from real life projects. The Unit Standards only define what must be attained, not how you should get there.

A person who works in the field of Project Management in South Africa (either as a project manager or in another capacity) does not necessarily have to have a qualification.

Very few sought-after professionals who manage projects have a qualification in Project Management.

Employers who understand the demands of a specific role therefore primarily recruit and train candidates based on what would qualify them to do the work.

What is a standard?

The definition of standard also depends on the context or standard.

By general definition, a standard means a generally accepted way of doing things.

The formal definition of standard, and the prescriptions defined within the standards, depend on the standards-generating body.

There is no one local or international standard for Project Management.

In South Africa, there are several government bodies which generate the official standards for education, each with a specific mandate. South African Unit Standards for education within a specific discipline sometimes draw from one or more external standards pertaining to that discipline. Not all qualifications are based on Unit Standards.

What standards are there for Project Management?

Various organisations such as the International Standards Organisation (ISO), International Project Management Association (IPMA), Project Management Institute (PMI®) and others have defined broad-based standards for Project Management. The PMI® also has a definition of what it means by the word standard.

Although the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) and others have attempted to unify these standards insofar as they pertain to the performance of individuals, there is still no single overarching standard.

Proprietary methodologies (such as PRINCE2®) often have their own standards, which may reference and even contribute to the development of broad-based standards.

Some methodologies and standards are designed to meet specific needs, such as the typical needs within

  • a specific industry sector,
  • projects with a certain level of complexity or risk,
  • a particular organisational authority structure, or
  • a subdiscipline of Project Management (e.g. procurement).

Many organisations define their own standards for internal use.

Now read…

PMP, CAPM and PMBOK are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
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All PRINCE2® courses on this site are offered by Accredited Courses Africa (Pty) Ltd.

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