What Does Being a “True Professional” Really Entail?


Anyone writing about the professions inevitably has to begin by discussing what is meant by the term “profession”.

This is one of the least precise terms in the English language. Quite apart from obvious difficulties such as those posed by the contrast between a professional and an amateur, there is the persistent inclination of people to use the term professional as more or less synonymous with calling, vocation or indeed any daily activity whereby money may be earned.  Further difficulty is caused by the implication that to do any job in a professional way is to do it skilfully, with an expert finish.

Any field of endeavour can be carried out in a professional manner.  We reject the proposition that any job becomes professional merely if it is carried out in a skilful or expert way.  Rather our focus is not only on skills but on a number of other elements, as demonstrated in this unit, with especial concentration on the overarching elements of ethical and professional conduct.

A professional is a person expert in their field of activity, who holds the ideal of service to others (community, client and profession) before their own interests, bringing to bear in this service the wider values of:

The acceptance of the “greater good” – having regard for things more important than making money



Adherence to Professional Rules



Integrity and Fairness

Ethical Conduct

While a mere semantic exercise may be arid and profitless; a search for the quintessential attributes of a profession can yield a fruitful result…

The Oxford English Dictionary offers as a definition of “profession”: “avocation in which a professed knowledge of some department of learning or science is used in its application to the affairs of others or in the practise of an art founded upon it”.

Millerson suggests: “a type of higher-grade occupation, with both subjectively and objectively recognised occupational status, possessing a well-defined area of study or concern and providing a definite service, after advanced training and education”.

Finally there is the definition put forward by the Royal Institute of British Architects “A professional is a person expert in some field of activity who shares the responsibility for decisions, and gives a service to others in that part of their affairs to which the professional expertise applies, bringing to bear in this participation wider values than those whom he is• advising may necessarily themselves consider relevant”.

Key Factors of Professional Practise

Perhaps the most useful elements in defining what a professional should be comes in the following list:

1. Intellectual basis.

2. Private practise focus.

3. Advisory function.

4. Tradition of service.

5. Advisory services

6. Representative institute.

7. Code of conduct.

The list is developed as follows:

1. Intellectual basis

An intellectual discipline, capable of formulation on theoretical, if not academic, lines, requiring a good educational background, and tested by examination.

2. Private practise focus

A foundation in private practise, so that the essential expertise and standards of the profession derive from meeting the needs of individual clients on a person-to-person basis, with remuneration by fees from individual clients rather than a salary or stipend from one source.

3. Advisory function

An advisory function, often coupled with an executive function in carrying out what has been advised or doing ancillary work such as supervising, negotiating or managing; in the exercise of both functions full responsibility is taken by the person exercising them.

4. Tradition of service

An outlook which is essentially objective and disinterested, where the motive of making money is subordinated to serving the client in a manner not inconsistent with the public good.

5. Advisory services

Advisory services (including concomitant executive functions) on matters requiring expert intellectual knowledge and concerning the physical or mental health of an individual, or the protection or advancement of the rights or property of an individual or body corporate, are best provided by a private practitioner whose competence and integrity are vouched for by an independent body representative of such practitioners.

6. Representative institute.

One or more societies or institutes rep- resenting members of the profession, particularly those in private practise, and having the function of safeguarding and developing the expertise and standards of the profession.

7. Code of conduct.

A code of professional ethics laid down and enforced by the professional institute or institutes.

These seven characteristics, taken together, identify a group of vocations or callings essentially different from others and of particular value and importance to the community, which we may call the consultant professions. This is not to say that other callings are of less worth; only that they are different in nature. Since these excluded callings comprise those, for example, of the senior civil servant, the artist, author or composer, the business executive and the pure scientist it is obvious that no slur is intended by their exclusion.

The Professional in Practise

One of the essential characteristics identifying the professional is a foundation in private practise, which exists where the professional person holds himself or herself   out as prepared to offer professional services on his/her own account, and sets up whatever may be necessary in the way of an office, consulting room, clerical staff and so on. He may do this on his/her own, or with partners on an equal footing with himself or herself. The firm may have one office or several, but it will have a number of clients no one of which provides a majority of the work.


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