Project Managers Are Not Created Equal

There is great diversity in the field of project management. Within the field there are varying certification levels and varying competencies. For instance, there are technical, behavioural and context competencies. For the good name of the profession to be upheld there must be honesty and transparency regarding the level of competency of specific individuals. Clients must know what are the levels of knowledge and experience of their project manager.

International Project Management Association (IPMA) Certification

Various qualifications provide the basic knowledge or learning required for project management. For instance, many business qualifications, such as an MBA, will include project management courses. This does not make those who qualify from these programmes project management professionals. To ensure the integrity of certification, so that experienced and competent project managers can be easily identified, the International Project Management Association has developed a competency certification. This is an assessment by two independent assessors that is based on knowledge as well as work experience. There is a heavy emphasis placed on proven ability.

Image credit: Morten Wulff, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr

How is the IPMA certification achieved?

The certification process is managed by the IPMA, but the actual assessments are performed by the member bodies. Every country has some kind of Project Management institution which belongs to the umbrella organisation the IPMA. Since the assessments are performed by the local institution there are some variations depending on locality. The IPMA sets the minimum standards, but some Project Management Institutes then add additional requirements or programmes on top of those standards. The process includes a combination of testing and learning variations. These can be self-assessments, written exams, interviews, workshops, submitting reports, submitting lists of projects, references and portfolios, etc.

Levels of Certification

Within the IPMA certification there are four levels. The lowest level is D. At this level the assessment is on knowledge rather than experience. The long title for an individual at Level D is a Certified Project Management Associate. The next level is, of course, level C: A Certified Projects Manager. Here references are required and so too is a written exam. At level B both knowledge and experience become the key focus. A level B certification is referred to as a Certified Projects Manager; at this level individuals have to submit project lists and complete self-assessments. Level A is the last of the IPMA certification and here an individual becomes a Certified Projects Director. This level requires references, as well as a project director’s report.


As a project manager in training it is important to understand the various levels of project management certification. This knowledge and understanding will help you to map your career path and decide where you intend to go as a project manager. It is good to check out the Institute of Project Management relevant to you and get a good understanding of what their certification programmes and assessments involve.

This post was written by Natalie Simon, a freelance writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Natalie writes on a number of topics, including employment, education and studying project management courses online in Perth, Australia.

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