The meaning of ‘professionalism’ and why it matters

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Professionalism is one of those words we use when there’s behavior we want to reprimand. When we want to emphasize the behavior we expect from certain individuals. The word itself does ring a bell, painting a vivid picture when said. But what if there’s more to it?

Professionalism is defined as “1. Professional character, spirit or methods, 2. the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from those of a professional”. – The World Book Dictionary (volume two L-Z)

But professionalism is more than a list of desired behaviors and code of ethics. It is the means by which a profession keeps its social contact with society. The profession “professes” to the public that it will be altruistic, competent, self-regulating, and trustworthy and addresses societal concerns. – Dr. Cynthia Belar in A New Professionalism

Also as noted by Matthew Wynia, MD, “Professionalism is not only an individual competency, but an ideology of the professional group and its organizational structures”.

According to Greg Mason in The 10 Characteristics of Professionalism suggests that, “Being professional is about having strong skills and competence in your chosen field”.

He believes that, “Professionalism is also about the qualities and behaviors you exhibit, and the manner in which you conduct yourself during your business affairs. True professionals possess a number of important characteristics that can apply virtually to any type of business”.

Characteristics of professionals include:

  1. Competence: Professionals strive to become experts in their field, which sets them apart from the rest of the pack. This can mean continuing your education by taking courses, attending seminars and attaining any related professional designation.
  2. Organizational skills: a professional can quickly and easily find what is needed. Your work area should be neat and organized, and your briefcase should contain only what is needed for your appointment or presentation.
  3. Ethical behavior: professionals are guided by principle set out in the code of conduct. These guidelines or principles also help to ensure proper service delivery and separates professions. It is important to comply with ethical conduct; these also serve to build the public trust of professionals and professions.

Finally, professionalism is altruistic. That means that it is unselfish or philanthropic in nature. It serves as opposed to coveting and being indifferent to the societal needs. In other words, professionals deliver value.


Teboho Polanka
Teboho is a Social Worker, Writer and Inspirational Speaker. He is in pursuit of MSc. in Managerial Psychology. Graduates are able to apply psychological principles and methods to tackle challenges in the work environment and provide effective practical solutions. Acting as industrial-organizational psychologists.