Does project management certification improve performance?

Does project management certification improve performance?

project management certification

Project management certification has become a burgeoning area of business across the globe for both universities, professional project management associations and private companies. As a result of the increased professionalisation of project management, many professional associations and bodies have laid down prescriptions of ‘best practice’ that members need to show that they can apply. But do project management qualifications lead to better project management performance? 

Project management certification

Like many occupations, project management has incrementally moved towards greater levels of professionalisation, largely through the process of standardisation of accepted working practices, knowledge, skills and tools application. Project management certification has now largely become a de facto requirement to gain employment as a project manager.

As a consequence of this, people who are recruiting and selecting project managers are increasingly looking for ‘qualified’ professionals with Project management certification as a heuristic for competence. Until now it has been largely assumed that certification in the field of project management is directly related to proficiency and, therefore, performance.

The question is, is this assumption correct? Are certified project managers likely to perform differently from non-certified practitioners?

Project management graduates
Project management graduates

Previous studies

Previous studies in other work areas such as human resources, nursing, IT etc. have discovered that, whilst such certifications have a reasonably high content validity, meaning that the topics covered for certification are closely allied to the knowledge used by practitioners, there is little evidence to show whether  such certifications result in better levels of performance.

Until now, there has been no significant research looking at whether project management certification is an indicator of performance at all.

New study

A new (2019) study by a team of researchers from the Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Umeå University in Sweden and the Organizational Analysis Academic Department, at Athabasca University, in Canada has tested this assumption.

It had been assumed that project management certification is directly related to proficiency and, therefore, performance.

Reliance on certification

A range of previous studies found that, because it is difficult to obtain reliable information about candidates’ real levels of competency, recruiters and managers are increasingly relying on certification as an indication of proficiency.

99% of everything you are trying to do...

...has already been done by someone else, somewhere - and meticulously researched.

Get the latest research briefings, infographics and more from The Oxford Review - Free.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

No more effective than random chance

Because there is no tool or assessment method that can accurately measure future performance of an individual, organisations tend to rely on professional certification and qualifications, together with an indication of experience to predict performance. Interestingly, a number of previous studies have found generally, that managers’ and recruiters’ confidence in an individual’s performance level at the recruiting stage bears absolutely no relationship to the actual level of performance the individual demonstrates once employed. A 2017 study found that recruiters and managers tend to use a mixture of qualifications, experience and previous pay levels to indicate potential performance. The study also found that these measures or indicators and the recruiters’ and managers’ predictions and levels of confidence were correct no more than random chance would predict.

The study

The study examined 452 newly recruited project managers and followed them to measure their levels of performance once they had gained a job. Of these 452 project managers, 370 had some form of professional certification and 82 were uncertified.

Project management
Project management experience


Certification is not a predictor of performance

Firstly, the researchers found that there was no direct relationship between certification and overall job performance, regardless of the measure used.


However, the researchers did find that self-efficacy or an individual’s belief in their ability to solve problems, be flexible and inventive is a better indicator of future performance. Unfortunately, this cannot be tested in an interview situation and needs to be examined using simulations, case studies or by giving a candidate a project management scenario to undertake.

Test for this

There are a number of project management self-efficacy measures on the market, which appear to have some validity in predicting performance and it is to these that the researchers recommend recruiters turn, rather than relying on certification.

Professionalism is a good predictor

The researchers found that professionalism, which is categorised by five elements:

  1. A belief in public service
  2. Belief in self-regulation and learning
  3. Autonomy
  4. Dedication and a sense of calling to the field
  5. Affiliation to the professional community and a sense of professional belonging

is also a reasonable predictor of performance. Each of these elements of professionalism can be probed in the recruiting context.

The best predictor of project management performance

Lastly, the researchers found that a mixture of self-efficacy and indicators of professionalism are the best predictors of future performance.

Certification only becomes a predictor of performance when self-efficacy and professionalism are present.


Be impressively well informed

Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published

Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...

Powered by ConvertKit
Like what you see? Help us spread the word

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page