What does it mean to be a professional?

You may not know that I belong to two professional bodies. I’m a Fellow of the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) and also a member of the Professional Speaking Association. Both bodies require a certain level of competency in order to gain membership and I also have to sign up to their ethical codes. Whether a business owner or an event organiser you can be assured of a job well done when dealing with professionals.

But what is a professional job?

In accountancy it means that accounts will be prepared in line with certain standards and laws by somebody who is up to date on changes in accounting and tax law. We are only permitted to handle work for which we are competent so, like doctors, we will often refer clients to an expert if they need specialist advice. We’re not (or shouldn’t be) the ones on accounting forums asking basic questions in order to work through a complex matter ourselves with our fingers crossed.

It’s probably easier to give two examples from the speaking world.

Last year I was visiting Accountex when the organiser asked me to fill in for a speaker who hadn’t turned up. There was no notice as we were stood outside the theatre with people waiting as the talk was due to start. I walked into the theatre, looked at the title slide to see if I had something suitable in my repertoire (I did but my slides were in the cloakroom downstairs), introduced myself and talked about scaling up your business for 40 minutes. Although 2 people left when they saw I wasn’t their preferred speaker I gained a few passers by came in when they saw it was me talking.

And last week I was being interviewed live online when my host froze and then disappeared for a couple of minutes. I tried not to look too panic stricken as I finished answering his question, padded a bit, and then invented another question that I could respond to.

Professionals are sufficiently competent not to be phased by the extraordinary. We don’t need to know everything but we do need to know when to set aside ego and get support so that clients receive the best service.

What makes you a professional? Or what do you need to do/learn/practice in order to get there