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 Professionalism – the best starting point for your career

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Susie Kay, our guest blogger, looks at professionalism in the workplace.

With the prospect of an upcoming election here in the UK it seems reasonable for all of us to continue to find new or better ways to make an impact on our current difficulties and it is likely that it is still going to be a while before we find ourselves in a position where we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The level of problems we all face affect each of us in different ways but we will most likely be required to do more with less, continue to have less resources available to us but still be expected to make a positive impact and provide services of high quality.

That’s a laudable idea, filled with good intentions, but what does it mean in reality? How do we go about having that positive impact? How do we make the most of what we have at our disposal? Although we are all in the same boat the necessary changes cannot be driven by government requirement alone. It is, unsurprisingly, up to each of us as individuals to see how we can effect changes around us in both our personal and work lives.

The months leading up to an election are a great time for us all to examine the way we live and work with each other to see what improvements we could make. We are all aware that trust continues to be a significant issue in public life – perhaps our response should be for all of us to take personal and collective responsibility for our actions and live by ethical codes which drive every aspect of our behaviour, both public and private. There are things we can and should do to help ourselves and, most importantly, each other.

This train of thought led me, some while ago, to try to identify the components of professionalism and to understand how implementing and living its many attributes can have real value for each of us every day. Professionalism is about everything we are and everything we do and takes us into all areas of our lives, at work, at home and socially. It is a living concept not just an academic argument and it affects all of us, in any sector, at any level, whether we work in frontline customer or client services or have strategic responsibility for those services.

Definitions of the word ‘professionalism’ are evasive and not particularly helpful. They offer circular arguments and little of what it actually means on a personal level. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to make a list of the things we see around us which are completely unprofessional – trust and morality issues involving politicians, bankers, social workers and sportsmen; role models with feet of clay; lack of customer service from utilities and other organisations we interact with daily. Even the United Nations has come to realise that something is amiss and now lists Professionalism as one of its three core values for employee and volunteer roles at all levels.

My compilation of the essential qualities for professionalism turned into a book (Professionalism: the ABC for Success**). As it was taking shape it became obvious that professionalism’s real importance is in the way that moving from abstract attributes to practical application can and should make a difference to the way we interact with each other at every level. So how does the practical side of professionalism help us deal with the challenges we all face, how can it bring benefits to an individual’s day to day work and lead to increased success in the workplace?

The list of required professionalism attributes falls into three categories – attitude, behaviour and character – the ABC of the book title. Although they cannot all be listed here, finding ways to make professionalism work for you in the workplace is not difficult. It can be incremental, implementing small differences each day and then, after a while, finding that you have been an agent for change, not just for yourself but also for those around you.

Choose excellence…

To make a start, put a ring around today’s date on the calendar and make one fundamental decision – to choose excellence. From today you will not accept second rate, your expectations and your delivery will be about finding ways to do everything better, you will ‘go the extra mile’ and provide quality results every time, always taking responsibility for your actions. You adhere to an ethical standard and a professional code of conduct and exceed the expectations placed on you by your role or position. You will be pro-active and look for potential improvements, you will be a problem solver – don’t be one of those who coast along hoping that nobody will notice that you do the minimum possible or that someone else will come up with the answer to your problems.

Thoughtfulness and a smile are incredibly powerful tools…

An unavoidable truth is that people like to work with people they like so managing relationships is a critical aspect of your professionalism and, unsurprisingly, manners matter. Thoughtfulness and a smile are incredibly powerful tools and will make people want to work with you.   Small gestures also matter in our busy lives. Remember personal details about those you work with, be responsive and return calls and emails promptly even if it is only to say I will have to get back to you soon. Acknowledge a job well done. Offer your support to colleagues.

Your belief in yourself is underpinned by your competence and a commitment to CPD (continuing professional development). You will always present yourself in an appropriate and professional way. Tatty jeans and flip flops will not convey the right message, no matter how accomplished you are. Although a suit may not be required as a dress code for your organisation, you should always present yourself in such a way that it is obvious you have made an effort.

Be known as someone with integrity…

Treating others with respect is not just about deferring to their status if appropriate, it is also about arriving on time for a meeting, switching off your mobile phone during meetings or understanding if colleagues are under external pressures. Earn respect for yourself by being known as someone with integrity, who is dependable, honest and trustworthy.


One of the magic ingredients is empathy – although we can’t see what others see when they look at us, we can see the results of our interactions with them. Before each and every interaction try to envisage how it might feel to be on the receiving end and plan your approach and response accordingly. You should also be prepared to amend those interactions if you perceive a negative result and can establish why it happened.

Planning (in the short, medium and long term), managing your time and being well organised are the main tools for being as effective as possible. Start each day with a concise ‘to-do’ list or plan and consult it if intrusions occur. Only you can know if the ‘new’ is important or urgent enough to replace something already on the list.

Managing impressions, managing yourself and your relationships will ensure that you are noticed for all the right reasons and thereby enhance your reputation – and that’s a good place to start!

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves” – Thomas Edison


Susie Kay is Founder of The Professionalism Group, an advice and consultancy organisation working with individuals, students, organisations and professional institutes, focusing on the concept and ideals of professionalism (www.theprofessionalismgroup.co.uk ). She is a speaker and writer and is happy to run workshops within your organisation.

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