This is Part Two of a three part series on professional and organizational maturity in the field of campus recreation by Grady Sheffield. It’s based on a presentation given by Sheffield and Bill Crocket at several regional and national NIRSA conferences. Read Part One and Part Three.
The traditional perception of the collegiate recreation career track usually follows a hierarchal approach that begins with a student, hourly, or support employee serving in a task-centered or entry-level job function. The career track then progresses from the graduate assistant, to mid-level manager, moving on to senior level leadership, and finally reaching the top as a director. See Figure One. Does any of this suggest professional to you? Do you see a problem that lies within the traditional view in regards to professional success? It seems to lead to the assumption that leadership and responsibility increase as you move up the ranks. It can make an organization/department dependent on many individuals in the early stages of the career path, and it goes without saying that only a few actually get to the top. This model or thought process misses the value of professional maturity by putting a focus on title or position as a means to professionalism.
What is meant by being a professional? We might say a professional is someone who has a set of values and a body of knowledge which they apply consistently to meet the needs of their clients, programs and organizations. Professionalism, professional and professional development are not professional maturity but components of the maturation process. Don’t confuse PROFESSIONALISM or PROFESSIONAL with your JOB TITLE.
The overarching premise we need to focus on regarding professional maturation is during the process, we go through systematic stages that may influence our capacity and our success. Those stages are not relative to age, seniority, position or area of specialization. Professional maturation is influenced by acquired learning, knowledge, skill set, ability, values and attitude. More importantly, perhaps, it is also influenced by experiences and time in the profession.
Based on looking at that overarching premise of professional maturation, we can now shift our view regarding the tiers of professional maturity from position or title to the influencers just described. That leads us to the following five tiers of professional maturity:
- Transactional: Just a job; here for a paycheck; transitory job lens; relationship building is not important; professional development and growth not important.
- Vocational: Focus is learning job skills and trade; apprentice or mentorship relationships; starts to form the emerging professional and professionalism; starting to “prove” oneself.
- Professional in Field: Demonstrates the skills and competencies of the profession; set of values and competencies are in alignment; part of a network of professionals; a cadre of colleagues.
- Industry-Based Professional: Transformational big leap; industry becomes profession and your job type is your sphere of influence; engaging partnerships across spheres; part of the deluge of the industry; a risk taker.
- Practitioner: Second big leap; transforms the nature of the industry by facilitating transformative personal impacts; focused on creating the latest practice, research and values; engage others to design their better professional future; engages in profession as a way of life; See Figure One.
We don’t just begin as professionals (Tier 3) or have an innate characteristic as such. To get there, we have to go through transformative developmental stages in the growth of our:
- Knowledge, skills and abilities
- Core competencies
- Values and attitudes
- World lens of our role and meaning
- Capacities professionally and personally
Those stages along with other indicators of maturity such as ability, decision making, personal notions, exploration, projection, choice, and work help us move up or along the maturation curve. That leads us to an intersection of professional values, professional knowledge and understanding, and professional skills and abilities which results in professional action and personal commitment. See Figure Two.
When we start looking at professional maturity from this reframed point of view, we begin to place value on the stages of maturation rather than age, seniority, position or area of specialization. We also move away from a place where there is little room at the top. However, there are challenges that will exist as one moves from one stage to the other. Some may be relative to our own personal obstacles or a change in job/profession (resetting). Those who are professionally immature risk burnout, may be prone to excuses, have personal insecurities and lack professional respect. There may be comfortableness and complacency due to a stagnation which could lead to career opportunities that are stunted or cut off. There may be confusion about work roles and even resentment of others who seem to be advancing or given more responsibility. Professional apprehension may be present which may lead to greater consequences. And let’s not be naive to think there won’t be tension of those in different tiers and between different generations within the same tier.
The perception of one with professional maturity is quite the opposite. There is an obvious opportunity for job growth and satisfaction, which directly leads to career fulfillment. Professionals who are further along in the maturation process are better to cope with shifting or changing landscapes, demands or directives. Most notably, they are more likely to challenge themselves to be more and better.
It is completely normal to be unsure of where you fall in the tiers when looking at this. Where you are today is OK. It’s not about where you are, but where you are headed. The journey requires internal persistence and development of your core competencies. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much research that has been conducted in which professional maturity has been investigated extensively. Most of the studies or discussions are wrapped by other types of maturity analysis. That being said, perhaps it could be concluded professional effectiveness develops after the formal training is over and on one’s own. Everyone has the potential to achieve the highest level of professional success. The gift of professional maturity comes only to those who immerse and engage in their profession.