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Knowledge-based PM Certifications: Value Add or Necessary Evil?

PMO Leaders, Project Managers, Stakeholders, lend me your ears; I come to neither bury knowledge-based certifications, nor to praise them!

There are two broad types of project management certification approaches – purely knowledge-based or those that incorporate experience-based evaluation. 

PMI uses both approaches – the PMP certification uses a predominantly knowledge-based approach while the PgMP certification uses a balance of knowledge and experience-based methods. Although PMI’s PMP certification is the global de facto standard, other project management associations also offer knowledge-based certifications. 

I previously wrote in “The dualism of the PMP credential and challenges with any knowledge-based certification”  about the limitations of a knowledge-based certification and didn’t want to recycle that content.  However, a very common question in LinkedIn’s Project Management Q&A category is “Should I get my XYZ PM certification?”, so I felt that there might be some value in assessing the most common justifications.


1. It’s a hiring prerequisite – right or wrong, in many companies, hiring managers or recruiters will only look at your resume if you have a certification.  While this might not be the only method of evaluating someone’s suitability, it is a filter that simplifies the workload for these gatekeepers. 

2. You might be paid more – according to the Sixth Edition of the PMI Salary Survey, it could increase your salary by up to 10%, either through a change in role, base compensation or bonus.  This will obviously be influenced by factors including local supply and demand for project management skills and geographic differences. 

3. It’ll improve project management consistency – certifications provide a common lexicon so long as your organization’s methodology and its practitioners use a single association’s body of knowledge.

4. You might gain some project management technical knowledge which you didn’t possess before – given the comprehensive nature of most PM bodies of knowledge, even experienced PMs are likely to learn something new by studying for a certification exam.


“It’ll make you a better PM – as the majority of the issues I listed in “Seven Deadly Project Manager Sins illustrate, the differences between a “good” and a “bad” PM often relate to their ability to appropriately apply soft skills and no knowledge-based certification can assess this.

2. It’s the best way to learn about project management – While attending a certification prep course or reading certification study aids might increase your knowledge, a foundation project management course, managing real projects or being mentored are more cost effective means of gaining the same knowledge.  A common recommendation I’ve made to PMs is to read their association’s monthly journal cover-to-cover each month and then to assess their knowledge of the profession at the end of the year.

3. It will differentiate you from others – the ubiquity of the PMP certification has mostly marginalized this benefit.  Specialized or esoteric project management certifications may still provide this benefit. 

While this article is not written to make you avoid knowledge-based project management certifications, hopefully it has helped with the decision-making process.

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