According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a professional is "characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession." Professionalism is "exhibiting a courteous, conscientious and generally businesslike manner in the workplace."
Professionalism consists of rules of the workplace that influence career survival, or even survival of the field itself. For instance, a therapist must maintain confidentiality for her client, and a banker must be honest. Professionals exhibit certain attitudes and behaviors: character, attitude, excellence, competency and conduct.
The Goals Institute says that taking responsibility and maintaining accountability are key components of character. The professional with character arrives on time and admits and corrects mistakes. He is fair and truthful and follows through on commitments. The professional is someone people look up to for their personal integrity.
Attitude is just as important. Every profession has its own particular way of viewing the duties or rules of professionalism. In general, however, attitude is about respect and "doing good" for others. As the University of Kansas Medical School states: "the best interest of others ... rather than self-interest, is the rule." Greed and arrogance are counter-professional. Misrepresentation, discrimination and harassing behavior are unprofessional as well. The professional should exhibit willingness, good humor and helpfulness.
Excellence, or striving to be the best, drives professionals and keeps professions strong. The University of Kansas Medical school states that excellence is "a conscientious effort to exceed expectations and to make a commitment to life-long learning." A professional striving for excellence is not content with being second-rate.
Competency, as page 4 of the Competency Model for HR Professionals shows, includes self-awareness, self-confidence and social skills. The competent professional is in control of herself and can display the skills to lead, decide, work together or inform others. She is up to the tasks of her profession--or will seek the resources necessary to be competent. The competent professional seeks out learning to stay competent.
The most important aspect of professionalism, the Cooperative Extension System notes, is that "it's got to be more than words. Professionalism must translate into action." The professional conducts himself in a manner that reflects well on his profession. He maintains confidentiality and never acts abusively to clients, coworkers or others. The professional dresses professionally and upholds the specific ethics of his profession. His conduct should be above suspicion or reproach.
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