Do organisational project management practitioners

have a higher calling/purpose in life?


By Martin Smit, PhD

South Africa


It seems that a recent editorial by the Editor of PMWJ (Pells, 2021) with the title: “Project Management needs a Higher Purpose Part 1: Introduction, the Perfect Storm, Crises & PM” published in January 2021 has really struck a sensitive nerve looking at the responses from various authors in PMWJ of February 2021. I expect that the editorial by Pells (2021a): “Project Management needs a Higher Purpose Part 2: Mission Statements, Social Responsibility and the Rogue Black Elephant” published in the PMWJ in February 2021 will have similar responses. Pells (2021) asks the following questions:

  • What is project management actually for?
  • What is our contribution to the world?
  • What should it be?

Pells (2021) then answers that he thinks the purpose of project management should be to advance positive change in the world and he further states that it should be about more than making money, developing models and standards, or even educating project managers. Pells (2021) states that perhaps the most significant thing that he has realised this year is the overwhelming importance of programmes and projects coming first before project management (perhaps). Pells (2012) clarifies that projects, outcomes, and benefits matter more to most stakeholders than project management methods, processes, standards, knowledge, experience, and leadership. Pells (2012) concludes Part 1 of his editorial of four parts with the following statement: “I think project management needs a higher purpose”.

As a semi-retired organisational project management practitioner, I tend to agree with the editorials by Pells (2021 and 2021a) and with the recent articles and letters that responded to the first editorial published in January (e.g., Abuya, Young, Minelle, da Silva Neto, and Stretton (2021)). When I had to retire from my permanent job when I reached the age of 65 at the end of 2018, I decided that I would like to reflect on my career as an organisational project management practitioner and published some opinion articles which I have done (Smit, 2019 & 2020). Last year I wanted to write a short article to share my opinion on what I think the calling of organisational project management practitioners is. I have not done so as my wife and I are really enjoying our retirement by travelling and enjoying the beautiful Southern African nature (of course within the regulations of Covid-19). The editorials by Pells (2021 and 2012a) have now inspired me to write this article and share my opinion on the question: “Do organisational project management practitioners have a higher calling/purpose in life?”. In this article I also share a high-level a portfolio management model that organisational project management practitioners can apply to execute organisational strategies in order to deliver sustainable business value for organisations.

KEYWORDS: organisational project management practitioners, calling/purpose, execution of organisational strategies, business value, benefits, benefits realisation management (BRM).


According to Definitions from Oxford Languages obtained from a Google search, a calling is defined as “a strong urge towards a particular way of life or career; a vocation”. It could also be described as “a mission or purpose in life”. According to https://www.huffpost.com a true calling will emerge as you combine your top strengths and interests with what benefits others. When you do that, you are doing what you are meant to do.

In my early career in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was fortunate to be involved in the management of mega projects in South Africa (petrochemical and power stations construction). In the late 1980s I became an outage (shutdown) and project manager for a six-unit (593 MW each) coal-fired power station in South Africa. During that time, we made use of the early editions of Harold Kerner’s book Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling as well as early versions of what today is known as the Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) PMBOK® Guide to enhance and apply our knowledge of project management. I can still recall the day that I wrote the eight-hour PMP® exam in 1992. At that time, the PMBOK® Guide only consisted of eight Knowledge Areas (Project Integration Management and Project Stakeholder Management were only added later). As an outage and project manager at that time the key focus was to achieve the scope, time, cost, and quality objectives of outages (shutdowns) and projects as outlined in the Project Management Triangle (see Figure 1).


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How to cite this article: Smit, M.J. (2021). Do organisational project management practitioners have a higher calling/purpose in life? PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue III, March. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pmwj103-Mar2021-Smit-the-Calling-of-Organisational-Project-Management-Practitioners.pdf

About the Author

Martin J Smit, PhD, PMP®

Johannesburg, South Africa

 Martin Smit is semi-retired and the owner of a sole proprietorship, OrgPM-Value, that provides portfolio, programme and project management consulting, education and training services and products to help organizations to create sustainable business value. His career spanned some 45 years. He worked for Eskom, the electricity utility in South Africa, for 39 years where he held various management positions in construction-, outage-, maintenance-, and project- management. During the latter years Martin worked in the Eskom Project Management Office (EPMO) as an Organizational Project Management Specialist. He has extensive experience in the development and application of project, program and portfolio management methodologies, processes, and best practices. Martin is certified as a facilitator to conduct project definition readiness assessments. He is also certified to facilitate learning, conduct outcomes-based assessments and moderation. Martin has developed and presented various project- and outage- management training courses.

Martin holds a MSc (Management of Technology and Innovation) from the Da Vinci Institute in the domain of Project Management and a PhD in Engineering from the North-West University in the field of Development and Management Engineering. The title of his thesis was: “Development of a project portfolio management model for execution organizational strategies: A normative case study.” He also has qualifications in civil- and mechanical- engineering, information management, management, and maintenance practice. Martin has been a Project Management Professional (PMP®) since 1992 (No. 1071). During his career Martin has presented various papers at national and international conferences and he has also published some articles in international journals.

Martin can be contacted at martin.smit@vodamail.co.za.