Professional Goals

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Professional Goals

Practitioners, irrespective of their field of interest and experience, know that there is always something more to learn, skills needing refinement, issues needing to be addressed. Setting professional goals is part of the process of acknowledging that there will always be aspects of our professional practice requiring additional training, practice, knowledge, experience and attention. Identifying goals In order to determine the professional goals you would most benefit from, it can be useful to consider the following factors:

  • What areas of your professional practice have you become aware of that require attention?
  • Have colleagues or supervisors mentioned any aspects of your practice that they are concerned about?
  • Are there elements of your job that challenge you or that you feel unsure of?
  • Have professional practice issues been raised during performance appraisals?

Once you’ve assessed the issues that need to be addressed, it is then important to determine the resources available to you that can help you meet these. For example:

  • What training opportunities are available?
  • Will your employer be willing to pay for further study or will you be required to finance this yourself?
  • What are your time commitments?
  • Will further training encroach on an already full life, or will you be able to undertake training opportunities during work time?
  • What support is available to you within your organisation?
  • Are you able to access professional supervision in your workplace, or is there a mentor you could work with to improve your professional practice?

Be sure to consider as broad a range of resources as possible, including texts, seminars, conferences, workshops, study (either class-based or online) and mentoring.

Once you have determined the elements of your professional practice that you wish to improve, establish the available resources that will help you accomplish this.  You then need to apply this research to improve your practice by developing a plan for setting precise professional development goals. A useful way of doing this is to use the S.M.A.R.T. process for goal-setting:

Specific: The goals that you set, just like the feedback you’ve requested, needs to be specific. Specific goals make the ultimate aim clear and provide a much-needed focus. Specific goals need a measure for you to know if, and when, you have achieved it. For example “My goal is to improve my communication skills over the next 12 months”. An example of a vague goal would be “my communication needs to change”.

To help you specify your goal, consider the six W’s:

  1. Who is involved?
  2. What do you want to accomplish?
  3. Where will it take place?
  4. When will it occur?
  5. Which requirements and constraints do I need to consider?
  6. Why: reasons, purpose and benefits of achieving the goal

Measurable: In order to be able to assess whether or not a goal has been achieved, you need to ensure that you choose goals that can be measured. This “yard stick” for progress or achievement must be included during the goal setting process, or you will have no way of measuring your success. The measuring process should be as simple as possible, you might like to discuss with colleagues, supervisors or mentors how you will measure your achievements, but consider questions like: How much? How many? How will you know when it is accomplished?

Attainable: You need to set goals that allow you to grow in your skills and knowledge and stretch your personal and professional boundaries, but the goal still needs to be achievable. If you set your goal too high you may discover you cannot stretch that far and become discouraged. It is important to note that setting attainable goals may not be so much about changing the specifics of the goal, but more about setting realistic timeframes for achieving that goal.

In a professional context you may need to have agreement from supervisors and colleagues about your plans as they may involve a request for attendance at training, external supervision or study leave. Even if agreement is not a requirement, it can be useful to share them nonetheless, not only because this increases accountability but also because it provides you with support.

Realistic: To be realistic a goal must present an objective that you are willing and able to work towards and that you truly believe can be accomplished. Otherwise professional goal setting can end up like making New Year’s resolutions.  Setting manageable goals within realistic timeframes, while paying attention to available resources, time and energy, will improve your chances of meeting the goals you’ve set.

Time Specific: Time frames and deadlines are part of the responsibility aspect of goal setting. They provide a structure for professional development and ensures that tasks get started and that you remain motivated and on task. Setting long term and short term benchmarks along the way ensures you maintain the momentum and allows for small celebrations of success along the way.

SMART goals graphic

Professional Development Action Plan

Having set your SMART goals, it is now time to generate a professional development action plan to help guide the implementation process. A professional development action plan helps to ensure that all needs are eventually met, and that time is allocated to reflect on, identify and address professional practice issues. Without a plan the tendency is to know what has to be done, to think about what has to be done, but to never actually make time to undertake what has to be done. A professional development action plan must align with your organisational policies, plans and procedures for professional development and forms a tangible document to ensure your compliance to these organisational rules. A professional development action plan should outline:

  • The identified gap in your skills or knowledge
  • The reason why the professional development is required
  • The priority assigned to each aspect of professional development
  • Where, when and how the professional development will take place
  • The plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the training undertaken and its impact on the professional practice

The table below demonstrates how a useful template can be employed when creating a professional development action plan. The content of the table is included for illustrative purposes only.

professional development graphic

Putting together a professional development action plan is about taking responsibility for your own community service practice, and demonstrating a willingness to regularly review and improve it. Plans work best if they are medium to long-term (for example they cover a 6 month to 12 month period), they factor in probable variables (such as holiday periods, service closures and the like), and they are realistic in their goals and deadlines.  Refer back to your SMART goals. You need to be sure you allow time for reflection on practice and reactions to changes in the industry,  as well as active training, and to develop ways of recognising and evaluating the new skills you will be developing. The above template can be helpful to set your action plan in place, but having one single location in which to save all the various professional development activities you have participated in, can help you keep your professional development on track and ensure you never lose anything important. One way to do this is through a Professional Portfolio.

Developing a Professional Portfolio

Professional portfolios are designed to highlight your experience, your achievements, and provide a solid context with which you can assess your skills and identify further areas for professional development. Portfolios contain information about your qualifications, awards, newspaper articles, journal entries you consider important and a range of other items to prompt you to reflect on, and improve, your professional practice. When developing a reflective portfolio, the aim is to focus on your experiences and perceptions, and to use these as a platform to identify areas of professional practice that need attention.

Electronic portfolios are the newest way to demonstrate your professional development and practices. E-Portfolios are in an electronic space for you to display your best work, put together with software and services that help with the collection, collation and organisation of work highlights. E-portfolios are a fluid, developmental space that represents your professional ‘self’ on the internet. They are becoming standard practice for academics, students, and professionals and typically include examples of skills and achievements, as well as a reflective blog element. E-portfolios can be developed in a variety of ways, from free and simple blogging platforms, to modules in learning management systems, to dedicated software programs and services. Many colleges and universities offer their own e-portfolio services to students, be they proprietary or licensed through an outside provider.

Regardless of how you choose to manage your professional portfolio, it is important that it includes:

  • Your feelings about and reactions to current trends, issues, events, job requirements
  • Your understanding of your professional role and your (and perhaps others’) assessment of how you are managing that role.
  • Your expectations of the work you are doing and your future professional goals. Certificates of attendance at workshops, seminars and conferences, together with your assessment of what you gained from each of these.
  • Your current professional networks and networking strategies, and what lessons you have learned from various colleagues and networks.
  • Your professional development plan (including goals and strategies).

It is imperative to learn to distinguish between the components of the portfolio that are important and those that are redundant. Keep in mind that the aim of a reflective portfolio is to provide you with an overview of your current practice and achievements, and also to provide prompts, goals and strategies for improving your professional practice. Therefore you need to be careful to not fill your portfolio only with ‘feel-good’ reminders of our successes, but to really utilise this tool to challenge yourself, your expectations and your standards.


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Article by Eloise Fay
Faculty of Community Services and Counselling