What is a Professional Development Plan

A professional development plan is a documented set of comprehensive guidelines which provide a structured road map for professional development.  A good professional development plan lays out foundation of practices and activities required for professional growth. It crafts a well-defined action plan which can make you go through the metamorphosis of your entire career. It helps you specify your long term professional goals and establishes relationship between your personal goals with that of professional ones. It develops goals for competency and skills development mandatory for career growth. One of the primarily objectives for creating professional development plan is to outline your current strengths, highlight areas needing improvement and conduct resource evaluation in order to reach the goals according to the roadmap.  It also documents the outcomes to be achieved through implementation of action plans while mapping all the activities with certain predefined goals.

How to Create a Professional Development Plan

A professional development plan is usually created by the human resource managers while taking necessary input from the line managers. The line manager helps with the need identification of the staff and provides his detailed assessment as to what skills and resources the employees lack in. The HR manager eventually creates the plan while strategically aligning the employees’ career goals and organizational goals. However, professional development plan once created becomes the core responsibility of the individuals to streamline their entire activities under the professional development plan.  While the organizations and managers are responsible for providing the workplace environment conducive for implementing professional development plan, the individuals are accountable for showing improvement and progress. Apart from adapting the plan to the organizational level, professionals can benefit from the PDP on both personal and professional grounds. So this article may help all the professionals regardless of the fact that their organizations create and implement personal development plans or do not. Let’s have a look at the steps required for creating a professional development plan.

Step 1: Self-Assessment – Where are you now?

Professional development plan begins with the thorough assessment of current career position. You need to ask yourself that where do you stand. It involves assessment of the current career position as well as the professional achievements acquired so far.  If you are at the middle or advance stage of your career, are you at the position currently where you thought you would be? If you have just embarked on your career, do you think your competence and your position are well-synched? Self-assessment phase calls for giving really honest feedback and candid answers.

Step 2: Skills Assessment – What do you know?

In the step 2, employees are asked to conduct their skills assessment. Skills assessment must not be carried out in a haphazard manner, but rather the human resource manager or consultant needs to categorize the skills on the following criteria:

Technical skills: Technical skills are those which required getting the job done.

People skills: The skills required for getting along with other people and mandatory for working together.

Aptitude: Personal interests, natural inclinations and innate abilities to learn or perform something.

Attitude:  attitude is the combination of personal outlook, mindset, feelings and approach.

Skill assessment is an important step as it provides useful information on the areas of strength and weaknesses.

Step 3: Goals Identification – Where do you want to go?

After assessment of your current career position and identification of your skills, now is the time to ponder over your ambitions and aspirations. Outline the future perspective of your professional position as to where you want to reach. This step must be backed up by your motivation and ambitions. Give it a free thought, as you can redefine your goals with time. Identify both short term and long term goals of your career which delineate your personal yet realistic ambitions.

Step 4: Information Gathering & Analysis – How to get there?

Once you have become aware of your existing position and current skills, and subsequently identified your goals; now is the time to conduct information analysis. This step is supplement by the information gathering which is critical for creating professional development plan. Firstly, you have to analyze the information in hand to see how it helps you to achieve your goals. Secondly, you have to gather information which is required for taking practical steps. If you want to pursue a particular role in your career, identify what qualification, education or experience can get you there. If you want to pursue an entirely different career, find out what sort of professional courses or certifications you may require. If you are at the middle or advance stage of your career, you may look forward for getting retirement at certain age. You have to find out here that how much of savings or investments can lead towards a comfortable retired life. If you are planning to launch a business after certain years of services, see into what amount of capital and time you may need. This step might lead to redefining and refining of goals identification you conducted in step 3.

Step 5: Establish SMART Goals

Now you are all set to establish the goals of professional development plan.  The goals must be able to bridge the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be. For the managers conducting this step, they must align the goals of professional development plan with that of the organizational goals. The goals must be clear, definite and actionable. They must define clearly each next step required to be taken throughout the plan. Lastly, the goals must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound).

Step 6: Need Assessment – What skills, experience and competence you require?

Need assessment again requires honest analysis of all your existing skills, experiences, knowledge and competence in comparison to what is required to achieve your goals. You have to identify the additional skills you require and also how to attain those skills. Do you need to take up some course or get a certification, diploma or degree? Do you need to work with cross-functional teams? Do you require on-the-job training or off-site training? At this step, you have to identify activities to be put in the action plans, in order to fill the gaps between your existing skills and required skills.

Step 7: Resources Assessment – What can I possibly manage what I require?

Resource assessment is another imperative step of Professional Development Plan. In this step you have to identify resources required for achieving your goals, in comparison to what possibly you can manage within your existing resources. Resourcefulness is one of the key attribute you have to put into work here. Think thoroughly about accessible resources and identify as to how to use them to leverage your advantage. A manager developing professional development plan can think over the possibilities of conducting in house training, assigning a coach or mentor and developing cross-functional. An individual professional in this step can look into possibilities of taking an evening training session, online courses or getting assistance from a mentor.

Step 8: Develop Action Plan and Set Timeline

Now you have to develop a clear action plan, which is comprised of a series of activities mapped with a predefined timeline. You must have to align all the activities and actions with the SMART goals while defining clear steps for conducting each activity. The action plan must be developed in written form and should follow a proper PDP format. All the activities must be tracked down and the progress must be monitored by the supervisors and managers. As an individual professional, you can keep track of your performance by strictly monitoring activities and timeline in the context of outcome.  Each set of activities accomplished must be able to mark the accomplishment of a certain goal as defined in step 5.

Step 9: Execution of Action Plan

Get down to work and execute your action plan and begin working on your goals. You have to adopt a proactive approach while executing action plan. Each activity should follow the timeline and you must follow the steps to be taken for execution of the activities. Keep tracking your activities on regular basis. Here you have to be mindful of your existing responsibilities as well. Your current position should not suffer from your professional development plan.

Step 10: Evaluation of Progress & Performance

Keep a journal to evaluate outcome of your activities and update it on regular basis. Evaluation of performance is not only necessary for motivating you but it is also important for keeping track of activities, actions, timelines and goals.  Performance feedback by the managers must be shared during this step. At this stage, if some highly unexpected situations occur, you can review your goals and redefine them following the whole series of steps. If you suffer from a drastic setback or if a new opportunity knocks your door, you may need to revise your professional development plan.


A well-developed professional development plan serves as an important tool for leading you towards career development. A well-defined professional development plan, which is divided into breakable and manageable steps, lets you take control of your career goals. Creating a professional development plan can turn out to be one of the most productive exercises of your career journey. You are much more empowered when you take control of your professional development. As for the organizations, those which apply PDP are more likely to flourish through their well-developed professionals. Hence, the drill is equality leveraging for both the employees and the employers.

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