Which project management certification is best?

Identifying the project manager competencies and certifications that lead to higher project success rates.

For many people, the project management profession is strongly associated with the professional certifications: PRINCE2 and PMP. However, there have been three independent studies that have found these project management certifications do NOT lead to higher success rates [1]–[3]. As educators, this is extremely disappointing and led us to try again to find out if anything we are teaching leads to higher success rates.

We conducted a survey using LinkedIn and WenJuanXing to find out which certifications if any, correlated with project management success (on-time on-budget) and project success (realisation of business benefits). We obtained 200 valid responses from over 22 countries, with the majority coming from China (109) and Australia (57). 136 respondents had project management certifications and 64 respondents had no project management certification (Figure 1). The responses were evenly distributed across a wide range of industries: Transport, Retail, Other, Manufacturing, IT, Government, Energy, Consulting, Construction, Banking.

Figure 1 Survey results – what certification do you have (if any)?

The results found the 136 respondents with project management certifications are not statistically different to the 64 respondents with no project management certification in terms of cost and time. This should be interpreted to mean certification was not found to have any impact on project management success and this survey replicates the earlier studies [1]–[3].

However, we found the 136 respondents with project management certifications are statistically different to the 64 respondents with no project management certification in terms of delivery of business benefits. Specifically, we found IPMA-A and ChPP (Chartered Project Professional) were correlated with higher project success rates. (PMP and PRINCE2 were not found to correlate with project success). This is very meaningful and our study [4] may be the first to empirically find that some certifications are of value in the more important criterion of success (ref Figure 2).

Figure 2 The difference between project management success vs. project success

However, our findings are not completely satisfying because IMPA-A and ChPP are the highest levels of certification possible and it is not practical for younger project managers to achieve the highest levels of certification without years of experience. Is there anything we can teach project managers as they are gaining their experience that will help them to be more successful earlier in their careers?

Guided by IPMA’s Individual Competence Baseline (ICB4.0) we asked respondents about their level of people skills and their level of organisational skills. The results are shown below in Table 1. Values ranged from 3.75 to 4.31 on a scale of 1-5.

Table 1: Soft-skill statistics

We then performed a number of statistical tests (Cronbach’s Alpha, Exploratory Factor Analysis, Principal Component Analysis, Regression Analysis) and we found strong statistical evidence that Organisational Skills and Experience is correlated with project management success (on-time on-budget) but only People Skills is correlated with the more important criterion: project success (delivery of benefits)(Figure 3). This is a major finding and suggests that our project education must include the development of people skills like emotional intelligence, communication, teamwork, leadership and stakeholder management. It also suggests younger project managers should focus on the development of these people skills if they want to be more successful.

Figure 3 Only soft-skills correlate with project success

Now we need to know for sure if this result is right? Help us by completing a more rigorous survey (click here). It will take roughly 15 minutes of your time and your reward, apart from helping advance our state of knowledge, is you get to see a profile of how you compare against the competencies needed to be successful (Figure 4).

Figure 4 An example of an individual’s PM-competency profile


[1]         J. A. Starkweather and D. H. Stevenson, “PMP® Certification as a Core Competency: Necessary but Not Sufficient,” Project Management Journal, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 31–41, Feb. 2011, doi: 10.1002/pmj.20174.

[2]         J. T. Catanio, G. Armstrong, and J. Tucker, “The effects of project management certification on the triple constraint,” International Journal of Information Technology Project Management (IJITPM), vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 93–111, 2013.

[3]         N. Joseph and C. Marnewick, “Investing in project management certification: Do organisations get their money’s worth?,” Information Technology and Management, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 51–74, 2018, doi: 10.1007/s10799-017-0275-y.

[4]         R. Young, Y. Wei, and Z. Lu, “Which project management certification is best ? Identifying the project manager competencies and certifications that lead to higher project success rates.,” Suzhou, 2021.

6 thoughts on “Which project management certification is best?”

  1. I personally think taking training then having certifications of such mentioned above is helpful but not that fundamentally influential. Achieving satisfying goals in project management needs good expertise and lots of experiences.

    1. Raymond Young

      William, I used to think that but my latest data shows me that experience is only correlated with on-time delivery. It seems people skills is the only thing that correlates with the realisation of benefits (project success).

  2. Holger Barth

    Hi Gents,
    I like this work, not because I am an IPMA Level A holder but because it opens an interesting discussion. Actually, I would think that your results don’ t have any link to a certificate but to collected experience in specific areas which are more likely to be präsentiert, if a participant holds a Level A certificate. Other certificates dont require at lest 12 years of PM experience. Certificates are indicators only. So, if you put a respective certificate holder to a project, the likelyhood of success increases but it in reality it might be even vice versa.
    Is it that what you would agree to?

    1. Raymond Young

      Holger, your observation is exactly how I am interpreting my results. The IPMA-A and ChPP. is very likely to have people skills, which I think is the real reason their projects are delivering benefits.

  3. Dominik Robst

    From my point of view a certificate is a good basement. But handling with people and softskilles you only can learn in field.

    1. Raymond Young

      I’m doing some research now to find out whether soft skills can be taught. I suspect the answer will be yes because even learning in the field is a kind of taught.

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