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What is a professional body?

By Kay Maddox-Daines

Professional bodies are associations and societies with individual members that practice a profession or occupation. The organisation maintains an oversight of the knowledge, skills, conduct and practice required to operate successfully in that profession. The professional body supports individuals with the advancement of their careers, defining the specific skills, experience and academic principles to support their development.

Should I become a member of a professional body?

Apart from networking, sharing good practice and professional advice, membership of the larger professional bodies is increasingly being seen as a badge of individual credibility. Job advertisements are more likely than not to ask for membership of professional bodies in the US, Australia and the UK and the increasing recognition of these respective brands means the demand for professional recognition is likely to increase going forward.

Belonging to a professional body is an investment in both time and money and as with anything, you get out of it what you put in. Progressing through the professional bodies’ qualification standards can be a useful way to benchmark your career development whilst also ensuring that key skills, knowledge and competencies stay up to date. Some HR professionals join their preferred professional body only for the duration of their studies and some not at all.

What are the benefits of professional body membership?

  • Access to industry events, talks and updates

  • Networking events and networking opportunities

  • Volunteer work and opportunities

  • Professional advice from experts

  • Use of post nominal letters (e.g. Member of …)

  • Specialist journal subscriptions

  • Access to extensive sector specific resources

  • Lobbying for interests in the sector

  • And more ….

Finding the most appropriate HR professional body

There are many membership organisations supporting people management professionals in all parts of the world. In the US alone there are tens of national groups spanning all areas of HR focus and roles. These include both broad and narrow scope within the field including The Society for Human Resource Management (the largest association dedicated to human resources globally), Association for Talent Development (focussing on organisational development and /or learning and development), Human Capital Institute (focussing on talent management), World at Work (focussing on total rewards), American Payroll Association (payroll administration and practice) and the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology (for those with a psychology interest). Many countries have their own professional associations that keep their members informed, interconnected and supported. From the South African Board of People Practices, Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management, the Canadian Human Resources Management Association, the Human Resources Society in Nepal, the Institute of Human Resource Management practitioners in Ghana, the Chartered Institute of Human Resources Management in Nigeria, the Australian HR Institute, the Maldives Association of Human Resource Professionals, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK and many more.

Key questions:

  • What are you hoping to get out of your professional membership?

  • Where are you based?

  • Are you seeking international recognition or more specific support in terms of your specialist role?

  • Are you hoping to find local networking opportunities?

  • Are you seeking professional qualifications?

  • Are you looking for support with your CPD?

Introducing 3 HR professional bodies:

The Society for Human Resource Management

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is based in the UK and was established in 1948. It is now the largest people management professional body in the world with over 300, 000 members across 165 countries. Equity, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of their vision for building a better workforce.

Members are able to join one of five categories, professional, global, student, executive and enterprise. As well as legal and compliance resources, interactive tools, employee handbooks, vendor directory and networking, membership provides access to the latest updates on HR news, public policy and research. HR magazine is SHRM’s publication that provides in-depth analysis of HR trends and issues allowing people professionals to stay up to date with the rapidly transforming workplace.

SHRM is also one of the most popular areas to find HR jobs with hundreds of new vacancies posted each month covering every discipline in the people profession. Many HR professionals post their resume/CV on the site and this provides employers with a searchable database of highly qualified human resources candidates.

The SHRM competency model

The competency model was designed in collaboration with corporations, universities and 35, 000 members from 33 countries. The model consists of nine competencies including eight behavioural competencies and one technical competency, all of which are required in any HR role notwithstanding the size or sector of the organisation. The model provides the key competencies required throughout the HR lifecycle and people professionals can use it to guide their career development. SHRM divide career levels into four key areas; Early level, Mid-Level, Senior Level and Executive Level.

The SHRM competency model consists of eight behavioural competencies grouped into three clusters: Leadership, Interpersonal and Business.

SHRM Competency Model shown above

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) was established in 1913 and is now the professional body for 150, 000 members worldwide. CIPD benefits focus on three core areas, supporting people professionals in their day to day role, acting as a career partner offering a range of resources to support career development and providing opportunities for networking through the CIPD online community, 52 local branch networks and various volunteering opportunities.

There are a number of resources to support people professionals in their roles, keeping them informed and up to date. The Knowledge Hub contains a wide range of fact sheets, reports and articles in addition to access to over 200 business and HR /L&D journals via the EBSCO research database. Membership also provides access to well-being helpline services including tools, resources and support, employment law support and People Management, the magazine of the CIPD.

The CIPD offer a range of courses, conferences and resources to support career development and enhance professional credibility. Development is focussed across four levels, from Foundation, to Associate, then Chartered Member level and at the strategic level, Chartered Fellow. These levels align to membership grades in order to reflect your level of capability, knowledge and impact in the workplace. For students there is a Student Member status which supports aspiring people professionals towards CIPD professional recognition.

The HR profession map

The CIPD membership grades are aligned to the professional standards set in the Profession Map. The Map focusses on the knowledge and behaviours needed to create value and make an impact at work. In 2018 the new CIPD profession map was launched taking account of new specialisms, ways of working and priorities.

CIPD Profession Map shown above

The Australian HR Institute

The Australian HR Institute (AHRI) is the professional body for human resources in Australia. It sets the industry standard which is benchmarked to both Singapore HR certification (Institute of HR Professionals) and the UK CIPD standard. AHRI has a reciprocal certification arrangement in place with the CIPD so that qualified UK professionals can be recognised in Australia and vice versa. This is available via the AHRI International Membership. AHRI provide a wide range of learning and development opportunities in HR, people management and business skills along with networking opportunities and conferences.

AHRI was created in 1943 as the Personnel and Industrial Welfare Officers Association. Since then the Institute has evolved through a number of guises from the Personnel Officers Association of Australia (1949-1954) to the Institute of Personnel Management Australia (IPMA) (1954-1992) and now The Australian HR Institute in its current form.

Membership levels for individuals are available for Students/Graduates, for mid-senior level professionals, for managers and academics and for executive HR professionals. Organisational membership is also available to support internal teams through research, events, professional development and career support. Members benefit from the HRM magazine with contains insights, case studies and advice, AHRU Assist which provides access to many policy templates and survey and research reports.

AHRI use a Model of Excellence to denote what HR professionals should know, what they are expected to do and the required behaviours and capabilities expected by both peers and leaders.

AHRI Model of Excellence shown above


Professional body membership can provide both professional practice support and career partnering in managing roles effectively for today and the changing workplace landscape. It can showcase your commitment to the industry and recognise your knowledge and skills.

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