A professional designation is a certification given to individuals in recognition of their expertise in the governance field. These designations often signify a level of education, competence, and commitment to a profession. In this article, we'll delve into the meaning of a professional designation, its significance, and how it can enhance your career.

What is a Professional Designation?

Professional designations provide prospective board members with the education, skills and confidence to serve as an effective leader. Director education programs, offered through associations and universities across the globe, dive into topics such as risk management, board effectiveness and governance culture. A designation/certification is a clear sign to organizations that a board candidate not only has the skills to make an immediate impact, but the willingness to expand their knowledge.

The role of a board member, after all, is different from an executive leader. Board members typically are laser-focused on setting up an organization for a successful future through good governance and strategic planning. Top-notch board members know how to ask the right questions, listen, creatively problem-solve and collaborate. Boards where every member brings a professional designation can take advantage of a common understanding of governance models and best practices, elevating and aligning everybody at the boardroom table. Companies benefit from reduced liability and risk, thanks to fully contributing members who have a solid understanding of a board member’s various duties.

Importance of a Professional Designation in the Boardroom

A board member with a professional designation is not just engaged but deeply qualified in the governance profession. They proudly hold a Professional Director® designation, among other esteemed credentials, and actively participate in a thriving governance community, constantly evolving alongside the profession's latest developments. They possess a profound understanding of their role and the specific boundaries within governance, resisting the temptation to delve into operational matters. Instead, they focus on the unique and invaluable contributions they bring to the table, adhering rigorously to their designated lane.

Their ability to pose insightful and impactful questions is honed through dedicated learning and practice, ensuring they navigate discussions with precision and purpose. Treating board membership as a respected profession, they uphold the highest standards of conduct and continually refine their skills to meet the evolving demands of their role. Exhibiting unwavering integrity and emotional maturity, they navigate the complexities of board dynamics with grace and professionalism. Recognizing the critical nature of their position, they demonstrate courage by fearlessly advocating for what they believe is right, even if it means challenging the status quo.

Their sense of purpose is unwavering, grounded in the belief that they are not only suited for their current board but capable of thriving in diverse organizational settings. Armed with comprehensive knowledge across various aspects of corporate governance, from strategic oversight to financial literacy, they approach their responsibilities with confidence and competence. In essence, they embody the epitome of board leadership: adept, principled, and committed to driving sustainable success for the organizations they serve.

Who to choose a Professional Designation

When exploring professional designations from reputable institutes around the world, you’ll find various pathways and prerequisites. Here’s an overview of the key considerations:

Prerequisites: Many institutions require candidates to be serving board members or C-suite executives and to hold a university degree. For some, you must apply for acceptance, especially if you are serving on a for-profit board and have a strong track record as an executive in a for-profit corporation.

Costs: In North America, the cost of obtaining a professional designation ranges from CAD$10,000 to CAD$25,000. Additionally, travel expenses such as flights, gas, hotels, and meals may also need to be considered.

Class Size: Class sizes typically range from 15 to 30 students, impacting the level of individual attention and networking opportunities.

Program Length: The duration of programs varies significantly. Some take as little as a weekend, while others extend over a year. Few programs offer flexibility with courses available during summer or winter sessions.

Faculty: The quality and consistency of faculty are crucial factors. Some institutions have a consistent set of faculty members or dedicated moderators for each module, while others may have faculty determined by sponsorship or location, leading to variability in teaching quality.

For example, the Professional Director Institute© does not require its students to be serving on a board as long as they are proven senior professionals. The program is entirely online, eliminating commuting costs and allowing participation from anywhere, with a class size of 15 students maximum. The Professional Director Institute© uniquely also offers a self-paced format, allowing students to complete the program at their own pace within a three-year window. Their faculty members are all experts in governance and leaders of Governance Solutions Inc., with experience as CEOs, C-suite executives, and board members.

In summary, when pursuing a professional designation program, consider the prerequisites, costs, class sizes, program lengths, and faculty quality of various institutions. Selecting the right program will enhance your learning experience and equip you with valuable governance skills and credentials.

How to Obtain a Professional Designation

Attaining a professional designation involves selecting the right institution that aligns with your goals, schedule, and budget. It's essential to choose a reputable institution known for its excellence in governance across various industries. Consider your time availability and financial resources when making your selection to ensure it matches your professional aspirations. In North America, particularly in Canada, where governance standards set global benchmarks, respected programs offer comprehensive training. These programs typically consist of 1 to 6 modules, culminating in a final examination. Most require in-person attendance at hotel rooms or affiliated universities.

As an example, the Professional Director Certification Program® provides flexibility with two distinct formats:

Guided Cohort: Students can complete the entire program over seven sessions, staggered across 3 months, working together with a cohort of peers. Every second week includes 90 minutes of live (online) instruction with the faculty team. This format allows students to share insights with fellow professionals and expand their network in a community learning environment. Learn more.

Self-Paced: This format offers maximum flexibility and autonomy, allowing students to progress through course materials and assignments at their own pace. While enjoying the convenience of self-paced learning, students can access faculty support as needed (online). Learn more.

In summary, securing a professional designation involves careful consideration of the institution's reputation, program structure, and format suitability to ensure a rewarding and enriching learning experience tailored to your professional journey. And it's always important to consider online options, to avoid wasting time commuting and exceeding your budget.

Benefits of a Professional Designation

Considering the advantages, it’s no surprise that a professional designation is table stakes for board members of public companies these days. But a professional designation brings big benefits to individuals, too. Here are four ways a professional designation can enhance a leader’s résumé and opportunities:

Practical Education: The education you will receive about board roles and responsibilities is indispensable. Programs typically follow an adult learning model, using case studies from leading business schools, simulations and role-playing to engage and instruct. Participants often start applying the tools they’ve learned before they’ve even completed the program.

Life-Long Certification: The certification comes with an independent stamp of approval from a reputable third party that you carry with you as long as you keep up the continuing education requirements and don't violate the code of conduct. The certifications are generally acknowledged from country to country, sector to sector and industry to industry.

Improved Chances: A professional designation will help you stand out from the crowd. If the choice comes down to candidates with and without a governance designation, nominating committees know that the individual with the designation will be more highly qualified, particularly for more senior boards in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

Bigger Network: Professional experience has always been critical for board members, but so has their professional network, cultivated through shared alma maters, club memberships and career tracks. And, for many reasons, this tight-knit network has historically made it difficult for some — including women and people of color — to break in because they often don’t share that common background.

Challenges and Considerations

Before embarking on the journey towards a Professional Director designation, students need to consider various factors that influence their career and personal life. Firstly, contemplate the logistical aspects. Willingness to travel, possibly to different cities or provinces, should be weighed against the associated expenses – hotel accommodations, flights, fuel, and meals. 

Among all the available options, the Professional Director Certification Program® stands out as the only one offering online courses, saving students both time and money.

Additionally, consider the impact on familial responsibilities; are you comfortable being away from loved ones, and do you possess the necessary time management skills to balance familial, professional, and educational commitments? Financial considerations are paramount; Program costs can vary significantly, ranging from CAD$10,000 to CAD$30,000, depending on the institution and program structure. Understanding who bears the financial burden – individuals or organizations – is crucial, especially considering tax implications, as not all programs offer tax deductibility.

Moreover, prospective students must factor in the ongoing commitment to continuing education required to maintain their designation. For instance, the Professional Director Institute© mandates a minimum of 10 hours of Continuing Education (CE) annually, while other Canadian institutions may stipulate 15 hours of CE per year. These ongoing educational requirements demand careful planning and dedication to ensure compliance while managing professional obligations.

In essence, navigating the challenges and considerations preceding enrollment in a Professional Designation program demands a comprehensive assessment of logistical, financial, and time management factors to optimize success and fulfillment in both personal and professional spheres.

Case Studies: Success Stories with Professional Designations

Questions about securing a seat on a board, enhancing governance skills, or becoming a better leader are common among senior professionals. A professional director designation/certification stands out as the ideal solution to address these inquiries. Regardless of the boardroom's size or the organization served, regardless of experience level or background, pursuing a professional director designation represents the next logical step in one's professional journey.

Here are some experiences shared professional with a professional desgination:

“I was so inspired that I recommended the program for all Directors and Executive Team, on the Board that I chair and as a future onboarding tool. This comprehensive training program ensures that all our directors and management are equally informed and up to speed on their roles and expectations.  New directors can move up the learning curve, making the onboarding process more streamlined, instilling confidence, and clearly defining their responsibilities. I wish I had taken this course at the beginning of my Board journey. It creates better Directors!”
Dr. Lisa Bentley, Professional Director® – President, Ontario Dental Association & Board Chair

“One of my favourite courses. I even enjoyed the volume of reading. In spite of having been on a board for many years and working with boards, I learned a tremendous amount and particularly from my class cohort whose experience only broadened the learning” “Regardless of how many Boards and years of serving diligently, I learned a great deal during my studies with Governance Solutions. I chose this program because the core curriculum centres on the depth of knowledge attainment versus the initials/designation. My class cohort was quite diverse in many dimensions and became part of my learning experience.”
Irena Fedchun, Professional Director®  – Retired Former Director of Finance & Administration at CHATS (Community & Home Assistance to Seniors). Currently serving on Boards

“Regardless of how many Boards and years of serving diligently, I learned a great deal during my studies with Governance Solutions. I chose this program because the core curriculum centres on the depth of knowledge attainment versus the initials/designation. My class cohort was quite diverse in many dimensions and became part of my learning experience.”
Gary M Seveny, Professional Director® – Executive Director and Chairman of Apaylo Finance Technology Inc.

For generations, high-level professional experience has been the primary qualification for leaders seeking a board seat, and CEOs and CFOs often were the sought-after candidates. But market demands and stakeholder expectations about how organizations operate are rapidly changing, and longtime practices for seating board members are shifting as a result.

Organizations are increasingly placing ESG, or environmental, social and governance, standards, at the forefront, triggering a much closer eye on ethical governance practices at every level. And a growing awareness of the importance of diverse skills and perspectives is prompting expanded searches for professionals with cybersecurity or sustainability expertise, for example, and individuals from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented at board tables, including people of color and women. All this change makes professional designation for board members more important than ever for both organizations and prospective board members. Here’s what a professional designation is, and why it matters.


Professional Designation FAQ

Professional Designation FAQ

A professional designation is also known as a professional certification. Certifications and certificate programs differ primarily in purpose, authority, and requirements. Certifications, issued by professional and educational organizations – such as the Professional Director Institute© – or regulatory bodies, validate a professional's skills and knowledge through exams and often require ongoing maintenance. They are recognized as marks of expertise within specific industries and organizations. In contrast, certificate programs are educational achievements awarded by institutions such as universities or colleges upon completing a set curriculum. While both enhance professional qualifications, certifications are more about industry-standard validation, whereas certificate programs are more about academic and practical learning.

Some are recognized internationally, while others may be specific to certain countries or regions.
The Professional Director® designation, attained through the Professional Director Certification Program® is recognized globally, and used as benchmark in countries all around the world.

Yes, many professionals hold multiple designations to enhance their expertise and career prospects.

To maintain your professional designation, you typically need to engage in continuing education and adhere to professional standards. For instance, the Professional Director Institute© requires 30 hours of continuing education every three years for its Professional Director Designation®. To support this, the institute offers 30 minutes of free content every Tuesday, available to both alumni and the public, which can collectively contribute to the required 30 hours of continuing education.