Certifications You Can Trust: Navigating Between Lagging and Leading Standards

In the professional world, certifications confirm expertise, dedication, and credibility. Yet, not all certifications are equal. The distinction between lagging and leading certifications underscores an important choice for professionals: the risk of relying on the outdated knowledge versus the benefit of being at the forefront of understanding and driving change. This blog explores the nuances of these certifications, advocating for a more informed approach to professional development.

Understanding Lagging and Leading Certifications


Historically, before 2015, a few certification authorities dominated the landscape. These entities, with their long-standing histories, approached standard creation with a focus on mainstream understanding. However, this approach has its pitfalls. By concentrating only on well-established ideas and practices, there’s a risk of overlooking innovative concepts not yet widespread.

The Shortcomings of Traditional Certification Models

The traditional certification models, reliant on multiple-choice exams and static materials, face several challenges:

  • Dependence on outdated materials: The content reflects the core committee’s knowledge, which may not be comprehensive or up-to-date.
  • Inefficiencies in updating: Infrequent updates to materials and question banks limit the relevance of the certification.
  • Questionable practices: Certain new organizations have introduced practices that may compromise the integrity of certifications, such as relaxed standards and assured passing rates.

The Role of Exam Accreditation Authorities

Exam accreditation authorities aim to ensure the quality of certification materials and exams. Yet, their focus often remains on mainstream, lagging standards. This traditional approach struggles to accommodate rapidly updating, research-driven standards that embody the cutting edge of industry knowledge.

Building Trust in Certifications

Confidence in certifications depends on how relevant and rigorous the content is, along with the methods used for updates and examinations. Traditional metrics of success, based solely on acquired knowledge, fail to capture the essence of true professional competence—the impact of application in real-world scenarios.

Advancing Beyond Traditional Assessments

Leading certifications distinguish themselves by incorporating real-time case studies and scenarios that test an individual’s ability to innovate, adapt, and lead under pressure. This method provides a deeper, more accurate gauge of a professional’s potential contribution to their field, beyond rote memorization or theoretical knowledge.

AIPMO’s Approach to Certification

AIPMO has embraced a foundational philosophy, ab imis fundamentis, which means “rebuilding from the foundations.” This philosophy underpins a new approach to professional certification, by anchoring its certification programs in the most current empirical research and ensuring continuous updates with the latest findings.

The figure below illustrates the dynamic interplay between individual motivations for pursuing certifications and the distinct advantages of aligning with either lagging or leading standards. This visual representation underscores the direct correlation between the quality of certification standards and the realization of personal and professional goals.

Mapping reasons for getting certified onto a lagging standard compared to a leading standard

For employers and Learning & Development (L&D) departments, the value of investing in certifications extends beyond the mere acquisition of certificates. The goal is to ensure that such investments translate into tangible benefits, including enhanced job performance and the strategic application of learned skills in novel situations. AIPMO’s certification process excels in this regard by incorporating real-world case studies that challenge participants to apply their knowledge in diverse and complex scenarios. This approach not only measures the impact of the learning but also solidifies the learner’s ability to contribute meaningfully within their roles.

Trust, therefore, becomes a cornerstone of AIPMO’s certification ethos. Both L&D professionals and organizational leaders can confidently invest in AIPMO’s programs, assured in the knowledge that the training methodologies, content, and examinations are designed to provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment of each participant’s capabilities. This trust is not misplaced but earned through a rigorous commitment to quality, relevance, and practical applicability, ensuring that certifications reflect genuine expertise and readiness to tackle real-world challenges.


The landscape of professional certifications is evolving, with a growing divide between lagging and leading standards, and the quality of the content, approach, and exam approach.

In this dynamic environment, the choice of certification matters more than ever. Professionals seeking to maximize their potential and impact should gravitate toward certifications that offer not just knowledge, but the ability to apply that knowledge effectively in real-world situations. AIPMO’s principle-based, research-driven approach provides reasons why it should be trusted by L&D and other decision-makers because it represents what certifications can and should offer—a commitment to excellence, relevance, and practical application.

For further insights, you can explore the numerous testimonials from attendees of AIPMO courses, highlighting their trust in AIPMO’s certification approach.

Additionally, you may want to explore another blog discussing certifications that drive organizational success.



    AIPMO is the Association of International Project Management Officers, founded in 2015.

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