How to Write a Professional Development Plan

Struggling to meet your career goals? A PDP plan is the answer.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Writing a Professional Development Plan

No one wants to stay in the same role, or at the same level, forever. Progressing your career takes time and effort, but what many people do not place enough importance in is that this also takes careful planning. Creating a professional development plan is a great way to set goals related to your own career or growth, meaning that you’ll have actionable steps in front of you to grow professionally and develop your career.

Writing a professional development plan takes careful planning and preparation. As such, it’s worth understanding where you are right now, as well as where you want to get to. This article discusses what a professional development plan is, the benefits of having one, what it might include, and how to write one.

What is a professional development plan?

A professional development plan is a document completed by people to outline goals related to career development and career planning. A PDP differs from a business goal document in that the latter is usually set by managers and is focused purely on targets which will contribute to the development of the organization. A PDP, on the other hand, is related to goals that will develop you as a person, or as a professional.

There are many examples of professional development activities (these will be covered later) but, in general, they focus on goals that will improve skills needed for career development, such as learning opportunities, acting on feedback received in appraisals, learning languages and cross training. They won’t cover other more personal goals such as saving for a house deposit or going on that dream holiday!

PDPs are form-based, and employees are typically asked to set PDP goals at the start of the year. These are set (or discussed), and then progress is reviewed by the manager throughout the course of the year. Unlike business goals, PDP goals are not related to appraisal ratings or remuneration such as raises or bonuses but, obviously, if you fail to complete these goals, your career might be impacted instead.

Benefits of a professional development plan

There are many different benefits to creating a PDP. It’s win-win-win — for the organization, the manager and the employee. Here are some of the main advantages of a PDP:

  • You will become aligned to organizational culture and objectives: Very often, employees are given appraisal feedback based on parameters set out in alignment to an organization’s culture and values. If PDPs include goals to help you improve according to the feedback you receive, these goals will help forge a link between organizational culture and employee behavior.
  • You quantify career development: Career development is hard to measure, unless you obtain the role you’re looking for. PDPs contain measurable goals which allow you to evaluate the success of their development.
  • Managers can understand how to impact employee development: By getting involved with their employees’ PDPs (for example, helping them develop goals), managers can become attuned to what is needed to help their teams thrive.
  • You will have more control over your own development: By developing your own PDP (with the assistance of your manager if needed), you’re empowered to develop yourself. You might feel able to control your destiny and set in place actions that might be needed to improve your career.
  • It’s a written commitment: A PDP is a written affirmation of intent to work on your career development. By having a PDP in front of you for the entire year, you can refer back to this and ensure these goals are on track.

Types of professional development activities

There are plenty of appropriate professional development activities to choose from. Often, these are categorized into formal or informal learning. Here are some examples:

  • Training courses: Training courses are sometimes run by an organization’s learning and development team, but sometimes these can be run externally via a third party. Either way, these courses are aimed to improve soft skills or prepare you for leadership roles.
  • Professional qualifications: Professional qualifications are accredited courses which result in you being certified by a trade body to perform your role or certain duties. These qualifications are expensive and often (but not always) subsidized by organizations. Some qualifications require industry membership as well, such as the ACCA for finance or CIPD/SHRM for HR.
  • Networking events: Attending networking events is a great way for you to get to know people in your field from other organizations, as well as make connections that can lead to new opportunities.
  • On-the-job training: On-the-job training, or work shadowing, gives you the chance to learn at work during your normal duties and hours. You might be trained on a new process or how to effectively execute a part of your job, often by a more senior or skilled colleague.
  • Task force or cross exposure: Task force and cross exposure allows you to train or work in an area or business unit different to the one you are usually based at. It’s a good way to try a new role or location and get the experience on your résumé.
  • Language learning: Learning a new language is beneficial to both the organization or your role and your overall development. Sometimes, companies can sponsor language learning.
  • Mentorships: Finding a mentor or a coach could be a good initial PDP activity. These individuals will provide ongoing support and advice as you work through your goals. They’re likely to be someone other than your manager.
  • Training or developing other people: A great way to further your career is to be the one doing the training. This develops skills such as leadership and delegation. You’ll also increase your influencing skills, credibility and reputation.
  • Project management: Taking on projects can get you noticed by other leaders and teams. You’ll also learn new skills and interact with new people, thus improving your network.
  • Reading or research on a certain subject: Sometimes, PDP activities can simply focus on you improving your own knowledge through studying or revision. A goal of reading one industry-related journal a week, for example, is a straightforward way to become more developed in what you do.

Steps to writing a professional development plan

Adopt a rigid and structured plan to create a PDP — this way, you’ll ensure every detail is taken care of and the PDP is sustainable and in tune with your career needs and wants.

Here’s how to write a professional development plan:

1. Analyze where you are now

Take time to understand how you’re getting on in your role and your career. This can be quantified through reviewing your most recent appraisal, where you’ll be taken through your areas for improvement and what you are best at. You might also get to discuss with your manager what your future looks like at the company. It’s also a good idea to conduct a personal SWOT analysis, where you analyze your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

2. Identify your purpose

The next step is to expand on your feedback and SWOT analysis by thinking about your purpose. What do you want to be doing in 10 years’ time? How will you get there?

Also, consider your values and principles. These are your inherent beliefs that might help you align your inner self to a role or a career. Some people work this into a vision, or a mission statement.

Taking these long-term goals step by step will help you strategize what you want to achieve (or be able to achieve) over the next 12 months.

3. Write SMART goals

When you know what you want to be working on for your PDP, the next step is to begin writing your goals. The best way of doing this is to make your goals “SMART” — SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

Specific goals are clear enough so that you know what you’re working on. Measurable goals can be quantified. Achievable goals can be accomplished within the given timeframe. Realistic goals are connected to your long-term work or career targets, and Time-bound goals have a clear deadline.

4. Set strategies and activities to support your goals

When you have written your SMART PDP goals, set the step-by-step actions and strategies you will employ to achieve them. This will involve understanding the best way to accomplish the goals and breaking down the goal into bite-sized actions. This will, ultimately, make the goals easier to digest and help you understand the best way to work on them.

5. Think about resources and support

As you write your goals, think about what resources and support you will need. This might include access to certain systems, people who might be able to help you, or where to find certain information.

This might be where your manager needs to step in to support you. They might be able to facilitate the provision of some of this information, or at least help you find it so you can sort things out for yourself.

6. Set deadlines

Setting deadlines will ensure that you keep on top of what you need to achieve, and by when.  This ensures that you’re working on the goals long enough for any training to be meaningful, but also that you’re not dragging your feet. Generally, a PDP document should last the whole year, though some elements of it might or certain goals be accomplished sooner than that.

7. Present the PDP or review it with your manager

Once the PDP is written, present it to your manager. They might be able to add feedback, or work with you in tweaking certain goals as needed. Although a PDP should be created on your terms, your manager certainly can contribute to it.  They might have “been there and done that” and know exactly what is needed for you to progress in the right way.

Once your PDP has been signed off, display it prominently in your workspace so you will always see it and be reminded of its importance.

8. Set review dates with your manager

Set out with your manager when your PDP will be reviewed, and how often. At a minimum, this should be after six months, or twice a year. Sometimes, PDP goals might need to be adjusted (for example, if your career plan has changed or you have accomplished PDP goals faster than expected). These review meetings are a good opportunity to decide if anything needs to be adapted.

9. Set dates for you to reflect on your PDP

Set your own dates to reflect on your PDP, independently of your manager. This might be more frequently such as monthly or even weekly. Reflective practice is the act of considering what could be going better in your development, or what is going as planned. The more frequently you reflect, the more in charge of your own development you will feel.

10. Celebrate success

Finally, as and when you accomplish your PDP goals, don’t forget to emphatically tick them off your plan and celebrate doing so. After all, each PDP goal you achieve brings you one step closer to your career aspirations!

Example of a professional development plan

Create PDPs in table format to enable goal information to be easily inputted and viewed. The following is an example template of what a typical PDP could look like, with three goals inputted, along with action steps and timelines:


Strategies / Activities


To undertake cross training in the accounting department once a week for eight weeks

  • Set up a cross training plan with the financial controller
  • Plan to be approved by manager
  • Cross training to take place and reflection/notes created after each day
  • By next month
  • One week after plan has been set up
  • Weekly, after each cross-training intervention

To enroll in and participate in a leadership development workshop.

  • Enroll on workshop
  • Complete pre-work and assessment
  • Attend the workshop
  • Complete reflective practice and course post work
  • First available course offering date
  • Two weeks before course is due to begin
  • TBC
  • One month after the course finishes

To shadow leaders in the department to learn on-the-job leadership skills

  • Identify the shadowing schedule and a leader to work with
  • Create work shadowing plan and training steps
  • Work shadowing
  • Taking the lead on managing a junior employee
  • Monthly feedback meetings with manager
  • One week from today’s date
  • Two weeks from today’s date
  • For six months, schedule TBC
  • After six months, until end of year
  • Monthly, last Friday of the month, over the course of the year

Final thoughts

Like many goals, the success of a PDP lies in the planning and writing stage. Ensure you take decent time to understand what you want to achieve over the coming 12 months, working these into SMART goals that will stretch you but can be accomplished with a little effort and hard work.

Managers can help you with PDPs (for example, assisting you with the resources or training needed for you to accomplish your goals), but most of the hard work — and satisfaction — in achieving PDP goals comes from you. Managers don’t have to chase or tell you off if you don’t achieve PDP goals. You should take responsibility to do so yourself — your career happiness depends on it!

Got a question about writing your own professional development plan? Let us know in the comments section below!