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Career development: Writing a personal development plan


All routes to RTPI membership require a personal development plan. But what is it, why does it matter and how do you ensure that yours is meaningful and not a box-ticking exercise? Matt Moody asks the questions

“A PDP is a two-year action plan for your own personal, professional development,” explains Cat Goumal, the RTPI’s senior professional development coordinator.

“It’s not about growing your business or making your department more efficient – it’s about you. It gives you an opportunity to think about which direction you want your career to take, and work out what skills and knowledge you’ll need to get there.”

PDPs are a central part of a membership application, and applicants pursuing all routes to membership are required to produce one. “[This] means members are thinking about planning and reflecting on their learning from the beginning of their membership journey,” says Goumal. 

Creating a personal development plan

How can you make sure that your PDP is genuinely useful? One way is to follow the structure of example PDPs that you can download from the Professional Development Plan page on the RTPI website (see end).

The template these examples follow will help you produce a plan that is specific, quantifiable and achievable and one that addresses the areas the RTPI expects you to consider. It’s divided into two main sections – SWOT and Goals, objectives and actions.

RTPI podcast: What is a professional development plan? 

Part one - SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis encourages you to think about your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s an effective way to take stock of your personal abilities and the things beyond your immediate control that might help or hinder your development. 

The strengths and weaknesses boxes are for thinking about what comes naturally to you, and what will require more work; opportunities and threats are environmental and situational factors that could have a bearing on your professional progress.

Most of what you write here should be directly related to your knowledge of planning, but soft skills are applicable too. The RTPI’s PDP podcast series sums this point up well. “‘Learning to speak Spanish’ wouldn’t be something to include in your PDP – unless your goal is to work in a Spanish-speaking country.” 

RTPI podcast: The SWOT analysis: 

Part two - Goals, Objectives and Actions

Goals are the overarching ‘output’ of your plan, the high-level strategic statements that explain where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing if your PDP is a success.

Objectives narrow your goals into focused areas of learning that will help you achieve that overarching aim.

Objectives are meaningless without actions – the precise and specific things you can do to progress towards your objectives, and, in turn, your goals. 

Actions are the most tangible elements of a PDP, because they help you test what you’ve gained so far. For that reason, they must be measurable. This is why your actions must conform to the SMART model.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. 

Sticking to this model ensures that your actions clarify your progress towards objectives and goals. For example, improving your public speaking works well as an objective because it’s a specific and focused aim that will move you towards your goal if achieved.

The actions supporting this objective need to explain how you’ll go about achieving it, so that you can accurately measure your progress.

Goal: Become a thought leader in my industry
Objective: Improve my public speaking

  • Attend public speaking training course by June
  • Volunteer to speak at company event in September and invite feedback from colleagues
  • Review progress with comms director and determine next steps.

It’s not enough to say you’ll take action by ‘researching courses’ – only attending the course is a tangible learning experience, and only you will know how much you learned from it. Future actions must therefore be agreed or booked at the time of submitting your PDP, with a contingency plan in place if this isn’t possible.

Keeping in time
A successful PDP will have between one and three goals, each supported by two to four objectives, with two or three actions for each objective. Detail is important, but don’t spread yourself too thinly – the most successful plans are clear and focused.

It’s important to apply a time dimension to each action, too – when will it start and end? If it’s ongoing, when do you plan to review your progress?

Time is a factor in preparing the PDP, too. It’s impossible to write the night before the deadline, because a strong PDP demands proper reflection, research and consideration. 

Allow yourself at least a fortnight to put it together, make the most of the RTPI’s online resources and you’ll be well placed to succeed, in both your personal development plan and your career.

RTPI podcast: Goals and objectives 

RTPI podcast: The action plan 

Q&A: My first PDP

Katie Baldwin (KB) is planning enforcement team leader at Elmbridge Borough Council

Is this the first time you’ve completed a PDP?

KB: Yes. I am more convinced than ever that a happy worker is a productive worker. For me, happiness comes from a sense of purpose and direction. As I spend a great deal of my time at work, I find it important to have a good forward plan under my belt allowing a sense of focus when life gets a bit hectic.


What goals did you set in your PDP?

KB: I don’t think having a PDP that is a long list of ‘things to do’ is the way forward. As a new team leader, I knew I was going to have plenty on my plate without a lengthy PDP nagging at me. I set myself three goals that I considered achievable.

1. To undertake training to help me deal with elected members more confidently and effectively. 

2. To ensure my team leading skills were as good as they could be, through more, varied training.

3. To ensure I provide an effective input into NAPE (National Association of Planning Enforcement). 

To do this I’ve chosen to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to promote the importance of technical planning staff, whether in enforcement or other back-office duties.


What part of the process did you find the most challenging?  

KB: Setting my goals was definitely the most challenging part of the process, as I knew this would reflect on my day-to-day and future work life. When I finally settled on my three goals, I had a real sense of “Yep, that’s me” – for a while, anyway!


What advice would you give to someone completing their PDP for the first time?

KB: Ask yourself three questions: 

1. Where am I now? Be honest with yourself.

2. Where do I want to be? Try not to let your dreams run away with you – after all, PDPs can be reviewed.  

3. How can I get there? Identify training that may be of use to you.

Think out of the box, too – transferable skills can help you achieve your goals in innovative ways. This process should be at work and outside of it – that’s the big difference between a career and a job.

RTPI podcast: Top PDP tips