For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Professional competence as ways of being: An existential ontological perspective"

by Sandberg, J; Pinnington, A H (2009)


Current theories propose that professional competence is primarily constituted by scientific and tacit knowledge, knowing-in-action, understanding of work or practice. While providing valuable insights we contend that they present a fragmented understanding of professional competence. In particular, they do not adequately explain how central aspects of practice such as knowledge and understanding are integrated into a specific professional competence in work performance. An existential ontological perspective is proposed as offering a more comprehensive and integrative analysis of professional competence. It is explored through an empirical study of corporate lawyers and the findings suggest that professional competence should be understood as ways of being. The results show that different ways of practising corporate law distinguish and integrate a specific understanding of work, a particular self-understanding, other people, and tools into distinct forms of competence in corporate law.

Key Passage

Contrary to traditional ontology, which assumes disconnection – that we are primarily separated from the world but become connected to it in different activities – in existential ontology the notion of human way of being stipulates that our most basic form of being is involvement, that we are never separated from but always entwined with the world. According to Heidegger, the most general human way of being is being-in-the-world.Here, Heidegger does not refer to the traditional container view of world, such as the totality of entities in the universe. Instead, he regards ‘world’ as a meaningful whole in which we live such as ‘the business world’, ‘the world of art’ and ‘the world of sport’. Moreover, world for Heidegger ‘has a pre-ontological, existential meaning’ in the sense that we are constantly engaged in specific ways of being-in-the world, such as cooking, driving, parenting, teaching, engineering, and managing. A human way of being should not therefore be regarded as a subject in relation to an object. Instead, what Heidegger highlights through his existential ontology is that our way of being comes before the subject–object distinction, because it is our way of being that enables us to understand ourselves as particular subjects and objects as particular objects. More precisely, it is the existential meaning of specific human ways of being such as teaching, engineering and nursing that enables us to understand ourselves as particular professionals, work as consisting of specific activities and objects as specific tools with a particular purpose. In other words, our understanding of work, ourselves, others, and things presupposes a specific human way of being. (p.1145)


Competence, Heidegger, Dreyfus, Skill, Existentialism, Phenomenology, Corporate Law


On Heidegger

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