I explore how the increasing professionalisation of international development has enabled the expansion of the neoliberal agenda of development agencies and, at the same time, the co‐optation of so‐called “alternative” approaches onto this agenda. The focus is on the key figure of the development “expert” as an agent involved in consolidating unilinear notions of modernising progress. First, there is an examination of the post‐war production of the development expert and the reproduction of systems of expertise and forms of authority that they articulate. Research with former UK colonial officers who worked in the post‐independence development industry is subsequently drawn upon to exemplify the continuities and divergences from colonial rule to contemporary discourses of development. Then, there is a demonstration of the co‐optation of potentially critical discourses, focusing upon the creation of professionals and the exclusive forms of knowledge that surround the practice of participatory development. Finally, in the conclusion, I argue that increasing professionalisation within the development industry supports the neoliberal development agenda and that there remains a need to identify how critical discourses can be effective within it.