Ethical Issues in Project Management

Written by barbara brown
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Ethical Issues in Project Management
Ethical behaviour includes fairness and open communication. (handsome managers image by Andrey Kiselev from

Professional training curricula in business, medicine and engineering have added ethics training to prepare professionals for workplace challenges (see Resources). Ethical issues revolve around relationships with other people and acceptable standards of professional conduct. Offering ethics training and establishing clear policies and procedures gives employers and project managers the most effective way to encourage ethical workplace behaviour.

Expert Guidance

The Project Management Institute, which provides standards and certification for professional project managers, offers simple ethics code of conduct guidance. Its standards suggest that project managers practice ethical behaviour first through accepting responsibility for their decisions and consequences. It expects project managers to respect others, listen objectively to input and feedback and be honest in communications. Project managers must practice fairness and transparency in decision-making including disclosing potential conflicts of interest.

Project Status Honesty

Managers report on the status of projects to senior management and other stakeholders. Honesty in status reporting means identifying risks, acknowledging failure to meet deadlines and accepting responsibility for personal and team actions. Project managers must describe status accurately and resist the temptation to tell people only what they want to hear. Project managers must realistically propose the project level of effort, even when receiving supervisory pressure to underestimate costs in order to win contracts.

Staff Relationships

Ethical relationships with project staff require respect for individual abilities and cultural differences. Project managers must use employee search and hiring process that emphasise job-related skills and provide clear job descriptions, including measurement criteria, while obeying laws against discrimination. Project managers should guard against allowing personal relationships to influence decisions on promotion, layoffs and performance evaluations. A project manager should establish a method for employees to report ethical concerns with anonymity and should follow up through investigation and reporting to senior management when suspecting ethical violations.

Stakeholder Relationships

In addition to project staff, stakeholders include senior management, customers, clients, the community and vendors. The biggest ethical challenge for a project manager in dealing with stakeholders is offering honest communication about status, risks and costs. Ethical standards require that a project manager communicate not only truthfully, but completely, using language understandable by stakeholder groups. If problems arise, the project manager should inform stakeholders quickly. On the other hand, project managers should remain alert to possible efforts from stakeholders to influence their decision-making in ways interpretable as unethical or illegal.

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