Project Management Ethics – an essential ingredient in project leadership
Why are ethics so important when it comes to project management?
23 November 2016

When one googles project management or when one attends a seminar about project management, it talks about project performance, teams, stakeholders, workflow, collaboration, communication, monitoring and methodologies. In fact, the internet is full of content related to project methodologies. We always hear the word project charter, project roadmap and project strategy. Very few or many be none talk about trust, ethics, appropriate behavior and professional conduct.

Although there are numerous articles, experts and workshops on leadership in project management. Again, very few of them talk about ethics and the moral dimension in the decision-making process for the success of any project.

Project management ethics is an essential ingredient while managing projects. According to PMI (Project Management Institute), “Ethics is about making the best possible decisions concerning people, resources and the environment. Ethical choices diminish risk, advance positive results, increase trust, determine long term success and build reputations.

Leadership is absolutely dependent on ethical choices”. In the January issue of PM Network, Michel O’Brochta (PMP and chair of PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group) states that “Ethics lead to trust, which leads to leadership, which in turn leads to project success.”



(The 4 steps to ethical decision process)


Since ethics is key to executing projects successfully PMI has rolled out a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct document to help project management practitioners do what is right and honorable. The document articulates ideals to which a project manager should aspire and behaviors he or she should adopt. The purpose of the code is to instill confidence in the project management profession and to help an individual become a better practitioner. Most importantly it helps project managers make wise decisions. The code of Ethics and Professional Conduct highlights ethical values such as trust, honesty, responsibility respect and fairness.

Trust, honesty, responsibility respect and fairness are critical values that creates harmony and professionalism in teams, which in turn leads to project success. In an ever-changing world, especially in project management where there is a new methodology or process every year, these core values are something people can hold on to. In fact, trust is an international currency more powerful and valuable than the euro or the dollar, and its value is constant all over the world. Building trustworthy relationships across different cultures, time zones, teams and departments helps a lot for the smooth running of projects. Trust is the common thread that holds together different cultural differences, disparate work cultures spanning various time zones, team members with different behaviors and departments with unique objectives. Hence it is imperative for a project leader to develop trustworthy relationships.

Once the foundation of trust is built the road ahead is not easy for a project manager. There will be many difficult situations where his or her moral compass will be tested.  There will be times when he or she will face ethical dilemmas for challenges while managing projects. Making ethical decisions is not easy because not every ethical dilemma has a right solution. During these situations one should be careful to maintain one’s stature as a trustworthy leader because once there is a huge lapse of ethics and the trust shattered, it is extremely difficult to regain trust and make things right. Shortcuts and sleazy behavior sometimes pay handsomely in the short term, but cause a lot of damage in the long term. Remember, the Volkswagen Group’s scandal last year in 2015? The company cheated the emission control systems by installing a special software. Since many customers have lost their trust in the company leading to a drastic drop in sales and stock prices. Unfortunately, the breach of ethics is quite common in the work place.

Hence to avoid any faux pas or blunder, PMI has produced an Ethical Decision-Making Framework. This document which supplements PMI Code of Ethics and professional Conduct describes steps that can be used to guide an individual in the project management profession through a process to make a decision when confronted with an ethical dilemma. It is intended as a guide for critical thinking throughout the ethical decision-making process.

To conclude, a project manager should adopt the PMI code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and make good use of the Ethical Decision-Making Framework. And senior managers or leaders should ensure that ethics permeate all aspects of organizational operations to be successful in the long run.