Ethical Issues in Project Management


From Enron to Bernie Madoff to General Motors, betrayals of the principles of business ethics have made worldwide headlines, ruined companies and cost investors billions in losses. With the added attention on how companies conduct themselves, project managers must focus more than ever on carrying out their tasks in an ethical and above-board manner. While some behaviors are obvious breaches of professional ethics, other actions may not immediately appear to be such egregious violations but can carry dire consequences when discovered.

Conflicts of Interest

  • A major ethical concern facing project managers is conflict of interest. A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or or group has multiple interests in a project, any of which could possibly compromise the integrity of the process. For instance, if a project manager accepts a bid from a company owned by his brother, even if other bidders submitted bids that were lower and provided better services, that decision could call the project manager's integrity into question.

Accepting Blame

  • When a project goes wring, the project manager may be tempted to shift the blame to workers, supervisors or vendors to protect his position. The manager may also consider hiding any evidence that could incriminate him in the project's failure. Project managers have an ethical responsibility to accept blame when a project does not go as planned. Instead of spending their efforts passing blame or hiding evidence, project managers should focus on finding solutions to the problems and getting the project back on track.

Safety Standards

  • Project managers have a responsibility to the stakeholders to bring the project in on budget, but they are also responsible for establishing safe working conditions for their employees. Project managers who cut back on safety standards in favor of cost-cutting measures often find the consequences of not enforcing safety standards can be much more costly than following them. A project manager who maintains proper safety standards can prevent a project from taking on costs ranging from correcting minor mistakes to serious injury or death.

Favoritism and Prejudice

  • Project managers should choose participants for a project based on their capabilities, not on their own personal preferences. A project manager must not "play favorites" or show prejudice toward workers, supervisors or vendors. A project manager who shows prejudice toward workers based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or other criteria not only compromises the integrity of the project, such behavior could leave the company vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit.

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