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Chapter 38

Projects Responsibility
and Ethical Practices

38.1 Ethical Code of Conduct

ftis final chapter describes basic concepts regarding a project management code of
professional ethics and social responsibility as outlined by Project Management Institute
(PMI). fte code specifies that a professional project manager (PM) should exhibit the
following characteristics and skills (PMI):
1. Ensure individual integrity and professionalism by adhering to legal requirements and
ethi- cal standards in order to protect the community and all stakeholders
2. Contribute to the project management knowledge base by sharing lessons learned, best
prac- tices, research, and other information within appropriate communities in order
to improve the quality of project management services, build the capabilities of
colleagues, and advance the profession
3. Enhance individual competence by increasing and applying professional knowledge to
improve services
4. Balance stakeholders’ interests by recommending approaches that strive for fair
resolution in order to satisfy competing needs and objectives
5. Interact with team and stakeholders in a professional and cooperative manner by
respecting personal, ethnic, and cultural differences in order to ensure a collaborative
project manage- ment environment.
A more detailed preamble to the PMI code can be extracted from the Code of Ethics for
Project Managers (Leland). ftis source also includes the process for ethical inquiry and
appeals. O’Brochta offers the following research evidence:
A recent study conducted by Vrije University Amsterdam found that the more a leader acts
in a way that followers feel is appropriate and ethical, the more that leader will be trusted

570 ◾ Project Management Theory and Practice

To add to this quote, the attribute of trust is a primary reason that subordinates will follow,
so lack of that attribute will certainly affect project performance.

38.2 Introduction
fte professional PM must understand this aspect of his role. It is no longer sufficient to just
focus on getting the job done. Daily news articles reinforce the negatives that can occur when
a manager or organization decides to short cut either ethical or legal limits for which they are
responsible. Improper actions by middle and upper management can destroy promising
careers and even the organizations these individuals work for. In all such cases, a poor
decision choice lays at the root of the failure. We categorize these under the category of
professional responsibility and ethics. ftis occurs whether the individual is president of the
United States, CEO of a large organization, or PM. fte positive value of ethical behavior has
been increasingly recognized in recent years. Surprisingly, the act of being ethical and honest
is not as easy as one might think as this chapter will attempt to illustrate. From a PMI
perspective, the PM must understand the basic tenets of the topic and from an operational
view one must be able to translate these into workable daily job traits.
In support of this recognition, PMI has developed a formal Code of Ethics and
Personal Conduct. fte basic structure of this code deals with the following attributers

◾ Responsibility to uphold standards of behavior

◾ Respect
◾ Fairness
◾ Honesty
Although each of these terms is reasonably familiar to most, implementation of the
underlying concepts in the work environment is not necessarily easy. Figure 38.1 provides a
good overview of the basic actions related to each of the key structure components.

PMI code of
Content and professional
covered conduct

Values Responsibility Prospect Fairness Honesty

Ownership of Understanding
Investment of Objective and
Definition of decisions and the truth and
people and impartial
values actions truth-based
resources decisions action

Honoring Good faith Handling conflicts of

Required commitments Nonabusive interests No deceit
contact Upload legal and Respect for Proper motives in No dishonesty
ethical rules resources decisions

Figure 38.1 PMI code of ethics and professional responsibility.

Source: Adapted from the 2006 version of PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct,
Projects Responsibility and Ethical Practices ◾ 571

It is essential that PMs not only be good employees for the organization that they
work for, but they also must behave as a broader representative of the project stakeholder
population that may consist of external parties outside of their organization. Given this
broad scope of stakeholder involvement, normal behavioral rule interpretation can
become complex in the real world. fte external influences come from the various needs
and interest groups with various diverse stakes to project. fte key theme of this code is
that the PM must follow a prescribed set of professional responsibility and ethical
principles. ftese principles include the following areas:

◾ Ensuring individual integrity

◾ Contributing to the base of project management knowledge
◾ Enhancing individual performance
◾ Balancing stakeholders’ interests
◾ Interaction with the project team and stakeholders in a professional and cooperative
Ensuring one’s individual integrity requires taking ethically based responses into a number of
common project scenarios. Generally speaking, the PM must do what is right, but that term is
difficult to define in every case. Specifically, written and oral communications with project
stake- holders and governmental authorities must be truthful. fte PM must also adhere to the
approved processes for project management activities. Lastly, any known violations of
applicable laws and ethical standards must be immediately reported to the appropriate
To contribute to the project management knowledge base, a PM must do a number of
things. First, any lessons learned from their personal project experiences must be shared
with others who would profit from that knowledge. Following this principle also requires
that the PM contributes to the education of and mentoring to less experienced PMs. In
addition, he needs to engage in research to determine how to improve the profession and
its processes, and then the findings of this research. Finally, he should strive to find
techniques for improved measurement of project performance and work to continuously
improve those outcomes.
In order to improve individual competence, the PM must take a number of steps.
Initially, it is important to appraise and understand his own personal strengths and
weaknesses. Next, the PM needs to take advantage of learning opportunities to address
these weaknesses. Furthermore, he should prepare and execute a personal development
plan in much the same manner as he pursues a project objective. Finally, the individual
must continue to stay updated on knowledge related to relevant professional topics. ftis
entails seeking out new information about project management and the industry.
Balancing project stakeholders’ interests requires that a PM consider the interests of all
internal and external stakeholders. Initially, the PM needs to examine the interests and needs
of these indi- viduals and groups, then seek to understand ways in which these diverse
interests can be best met. Following this, he must also work to resolve conflict with the
understanding that the customer’s needs be given careful and primary consideration.
Interacting with the project team and stakeholders in a professional and cooperative
manner requires a number of actions. Cultural differences can impact the smooth
functioning of a project team. fte PM needs to understand these potential conflict areas and
take them into account in his dealings. In addition, he must deal with differences in
communication preferences, work ethics, and work practices among these groups. All future
stakeholder dealings should recognize and respect these differences. Cultural and language
differences across country boundaries are particularly prone to critical concerns. When
projects contain multinational stakeholders, the PM needs to follow local practices and
customs so long as doing so does not violate laws or his ethical boundaries.
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Significant differences in interests can also occur within a single country environment.
ftese include customers, government agencies, other business functions involved in the
project, spon- sors providing financial resources for the project, the internal project team,
parties from inside or outside the organization, end users of the project’s product, members
of society who will be affected by the project, and others. Clearly, this diversity of interest
requires that PMs to give adequate attention to numerous potential problem areas during the
course of a project. ftese deal- ings almost assuredly will have some ethical concern in regard
to information handling or project decision-making. It is only by being sensitive to this topic
that the PM can ensure that his ethical responsibilities to these stakeholders will be
effectively and properly discharged. fte list below summarizes five basic rules of thumb to
guide PMs in their behavior regarding honesty and eth- ics. Following these rules do not
guarantee appropriate behavior, but the following list should help guide managers in
conducting themselves in an ethical and professionally responsible manner:
1. Not misuse access to, or control over financial resources that stakeholders have given
them for legitimate use in the project, for example, engage in illegal manipulation of
organiza- tional resources
2. Not mislead stakeholders in regard to the status of the project by providing them with
inac- curate information or failing to provide them with timely information relevant to
the project
3. Inform the proper authorities regarding legal or professional violations by other
stakeholders taking place in the context of the project
4. Not reveal trade secrets provided to in confidence, unless holding such information in
confidence would violate a law, contractual provisions, or professional
responsibility/ethical rules
5. Not use information obtained in the context of the project for the purpose of gaining
an unfair advantage over the stakeholder, or that would be harmful to the
stakeholder if revealed.
Each of the items outlined above seem straightforward and easy to follow; however,
situations will occur in the project environment that will challenge individual interpretation
of a specific action. PMs are frequently faced with opportunities to obtain additional
rewards for themselves or their organizations if they are willing to take a professionally or
ethically marginal or inappropri- ate action, such as conducting one less audit or inspection
than they know they should, or looking the other way when faced with clear evidence of
others’ wrong doing, and so on. Unfortunately, such actions can have far-reaching negative
impacts, as well as having the potential to ruin the manager’s career if the acts are
discovered. Even the simple acts of accepting a meal or a football ticket are judged
unethical in some organizations. ftis means the definition of ethics is not a national or
international standard. For all of these reasons it is important to know what each orga-
nization defines as its ethics and behave according to those rules. Avoiding such situations
can be a veritable minefield if a PM does not clearly understand which actions constitute
professional or ethically irresponsible behavior.

38.3 PMI’s Code of Professional Conduct

Given recent experiences in American industry regarding misplaced ethics among senior
execu- tives, PMI has supported the formal publication of a professional ethics code for the
PM. Basically, the PMI code deals with the following (PMI, 1988):
Projects Responsibility and Ethical Practices ◾ 573

1. Organizational rule and policy compliance

2. Personal ethics in terms of reporting qualifications and representations
3. Respect and honesty toward the profession
4. Honesty in reporting facts to stakeholders
5. Maintaining proper confidentiality of data and other information
6. Care in avoiding conflict of interest
7. Care in avoiding receipt of payment from outside sources for questionable reasons.
fte PM must think of themselves as honest brokers of process and information. fte PMI code
document referenced here is a good overview for appropriate project behavior. It is important
to remember that shortcuts in this area can have significant negative impact on one’s career.

38.4 Sample Ethical Scenarios

Although the idea of honesty and ethics would seem like a simple issue, the real world often
pres- ents some tough interpretations for the PM. Twenty sample questions are shown in
this section to provide an opportunity to review the theoretical material in simulated real-
world settings and give you practice in thinking about the appropriate way to react. Also,
discussing these questions with your peers and changing the scenarios slightly will offer
good discussion material.
1. You are working for a U.S. organization and have just finished a very large and
successful project in a foreign country. It is common in this culture to reward people
for good work. fte sponsor is extremely happy with the outcome of the project and
wants to hold a formal ceremony and give expensive presents to you and key team
members to show his apprecia- tion. He has told others that it will hurt his feelings if
you do not take these gifts. What do you do?
2. You are a member of a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification study
group. One of the members says that he has a friend who is wired into the exam
question authors and can get significant input on key topics being addressed this round.
What do you do? Do you report this situation to the certifying organization?
3. Success of your foreign project depends on receiving materials in a timely manner;
however, the goods are being held up in local customs for long periods of time. A
nephew of the local Grand Po Bar says that he can provide an expediting service for you
and get the goods moved through customs quickly. In checking around, you find that
this seems to be in fact true and also seems to be the only way that the goods get moved.
What do you do? Who would you coordinate this decision with?
4. You are told by your boss to cut your project budget estimate by 20% in order to get
your project plan approved by senior management. All other cost “cutting” strategies
have been exhausted and you now feel that the current estimate is accurate for the
work defined. What do you do? What if your boss says, “just cut the budget and get the
project done with the cut specified?”
5. Your boss asks you to write an invited article for a national industry publication for him.
You do this and the boss does not include your name on the article. What do you do?
6. While working on an external (contracted) project that has extra budget funds your
cus- tomer asks you to perform some additional tasks that are not included in the
formal con- tract. You should
574 ◾ Project Management Theory and Practice

A. Honor the customer’s request as a sign of cooperation to ensure future business

B. Refuse the request and report the customer to your sponsor
C. Acknowledge the request and advise the customer to submit a formal change request
D. Convene a meeting of the project team and rewrite the scope statement.
7. You are managing an internal project. fte initial product test results are very poor
and do not meet the minimum customer requirements. If these results are made
available to your customer you are afraid that they might cancel the project and this
could reflect poorly upon you. Rerunning the product test can be done quickly and
inexpensively. Based on this set of circumstances you should
A. Be the first to recommend canceling the project
B. Inform your external sponsor about the results and wait for a response
C. Inform your management immediately and recommend retesting for verification
D. Withhold the information from management until you perform additional tests to
verify the initial results.
8. Your project is running out of budget allocation and significant work remains. You
are directed by senior management to instruct your team to charge their work time to
another project’s account. Given these instructions you should
A. Follow instructions
B. Inform the corporate auditors
C. Understand the background of management’s instructions before taking any action
D. Shutdown the project, if possible.
9. You are working in a country where it is customary to exchange gifts between
contractor and customer. Your company code of conduct clearly states that you cannot
accept any gifts from a client. Failure to accept the gift from this client may result in
termination of the contract. fte action to take in this case would be
A. Provide the customer with a copy of your company code of conduct and refuse the
B. Exchange gifts with the customer and keep the exchange confidential
C. Contact your project sponsor and/or your legal or public relations group for assistance
D. Ask the project sponsor or project executive to handle the gift exchange question
with the client.
10. You are a PM working on a time and material contract. fte target price for the
project is
$2,000,000 and the project schedule is 12 months. fte most recent completion
estimate indicates that the project will finish two months early and if this happens your
company will lose about $250,000 in billings. What should you do?
A. Bill for the entire planned amount since this was the approved budget
B. Bill for the target amount by adding nice to have features to the design at the end
of the project so that the schedule and budget are met
C. Report the project status and completion date to the customer
D. Report the project status and completion date to the customer and ask if they would
like to add any additional features to account for the monies not spent.
11. In order to balance the needs of the many stakeholders involved in your project, the
most desirable method to achieve resolution of conflicts would be
A. Compromise
B. Forcing
C. Controlling
D. Confrontation
Projects Responsibility and Ethical Practices ◾ 575

12. You receive a contract to perform testing for an external client. After contract award,
the customer provides you with the test plan to use for the acceptance process. fte vice
presi- dent for Quality Assurance (QA) says that the customer’s test plan is flawed
and he will correct the plan that will be used and it will be more in line with the
organizational quality program. fte contract says that the customer will supply the
acceptance test plan. In this case you should
A. Use the customer’s test plan
B. Use the QA manager’s revised test plan without telling the customer
C. Use the QA manager’s revised test plan and inform the customer
D. Tell your sponsor that you want to set up a meeting with the customer to resolve
the issue
13. You have just been assigned as the PM for an ongoing project and discovered that your
proj- ect team is routinely violating OSHA, EPA, and affirmative action regulations.
You should
A. Do nothing; it is not your problem.
B. Start by asking management if they are aware that regulations are being violated.
C. Talk to the corporate legal department.
D. Inform the appropriate government agencies about the violations.
14. One of your employees has an opportunity for promotion in another area. If this
promotion is granted, the employee will be reassigned elsewhere causing a resource
problem for the project. You have the authority to delay the promotion until your
project is completed. You should
A. Support the promotion but work with the employee and the employee’s new
manage- ment to develop a good transition plan
B. Ask the employee to refuse the promotion until your project is completed
C. Arrange to delay the promotion until the project is completed
D. Tell the employee that it is his responsibility to find a suitable replacement so that
the project will not suffer
15. In accordance with the compensation agreement for your project you have been
given a
$70,000 bonus to be distributed to your seven-person team as you see fit. One of the
team members has not performed particularly well and another of the team is in your car
pool. Based on this situation you should
A. Allocate an equal share to each team member to avoid the image of favoritism
B. Provide everyone a share based on your personal assessment of their performance
C. Give the decision to the team and follow their advice
D. Ask the sponsor to make the decision
16. You are the PM and your customer has requested that you inflate your planned cost
esti- mates by 25%. His logic is that management always reduces the cost of project
estimates by about this amount so this strategy would balance out the required
budget. Which of the following is the best response to this situation?
A. Do as the customer asked to ensure that the project requirements can be met by
adding the increase as a contingency reserve
B. Do as the customer asked to ensure that the project requirements can be met by
adding the increase across each task
C. Do as the customer asked by creating an estimate for the customer’s management
and another for the actual project implementation
D. Complete an accurate estimate of the project. In addition, create a risk assessment
show- ing why the decreased project budget would be inadequate
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17. You are the PM working in a foreign country. Your local support person from the client
organization presents you with a list of local team candidates for you to hire and you
find that several of these are related to him. What is your reaction?
A. Reject the team leader’s recommendations and assemble your own project team
B. Review the resume and qualifications of the proposed project team before approving
the team.
C. Determine if the country’s traditions include hiring from the immediate family
before deciding on how to address the family member situation.
D. Replace the project leader with an impartial project leader.
18. You discover that one of your project team members has sold pieces of equipment that
were allocated to the project. Upon further investigation you find that his rationale was
a need for cash to pay for his son’s college tuition. He says that he considers this
remuneration for overtime hours worked without pay and he asks for your support in
this view. You also find that his claim of unclaimed and unpaid overtime is true and that
he has been a hard worker on project. What should you do?
A. Fire the project team member
B. Report the team member to his manager
C. Suggest that the team member report his actions to the HR department
D. Tell the team member that you are disappointed in what he did, and advise him that
you will consider this a fair trade for the unpaid overtime. You also inform him that
this will be grounds for dismissal if it occurs again.
19. You are a PM working within your functional organization and you do not get along
well with the departmental manager. ftere is a serious disagreement regarding how
the project should be conducted. ftis disagreement involves schedules, sequence of
tasks, quality objec- tives, and other aspects of the project. While this disagreement is
still unresolved the depart- ment manager tells you to start work on what he considers
critical activities. Which of the following choices is the best for you?
A. Go to higher-level senior management and voice your concerns
B. Complete the activities as requested
C. Ask to be taken off of the project
D. Refuse to begin activities on the project until the conflict issues are resolved.
20. PMI has contacted you regarding a PMP candidate’s experience claim. fte
individual involved is a friend and he says that he worked as a PM in your
organization. He did work there, but not in the capacity individuated. ftis is a
violation of which of the following?
A. fte PMP code to cooperate on ethics violations investigations
B. fte PMP code to report accurate information
C. fte PMP code to report any PMP violations
D. Law concerning ethical practices.

O’Brochta, M. 2016. Why project ethics matter: Leadership is built on trust. If the
foundation is cracked, a project’s future is in doubt. PM Network, 30, 1, 29.
www.pmi.org/learning/library/ why-project-ethics-matter-9838.
PMI, Code of ethics for the project management profession. https://www.pmi.org/-
/media/pmi/documents/ public/pdf/ethics/pmi-code-of-ethics.pdf (accessed May 4, 2018)