The State of Ethics in Project Management - Your Reputation in 2020

Ethics is a fickle thing in the business world, but your reputation's long lasting. Here's the state of ethics in our craft of project management.

Ethics is an enigma in today's world. We're witnessing- especially here in the United States- the term "ethics" being met with confusion, if not erosion, and from having any true meaning. That is if you take your cue from the political system. However, I'm not running a political publication, so we're good to move forward.

The subject of ethics is one that's fascinated me for years. There's something to be said for a single word to have so many implications across so many industries, especially when that word, ethics, can mean the difference between landing that contract or keeping that job.

In project management, ethics is directly tied to a managers' reputation, their team(s), and entire consulting firms. With such a broad expectation to remain on the straight and narrow path of doing the right thing- is there a default ethical stance we're to be taking?

Well, yes. Of course, there is. We're supposed to be doing the right thing at the right time, all of the time. That right thing is the same thing your parents taught you about honesty and working hard. However, you're a grownup now (I assume) and are held to not only a standard held by each of your peers but by each of our certifying programs/agencies too.

Speaking of these certifying programs, if you recently certified or re-certified, you may have glossed over the fact that you signed (most likely digitally ticking a box) a "promissory" that you'd abide by their ethical standards at all times. So my question to you is simple, are you?

My focus on this publication spans four major certifying bodies, PMI, APM, PRINCE2, and never to be left out, AIPM (everyone loves Australia!). And if you're really into reading, I've left what I consider the critical statements from each of the governing bodies at the bottom (less that of PRINCE2. I couldn't find anything).

While each international body has its own project management guide to ethics and rules of conduct, there is an overarching theme to them all. Besides the obvious, please do the right thing, you'll also find all of them have a continued mention of reputation. And for a good reason, reputation is the single aspect of our everyday encounters that we can control.

I've mentioned in a few issues of my weekly newsletter the necessity of keeping your reputation clean. The easiest way to do that is to do your job right, do it well, and keep within the ethical norms. Let's face it, being an honest person, be it at work or in your personal life, isn't hard. It is hard to remain ethical when the heat is on, however, especially when it may be easier not to be.

I'm not judging you. You can do that by yourself.

My take on the current state

I'll keep this short; I think we're doing well as a whole. While being ethical in our craft is indeed an individual effort, these individuals make up the whole. Don't get me wrong, there are issues abound. One only needs to read a few online forums to see into the cracks. However, these issues should be taken with a grain of salt and a dose of statistics.

While we may be struggling in the shadow of the pandemic within my industry, it's my opinion that our program and project management offices and teams are doing pretty damn well.

What do you think? Is our craft on the path to remaining an ethical business aspect, or am I way off base?


Here are three of the significant certifying governing bodies' take on ethics as a project manager. You'll find a direct link at the end of each section.

Project Management Institute (PMI):

"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.

PMI members have determined that honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness are the values that drive ethical conduct for the project management profession. PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct applies those values to the real-life practice of project management, where the best outcome is the most ethical one.

All PMI members, volunteers, certification holders and certification applicants must comply with the Code."Direct link to their Ethics page.

Association for Project Management (APM):

"As a professional body, APM requires you to have high ethical standards, just as it requires you to have high professional standards. Ethics, and ethical behaviour, is a key part of professionalism and therefore vital to APM’s chartered journey. Developing ethical acumen is not only an essential personal skill; it is also a vital business skill. High standards of ethical behaviour in the profession benefits everyone – the status of the profession itself is enhanced; the quality of the delivery of projects is raised; society benefits because project managers have completed their work to a high standard, not just on schedule or within budget, but with ethical responsibility.

Ethical values are the compass by which we live our life. They are what is important to us. APM’s ethical values include integrity, respect and empathy. What does applying these values mean in reality? For example, would you give an honest quote, even if that means losing out to the competition (who may not be so honest)? Would you stand up to a client if you felt they were asking you to do something unethical? Do you consider how a project will impact on the wider community[?]"Direct link to their Ethics page.

Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM):

"Project managers must be seen to be applying ethical principles in their conduct and dealings with members of the project team, the client, associated project stakeholders, and the public and not compromise their ethical principles to satisfy competing project expectations."Direct link to their project management ethics pdf.