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Ethical Issues in Project Management

written by: AlexisW • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 4/21/2013

When it comes to project management, ethics are extremely important in gaining the support of the project team. Ethics are defined as the moral values, beliefs, and rules that one upholds in their life on the job and personally to ensure right from wrong.

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    Ethical Issues

    There are a number of different components of managing a project. While conducting project management, profit and staff motivation are often paramount. However, a project manager must also remember his obligation to be an ethical, responsible employer, employee and corporate citizen. Some of the ethical situations that one may face in the duration of project management could be the admission of wrongdoing, focus of blame, and hard choices regarding contracts.

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    Admission of Wrongdoing

    Sometimes it is difficult for people to admit that they have done something wrong. This is especially true for a project manager, who may be responsible for a large project and for overseeing a staff. However, ethically, if the project manager is at fault for the unsuccessful venture of project completion, then that project manager must be able to admit this wrong. Not admitting wrongdoing can greatly damage the team relationship. The unethical practice will also most likely cause the team members you are in charge of to not trust the manager as well.

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    Focus of Blame

    When a project fails, it is so much easier to point the fingers at this person or that person. However, ethically, no person should be singled out for project failure unless it is the project manager. In the end, he or she is the one assigned the ultimate task of ensuring the project is completed. However, there is no “I” in team. Although the project manager is in charge of ensuring the task gets completed, sometimes a task can fail despite the project manager’s best efforts. In these cases of project incompletion or failure, it should be said that the team failed. This is the most ethical outcome in this sense because it points the blame for failure on the team as a whole instead of just one or two people. Therefore, in a nutshell, it is ethically wrong to blame failure to complete a project on any one person.

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    Hard Choices Regarding Contracts

    When working with contracts, there are often many stipulations and requirements between the two parties involved. Sometimes, these stipulations may violate ethical beliefs and values. This is a common ethical issue that arises in areas such as defense contracts for the U.S. military.

    For instance, a defense contract may stipulate that members of a project team cannot be of a certain race or origin to qualify to work on a project. Is this ethical or unethical? The answer may be debatable. To some, this is ethical in order to ensure the protection of the country’s top secret initiatives and projects. To others, however, this would be an example of discrimination based on race or ethnicity and labeled unethical. Therefore, before signing a contract with these types of stipulations, the company should make sure to ask questions and make sure they are willing to cut the ties with certain people on a project team to replace them with others given the new stipulations.


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