Ethics in Project Management

White (1998) defines ethics as the evaluation of the human actions according to the perspective of some moral values and principles. It therefore embeds the concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Ethics principles can be different among societies and individuals different values and priorities are another element that leads to diverse interpretations of ethics , even whereas there is the acceptance of shared moral principles. In this respect, there are therefore different layer of ethics:

–       General: a set of high-end principles to which a society will inspire

–       Normative: the link between high-end principle and practical application. Norms provide guidance

–       Practical: the one closer to the individual – How should I behave in this particular situation?

Some areas where moral issues can arise in PM are:

–       Managing and balancing the competing interests of stakeholders

–       Staff management (e.g.: discrimination of people, PM decisions that can lead to employees dismissal, excessive request of overtime, discrimination between employees and external contractors, etc.)

–       Assuming responsibility of their own decisions (blaming others is often an easier option)

–       Confidentiality of information

–       Definition of priorities

The main issue for PMs is to understand how their role of responsibility requires going beyond their own personal sense of ethics in order to conciliate the need of delivering the project and adherence to a specific set of ethical values. In this respect, the application of a deontological code can provide the necessary guidance to take decisions that can be effective and fair.

PMs should be responsible of ensuring that projects are delivered in adherence to ethical and deontological standards. This may be difficult, as often PMs do not have direct control on all the elements of the project. However they should guarantee that the decisions they make will be in line with ethical principles or won’t lead to unethical behaviours.


White, T. I. (1988). Right and wrong: A brief guide to understanding ethics. Englewood Cliffs. Prentice-Hall.

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