Hello everyone and welcome back to our project management series. In the last post, we began exploring the professional practices and ethics of a project manager. We set out to explore professional ethics and practice from four perspectives and we have looked at two, which are respect and responsibility. You can view the post here. In this post, we will be concluding by exploring how fairness and honesty relate to professional practice and ethics.

FAIRNESS

Fairness deals with our level of objectivity and the ability for a project management to make impartial decisions. As project management professionals, it is our responsibility to be impartial and use only professional justifiable means when making decisions. We are often confronted in situations where we have friends and families submitting tenders as suppliers in projects we are managing, contractors offering to take us out for dinners, people offering bribes and unsolicited gifts, project team members or we as project managers have conflicting interests. How do we deal with these scenarios? For simplicity, we will address the issue of fairness from the following perspective:

  • Bribery and Corruption
  • Conflict resolution
  • Conflict of interest
  • Discrimination
  • Misuse of position

Bribery and corruption: Bribery is the act of offering, giving, receiving or soliciting of money or gifts in order to influence the recipient’s action. Bribery is an offense in many countries so why partake in it? Bribery comes in various forms such as gifts, discount waivers, donations, contributions, free flight tickets, promotions, etc. It is important for us to be able to decipher between pure intentions and bribe. It is safer to politely reject any form of gifts coming from anyone who your decision on a project can affect positively or negatively. Make it clear to them that it is against your professional practice and the act of bribery should always be reported to the senior management and documented.

We are often faced with situations where we have to pay a particular fee before a project can be commissioned or carried out. It is our duties as project managers to ensure that these fees are not illegal. We should take into consideration the local laws of the country where the project is carried out since what might be considered bribery in a country might be legal in another country

Conflict resolution: Conflicts are bound to arise during any project and it is our responsibility as project managers to be fair when dealing with conflicts. Conflict might arise between project team members, client and project members or in some situations, we might have to act as arbitrators to resolve conflicts for other organizations. At all times a project manager should always identify the root cause of the conflict and deal with it to avoid repetition. We should never use our power and influence to resolve conflicts in favor of any party.

Conflict of Interest: Conflict of interest is generally described as a set of actions that creates a risk where professional judgment about a primary interest can be unduly influenced by a secondary interest. For example, can helping a friend hurt my company? Can a company I am a share holder in apply as a supplier for a project where I am the project manager? There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a secondary interest, but our primary interest should always be in the organization we work for. Once we have a secondary interest that might influence our primary interest “conflict of interest,” then it becomes our responsibility to disclose it to the party affected and let them decide how to handle it. As project managers, we should consciously and continually look for conflict of interest in our projects. If a scenario looks like a conflict of interest but we are unsure, then it should be treated as one.

Discrimination: As professionals, we should never discriminate against others. All project stakeholders and team members should be treated with fairness and equity.

Discrimination does not only occur within organizations but also when dealing with third parties to a project such as when selecting suppliers, dealing with sub contractors or even selecting projects. Nowadays it is not uncommon for people to discriminate based on gender, religious background, culture, race, etc. Everyone should be treated with the same level of professionalism irrespective of their background

Misuse of position: How do we use our power and position to influence a project? Do we use it for personal gain or project improvement?? Do we promote the organizational goal or career growth? We often hold political office holders and government officials responsible for their position and do not expect them to abuse these positions. It is also expected of us as project managers to do likewise. At any point in time, the organizational goals should always set the steering of our management style and not personal achievements.

HONESTY

Seek to understand the truth: We have all heard this saying before: “honesty is the best policy.” Yes indeed, it truly is. Honesty can be defined as our ability to understand and take actions based on the truth. It is our professional responsibility as project managers to always try to understand the truth. This can be difficult because we are often carried away with the task of ensuring the project is on the right track that we largely depend on a lot of information from third parties. We often then act based on information we receive without crosschecking if they are true or not. Seeking to understand the truth involves verifying the truth. If some of the information we have is not properly verified, they can be counter productive which is detrimental to the success of the project.

Prevention better than cure: Dishonesty in a project should never be tolerated. Once it is tolerated, it gradually becomes a norm and might be difficult to control (prevention is better than cure). Sometimes, we tend to be diplomatic and not say the truth even though we are not lying. Honesty should always be encouraged and the truth said all the time during a project irrespective of the consequences. Dishonesty is often a tool to shift blame to others, minimize conflict, pretend there is nothing wrong, avoid embarrassment, etc., but the long term result is always negative to the project health.

Leadership by example: Leadership by example has always been known as one of the best forms of leaderships. We should not only penalize our project team members for dishonesty, we should lead by example and create an enabling environment where honesty can thrive. For example when a project is in trouble, how do you report it? Do you report that the project is in trouble with the full details of challenges you have discovered or do you report a slight setback that is already being fixed? While both statements reports a challenge with the project, one has simply hidden the original status of the project and is against our professional ethics.

Honesty vs. privacy: In a bid to remain honest, we should find the balance between full disclosure and privacy. Some information is sensitive and disclosing this information to be honest would be unethical. For example, during a conversation with a prospective supplier, you were asked the probability of them winning the project or what amount other suppliers have quoted. This information is sensitive and might sway the direction in which the project goes. All suppliers should have equal probability and the amount another company quotes remains private information. This type of information should therefore be confidential and not released in the name of being honest.

Conclusion

We have explored the professional practices and ethics of a project manager from four major perspectives namely respect, responsibility, fairness and honesty. Sometimes, as project managers, we sometimes do not get the required support in other to carry out our project such as getting unrealistic schedules deadlines, lack of project support by management, management asking you to begin work without project charter, etc. You are expected to do the right thing and stand up for the right process which might include telling the management, “I am sorry. I would be unable to carry out this project within this time frame since previous projects of similar scale shows that more time is require.” Or, “As a project manager, I am ethically bound to carry out the project in the best interest of the organization and the project and it goes against my professional ethics to work on a project without a project charter.”

We should learn to walk away from projects that negate our professional ethics and should also report to the right authority whenever we discover acts that are not professional.

That’s all we have for today. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to drop your thoughts and questions in the comments section. In our next article in this series, we will explore the flexibility of project life cycle in various organizational settings. See you soon!

References and further reading

  1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide. Project Management Institute.
  2. PMP Exam Prep, Seventh Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam
  3. Wikipedia