What is the primary goal? To finish a project within budget, schedule, and meet all success criteria. Well, usually it is not enough! There are quite many ways to achieve project goals. Does the end justify the means? No! So how do you avoid unethical behavior?Self-awareness is the best weapon. Do you keep to the professional code of conduct? You don’t have to be a member of an organization to behave well. Nevertheless, quite often you are not aware you act unethically as for project manager.
It is a huge topic. I can only scratch the surface today. But I hope to highlight situations you need to be aware of to avoid unethical behaviour.
Do you put project above yourself?
Do you act based on the best interests of the company or project? I know you do. In most cases. What if it becomes apparent that you harmed the project due to your negligence? And there is a chance you will be penalized for it. Or you will just look bad. Will you put your career at risk by reporting the problem? Will you put the project needs before your own?
It becomes harder when there is an opportunity to fix things quietly. Concealing the truth or not telling about the problem at all. However, if you do not succeed, you will create even more problems. It may have a cascading effect.
I always say this. Dealing with problems honestly, straight, and early is the problem solving. Hiding problems until last moment is unprofessional and unethical behavior.
Are you qualified enough?
Have you ever told your boss that you are not qualified enough? I bet you have not. The problem is that it is unethical to take on the project you are not sure you can deliver. You operate with money, time, and resources of others. You may put someone’s reputation or business at stake by not finishing a project in time.
Are you qualified to control aggressive or demanding stakeholders? Are you able to manage a budget? The list of such question is very long. And I know, sometimes the line is too thin. Nevertheless, next time try at least to express your concerns about gaps in your qualification. At least you will be sharing responsibility with your boss.
You did sign that NDA paper, didn’t you? Nevertheless, most of your friends do know what you are working on. Besides non-disclosure agreement, there is a copyright law. It differs depending on the country you work in. However, have you ever reviewed the laws? Just to ensure you do not violate any rights.
You know, even those emails you save from your previous company “just in case”. They can backfire years after when if they accidentally leak into the internet.
Do you take into consideration your colleague’s situation when doing the best for your project? Your project is of the most importance for you. But what about others? In all cases, you should act from a position of mutual cooperation. It means always negotiating win-win solutions. Think about it next time you go to take away people from another project or functional manager.
Another case is involving team members in a project that is doomed to failure. It is unethical. Such failures may impact their careers. And you are responsible for their future to some extent. The same goes for performance reviews. You should not evaluate a person based on whether the project had failed or succeeded. It should not be a factor for them.
By the way, do you ask your team members and stakeholders about the best way of communication? By doing this, you show your respect. The same goes for meetings. Do you just slam another meeting with a ten minutes notice? Do you rely on automated notifications only? It seems small, but again it is unethical behavior.
Respect cultural differences
I think, there is enough information on racism or respect for ethnic differences around. People tend to assess others from the perspective of their own environment. But a project manager has a professional responsibility to diminish adverse effects of cultural differences.
I just want you to be aware that differences can come not only from race or religion. Cultural differences appear between people from different departments, different regions or cities of a country. A person from a capital may be very different from a person from rural areas. I hope you see where it goes.
Resolve conflicts directly
Did you ever work with a person who hated you? Just like that! From that person’s side, it is unethical behavior in the first place. But what would you do?
Keep in mind that it would be unethical behavior too to go around and discuss the problem with others. Even more to discriminate this person.
A project manager should deal with conflicts directly. It means going to an individual and resolving the conflict. OK. What if it doesn’t work? Whatever you do, you can’t collaborate with a person. Without degrading to feelings and emotions, you need to remove a person from a project.
What if he or she is senior to you? You still go directly and openly trying to solve it. If it doesn’t work, it is a question of a different level. If it extends beyond professional interactions, you might need to leave. However, it is always easier to withdraw than to stay and try to improve people around you. And it is something that differentiates good project managers. They enhance and empower others. Even seniors.
Finding out the truth
Finding out the truth is hard. However, it is easy to accept a “truth” that suits you. People may also tell you what they perceive as truth. Nevertheless, a project manager has a professional responsibility to search for truth. He must find out the root cause of every issue. He must always try to understand the situation accurately.
It may sound as “trust no one”. But it is not like that. You just need to keep in mind that people may not know the truth or may know only a part of it. They may understand and communicate it in different ways.
The best cure is to know your people well. You need to understand their perception of the world and bahavior standards. What do they think is acceptable? How manipulative or naive they are?
How to be Truthful
Is it hard for you to own failures? From time to time projects will not go very well. You will have to tell stakeholders about problems. Maybe even to admit your errors. When your career or reputation is at stake, it becomes even harder to be entirely truthful.
It may become even harder when your organization requires you to hide facts. Even such small one as the absence of the team members. Or some defects close at the end of a project.
How do you stay truthful? First, I try not to work in organizations that ask to lie to clients. Second, I try to avoid situations that may require lying in the first place. It means I communicate project problems and my errors early. At the very same time as I discover them. Third, I create an environment where truth is mandatory. However, at the same time, I recognize that mistake and errors happen. And we deal with them together. But anyway I’m responsible for them.
PM Ethic Baseline
PMI has a code of professional conduct. Your organization may have its own code. But in the long last it is a matter of personal choice. You must decide that you want to avoid the unethical or unprofessional behavior. You must clearly identify reasons why you need it.
Keeping to a code and violating it from time to time is not an option. It takes only one case when you are caught in lies. And you lose credibility. But it takes a lot of effort to restore it if at all possible.
So, I suggest to find your big “Why” and keep to it. Take the PMI’s code of professional conduct and try to follow it. It will be harder than it seems.
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