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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Management Ethics and Professional Conduct – Part 1

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” C. S. Lewis

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” John F. Kennedy

No one likes to be blamed when things go wrong, but taking responsibility is a big part of being a good Project Manager. It easy to “own” the project when all the Earned Value and Quality reports look good, but how do you react when things are going wrong?

Over the past couple of weeks I discussed the philosophical underpinnings of virtuous behavior in order to set the stage for a more detailed discussion of the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. If you are interested, you can see them at www.projectmanagementforum.net.

If you want to look at the actual PMI document, you can reach it here: http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/ethics/pmi-code-of-ethics.pdf

The construct of the document is straightforward. The first section describes the Vision and Purpose, Applicability, Structure of the Code, Supporting Values and the two types of standards: Aspirational and Mandatory. The document then describes and explains the Aspirational and Mandatory aspects of the four Standards: Responsibility, Respect, Fairness and Honesty. Finally, there is a bit of historical context and a glossary.

Why did PMI feel that they needed such a document? In the “Vision and Purpose” section they state it is needed because as practitioners “we are committed to doing what is right and honorable”. The Appendix also provides context as it states that PMI was concerned about their membership growth, ethical scandals in both private and public entities, increasing regulation, globalization and rapid technological advancement. The current version has been in place since 2006.

The document establishes a profession wide understanding of appropriate behavior, requires practitioners to report unethical conduct and provides for a disciplinary process – although the details of that are not spelled out in the document itself. These are designed to protect the reputation of PMI members and certification holders.

Who does the code apply to? Any member of PMI or any non-member who has a certification, is applying for a certification or does volunteer work for PMI. It does not apply to businesses! A business can’t be ethical because it is a legal construct, not a person. The activities of the business are directed by the people running it, and they may or may not be ethical. Businesses don’t go to jail, the people running them do!

Each of the four Standards listed above represent the values that practitioners said “guided their decision making and guided their actions”. Each of them are divided into Aspirational and Mandatory Standards. Aspirational Standards are those you should strive to achieve, while failure to adhere to the Mandatory Standards can result in a disciplinary proceeding!

In the next post we will begin to discuss the Standards themselves.


I have a problem with public companies supporting charities. I personally support charities and think that they are an important part of the Civil Society. My problem is that as a shareholder I am not provided input into the charities that the corporation chooses to support, and the money they give is my money! They have a responsibility to return profits to the shareholders, not create photo opportunities for CEO’s hanging out with celebrities while congratulating themselves for their generosity! It is easy to be generous with someone else’s money! CEO’s should do their jobs; maximize return on investment and return value to their shareholders. I’ll take my earnings and give to the charity I choose!


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