Guiding Principles: Commitment to ethics and values can empower leaders of teams, projects, programs and organizations

SECOND EDITION                                                         

David L. Pells

Managing Editor

PM World Journal

Texas, USA


Over the last ten years, I have been a party to numerous discussions about professional ethics, rules of behavior, governance and related aspects of program and project management. One lengthy exchange was related to the need for a sort of Hippocratic Oath for project management like that embraced by the medical profession, a “do no harm” sort of statement or commitment.

Many large organizations have published codes of ethics, rules of behavior, philosophical principles, statements of purpose and commitments to good public citizenship. Professional societies publish professional codes of ethics and professional standards of behavior. For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI®) has published a “Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct” that members and those who seek the project management professional (PMP®) certification must agree to.[1] But these are not enough, in my opinion. All program, project and team leaders should think about his or her core values and how they can help both simplify decisions and lead to more successful results.

It is time to raise the level of awareness and discussion on the subject of principled behavior in the project management world, for organizations, managers and teams of professionals. I think it’s time for more leaders, managers and professionals in the project management field to understand and embrace ethical standards, to commit to working on programs and projects that benefit people, and to act in honest, professional and responsible ways. So this month, I want to suggest some guiding principles for managers of programs and projects.

Organizational codes of ethics and professional standards of behavior

Just to clarify some points, most public corporations and many other organizations publish codes of ethics, standards of behavior and other guidelines for employees and contractors. A good discussion of this topic can be found at ethicsweb.ca. [2] That website also offers some good reasons for having a code of ethics [3], guidelines for developing a code of ethics [4], and examples of corporate codes [5]. There are many other examples on the web. For example, I studied those of Texas Instruments,[6] Halliburton,[7] Coca Cola,[8] AT&T, [9] Google, [10] and several other large US corporations. I especially like Google’s overriding principle of “don’t do evil.”

Professional standards are similar to organizational codes of conduct, but are more directly aimed at personal behavior. Some good examples are the Society of Professional Journalists [11], Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals [12], and International Association of Business Communicators [13]. In addition to PMI, other project management professional associations with published codes of ethics include the Australian Institute of Project Management [14] and Association for Project Management in the UK [15].

The above references to organizational codes of ethics and professional codes of conduct are mentioned to provide background and contextual information. These types of codes are important for a wide variety of reasons, for guiding employee and professional behavior, to provide ethical standards, to reduce risks and to ensure compliance with laws and regulations. However, they often cover many topics, are difficult to remember in detail and often contain requirements for which compliance may be difficult to prove or even demonstrate. This paper suggests that everyone needs a simple set of guiding principles that reflect core values, that are general in nature, and that can be easily remembered and communicated.


To read entire paper (click here)

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally published as an editorial in the January 2012 edition of the PM World Today eJournal. It is republished here with the author’s permission.

About the Author 

david-pellsDavid L. Pellsflag-usa

Managing Editor, PM World Journal

Managing Director, PM World Library

Addison, Texas, USA

David L. Pells is Managing Editor of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.net) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 35 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including energy, engineering, construction, defense, science, transit, high technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from several thousand to ten billion dollars. He has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, serving on the board of directors of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) twice. He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; Project Management Associates (PMA – India); and Russian Project Management Association SOVNET. From June 2006 until December 2011, he was the managing editor of the globally acclaimed PMForum.org website and the PM World Today eJournal. He occasionally provides high level advisory services for governmental and industrial organizations on major programs. David has published widely, spoken at conferences and events worldwide, and can be contacted at [email protected].