Project Managers and Workplace Bullying


Are You Willing to Risk Everything?

By Paul Pelletier, LL.B, PMP

Vancouver, BC, Canada



Workplace bullying is likely the “single most preventable and needless expense on a company’s register.”

P. Barnes

PMPs establish and foster workplace behaviour expectations through their own leadership values and actions. Simply put – I believe that we learn from the examples set by those above. In effect, that leads to two clear choices that PMPs have: do they commit to a positive, respectful model for workplace culture or a disrespectful, bullying model? This fundamental decision impacts your organization and also reflects back onto you as the leader.

Until recently, workplace bullying from the top received little attention. Command and control PMPs were often revered and feared. Talk in the PMP world might sound like this – “She’s an icon of power and success but she’d be awful to work for.” However, there is more and more evidence that PMPs who bully pose a serious threat to their organizations, their employees and even their own job security.

Choosing a “bullying” Leadership style

PMPs that choose a bullying leadership style drive predominantly through dominance, fear and negative reinforcement. Employees have no choice but to do as their leader says. One can see the merit of this command and control leadership style on the battlefield. However, I don’t believe it belongs in the workplace.

The bullying model creates a workplace culture where employees feel vulnerable, anxious and uncertain. All to commonly, PMPs that choose this model embrace disrespectful behavior. They motivate by threat, humiliation and exerting power over others.

The results can be diabolical for the organization, the employees and for the PMP. By highlighting the pitfalls of PMPs leading using bullying tactics of negative reinforcement and disrespect, I hope to inspire PMPs to choose to choose the highroad, creating a respectful workplace culture. Simply put – being a bully poses significant risk to you as a leader.

Workplace Bullying – The Leadership Style Test

There is irrefutable data that PMPs set the tone and behavioral expectations for their organizations – their leadership style, expectations and workplace respect tolerance levels ripple throughout the business. In our hyper-competitive world there are intense and ever-present demands for results. Many organizations become so focused on short-term results that they ignore how they are achieved or the long-term impacts of the means used to get those results.

I believe that when PMPs tolerate disrespect or behave that way themselves, those underneath them will adopt the same approach. Following their PMP’s disrespectful lead, senior management will say “People are our most valuable asset,” but that it will be a hollow cliché. The workplace culture will resonate disrespect, creating a Darwinian workplace – if survival of the fittest is what the PMP desires, then that is likely what will eventually happen.

Some leaders willingly sacrifice a respectful workplace culture in order to please shareholders, customers, and stakeholders with baseline results. They may believe their employees matter most but in actual fact, results trump everything. If bullying gets those results, then this is the means selected to achieve the ends. The New York Times in a 2015 article reported this phenomenon about Amazon.

“At Amazon, workers are encouraged to tear apart one another’s ideas…toil long and late…and held to standards that the company boasts are ‘unreasonably high.’ The company’s winners dream up innovations. Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — ‘purposeful Darwinism,’ one former Amazon human resources director said.”

Of particular importance is a quote in the article by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon:

 “As the company has grown, Mr. Bezos has become more committed to his original ideas, viewing them in almost moral terms, those who have worked closely with him say. “My main job today: I work hard at helping to maintain the culture,” Mr. Bezos said last year at a conference.”

The New York Times suggests that Amazon exemplifies the impact of Mr. Bezos’ deliberate choice of leadership style and workplace culture. To quote Mark Graban, author and healthcare expert – “You get what you expect and deserve what you tolerate.” Mr. Bezos is getting what he expects and deserves what he tolerates. Following this logic, if bullying is a tolerated behaviour, a disrespectful culture will evolve. Fear will be the primary motivator. The article alleges that is exactly how things work at Amazon.


To read entire article (click here)


About the Author

Paul Pelletier

Vancouver, BC, Canada




Paul Pelletier, LL.B., PMP, is a workplace respect consultant, corporate lawyer, project manager and executive. He works with organizations to prevent, manage and eliminate workplace bullying. His book “Workplace Bullying – It’s just Bad for Business” highlights how bullying is lethal to project management and business success. He also serves as a member of the PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group. He has published articles, presented webinars, workshops and been a presenter at many PMI events, including Global Congresses, Leadership Institute Meetings and Chapter events. Paul Pelletier can be reached at http://www.paulpelletierconsulting.com/ or [email protected]