|Articles » The Project Manager's Ethical Dilemma
The Project Manager's Ethical Dilemma
|by Janet Williams
|Often, the project manager is faced
with an issue that is not easily resolved by theory or the knowledge
acquired from formal training. These types of problems are usually
not of a technical nature and more often tend to be ethical or human
resource issues. The satisfactory answer is often debatable and
may suit one set of circumstances and yet not another. It is these
difficult issues where the PM must draw from their practical experiences,
moral and ethical obligations, and sometimes the rule of law.
| For example, international projects take the PM out
of the comfort zone of the local laws and customs that they are used
to working at home. In many host countries, doing business results
in ambiguity and contradictions from the way business is conducted
at home - which leads to the question “What is the ethical or
right thing to do?” Sometimes a practice that is permissible
in the foreign country is not at home. Will making a payment to a
foreign government official to obtain permits, licences or police
protection be seen as a bribe or just “facilitating” and
“expediting” to get things done?
| In such cases, it is useful to have a set of guidelines.
Some companies have a set of best practices or code of conduct to
assist, however, many do not. The following questions developed by
Lax and Sebenious.(1) have proven useful in deciding the correct approach:
- Are you following rules that are generally understood and accepted
for the task taking place? For example, in poker, bluffing is
accepted as part of the game.
- Are you comfortable publicly discussing and defending your
action? Would you be comfortable if your friends were aware of
it? Your family? On the front page of a newspaper?
- Would you want someone to do it to you? To your family?
- What if everyone acted that way? Would the resulting society
- Are their alternatives that rest on firmer ground?
| Some countries such as the U.S. have a legal framework
(The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – FCPA, since 1977) for conducting
business abroad. For instance, it states with respect to bribery that
it is a crime for a bribe to be made to a foreign official or political
party for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business or for directing
business to another person even if this flows through an intermediary
or consultant. However, not all payments are defined as “bribes”.
Payments for “routine” government action are allowed under
the FCPA including the dispensing of permits, licences and police
protection as noted in the example. Thus, it is important to distinguish
between those that are acceptable and unacceptable by noting the various
laws of both your own country and those in your host country.
| In some cases, a kind of opposite condition arises
– rather than laws not existing and not being enforced, a law
may be enforced in the host country but not allowed at home. For example,
in the U.S. many companies have mandatory drug testing. Assume that
you are the project manager of a Canadian project team with a contract
in the U.S. that requires some of your project members to work at
the U.S. job site. To gain entry, they must first submit to the drug
test. In Canada, employees have the right to refuse such tests –
and some of your project team approach you indicating that they are
opposed to submitting to the test and have the legal right to do so.
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| It is important for the project manager to approach these difficult
issues with care and conduct their affairs within the appropriate
ethical and legal framework. Guiding principles can also be gained
from the five Lax and Sebenious questions, company value statements,
and codes of conduct. This provides the project manager, along with
their experience, the additional resources to resolve these tough
|(1) The Manager and the Negotiator: Bargaining for
Cooperation and Competitive Gain by David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius
|For more information about this article, please contact bia at email@example.com.
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