Ethics in project management

All professional bodies like the APM have a code of conduct to set standards to guide members and raise the level of trust and confidence of the public in the profession.

As a professional body, the APM requires you to have high ethical standards, just as it requires you to have high professional standards. Ethics, and ethical behaviour, is a key part of professionalism and therefore vital to the APM’s chartered journey. Developing ethical acumen is not only an essential personal skill; it is also a vital business skill. High standards of ethical behaviour in the profession benefits everyone – the status of the profession itself is enhanced; the quality of the delivery of projects is raised; society benefits because project managers have completed their work to a high standard, not  just on schedule or within budget, but with ethical responsibility.

Ethical values are the compass by which we live our life. They are what is important to us. APM’s ethical values include integrity, respect and empathy. What does applying these values mean in reality? For example, would you give an honest quote, even if that means losing out to the competition (who may not be so honest)? Would you stand up to a client if you felt they were asking you to do something unethical? Do you consider how a project will impact on the wider community.

What is business ethics?

The Institute of Business Ethics defines business ethics as the application of ethical values (such as fairness, honesty, openness, integrity) to business behaviour. It is about how business is done.

Are colleagues treated with dignity and respect? Are customers treated fairly? Are suppliers paid on time? Does the business acknowledge its responsibilities to wider society? Put simply, business ethics is ‘the way business is done around here’.

Business ethics applies to all aspects of business conduct, from boardroom strategies, sales techniques and accounting practices to stakeholder relations and issues of product responsibility. Business ethics concerns discretionary decisions that organisations, and the individuals who work for them, make in the day-to-day situations they face.

Why is it important?

Reputations are based, not only on a company’s delivery of its products and services, but on how it values its relationships with its stakeholders. Few will deny the importance of trusting relationships with clients, employees, suppliers and the community. Indeed, the success of any organisation depends on it. Clients are attracted to project managers who offer the very best both professionally and ethically.

The Institute of Business Ethics believes that all organisations should ‘do the right thing’ because it is the right thing to do. However, there is research demonstrating the benefits that businesses who take their ethical values seriously can enjoy:

  • An open culture improves morale
  • Good relations with customers leads to an enhanced reputation
  • Ethical companies outperform their peers financially in the long term

Road to Chartered: Ethics

As part of our chartered thought leadership series we are publishing the third in the series on the importance of ethics in professional life. We are grateful the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) for much of the content of this paper. The APM is a corporate member of the IBE and we welcome their support. 

As the foreword to the paper states, “You only need to look around at other industries to see ethical or moral problems and conflicts of interest abounding. Project managers operate across a variety of sectors and are increasingly going have to deal with ethical dilemmas on issues with shades of grey, which require professional judgement and the active management of an issue. It is no longer enough just to do the right thing.  

This Chartered paper looks at different aspects of ethical behaviour and hopefully can be part of the process for individuals, and the profession as a whole, to engage and understand better the increasing importance of ethics an integrity. This is the starting point for a debate about how the APM can develop ethical support and frameworks beyond the Code itself.”

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Online ethics course

The Chartered paper on Ethics is being launched in conjunction with a special offer for members to access to the IBE’s e-learning training course:
IBE E-Learning Tool  - Understanding Business Ethics.

More details of the APM member offer can be found here.

This short introductory training course is designed to raise awareness of what business ethics is about and to provide an understanding of why ethical standards in the workplace matter. Four interactive modules guide users through realistic challenges such as gifts and hospitality, conflicts of interest and health and safety.

This course will help employees recognise and confidently resolve ethical dilemmas that can arise as part of their day-to-day work. The training course is designed to support employees at all levels, in organisations of any size and in any sector, to ‘do the right thing’. Optional content is provided for those in managerial roles.  The course is available online in English, French, German and Spanish.

Member resource

FAQs for Association for Project Management members and students

Who would benefit from taking the training course?

People who want to think through ethical issues or who are exposed to ethical issues and dilemmas should consider completing the training course.

What standard am I expected to achieve?

There is no pass or fail mark; however, you are expected to complete the course.

What if I don’t pass the course?

The course is designed to promote understanding. It does not have a pass or fail level. If there are particular matters within the course that you have questions about, it is advised that you discuss your issues with your line manager or whoever is responsible for ethics within your organisation.

Who will see my training report?

Training completion records are kept by the IBE and can be sent to the Association for Project Management or your employer if requested by you.

How long do I have to complete the course?

All users should complete the course within 3 month(s) of receiving their password. You can do the course over a number of sessions if you prefer. Each time, you will be able to resume the course from the point you previously reached.

Does this course count towards my CPD?

Yes, you will need to log this yourself, taking into account the APM and your employer’s CPD requirements. Further information on the APM CPD requirements is available at https://www.apm.org.uk/qualifications-and-training/continuing-professional-development/   

How long does each of the courses take to complete?

From 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how many optional modules you complete. You will also have the option of working through additional case studies.

Can I study the modules within the course in any order?

We recommend that you study the modules in the order they are presented in the course.

Can I do this training at home?

Yes, this course is accessible from any PC that can access the internet. Just paste the web link for the courses into your web browser and log in as normal. Any “forgotten password requests” will be sent directly to the email address you originally registered with.

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Related documents

The APM Code of Professional Conduct  

The Association for Project Management, the Chartered body for the project profession, is committed to the highest standards of professional conduct and ethics for all project professionals. All APM members commit to the APM Code of Professional Conduct which sets out the standards of conduct expected by those working in the profession in line with the APM FIVE Dimensions of Professionalism.

How It works   The code is approved by the Board and was developed in consultation with people both within and outside the profession. It was first approved by the APM membership in the general meeting.  A professional conduct committee may hear cases of an alleged breach of the code in line with the procedural rules. This allows APM to build public trust and reassurance in the project management profession.

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