Ethics and Project Success

Michael O’Brochta, PMI-ACP, PMP, is a retired CIA project manager who currently works as President of Zozer Inc., a project management consulting company, and volunteers as Chair of the Project Management Institute's Ethics Member Advisory Group.

I have concluded that ethical behavior is required for project success; more than a “nice to have,” but absolutely required. My conclusion stems from decades of managing projects in organizations where the outcomes depended not just on me, but also on myriad other team members, sponsors, customers and stakeholders. My conclusion stems from considerable study of the leading contributors to project success, and it stems from a lifelong interest in the subject of ethics (I am currently serving as the Chair of the Ethics Member Advisory Group for the Project Management Institute).

My thinking is that a successful project requires leadership, which requires followers, which requires trust, which requires ethical behavior. Therefore, an absence of ethical behavior undermines project success.

The Leadership Component
Let’s jump into the middle of that line of progressive thought to the leadership component. Since most projects are structured as some form of a matrix where the project manager has less formal positional authority than responsibility, success will come down in large measure to the project manager’s ability to lead.

In matrix environments, followers and (for that matter) stakeholders in general have numerous choices for how they spend their time. Indeed, multiple projects may simultaneously be competing for their time. At the end of the …

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