Project Management

Ethics as a competence of the Portfolio Program Project Manager: a personal journey.

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We all tackle ethical dilemmas. Wrong decisions can break careers. Which are the key challenges faced? What are some likely solutions? Where can we find effective tools? Who can apply these and why? Dry, theoretical discussions don't help. Join us for lively, light conversations to learn, share and grow!

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Ethics as a competence of the Portfolio Program Project Manager: a personal journey.

Hello, welcome to our blog. I would like to share a personal story and some lessons learned about ethics as a new competence for Project Managers. I will appreciate your comments and feedback.

Some 20 years ago, I was recruited by a Global Corporation and was tasked to implement their Resource Management Systems for the Service Delivery Practice. I was engaged to the implementation of the Resource Management policies and systems within the Project Management Practice to achieve project success. The Resource Management program was designed to assign the right people, with the right skills and the right cost to the billable projects. At that time, the purpose was to “deliver the project and collect the revenue”. A new ethics policy was issued shortly after I began.  I was not sure why we needed ethics in an IT management delivery division. We were required to review the ethics principles and declare that we understood those principles and sign that we agree with the company code. There was a lot of resistance from my direct reports and contributors. “Why ethics?” was the common comment, and of course “it is just another unnecessary and not useful requirement on our already overcharged workload”.

Soon after we learned about the consequences in the industry and in the overall market of the Enron fraudulent case and the enacting of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)[1].  Then we understood the need for a framework to prevent incorrect behaviors (Ethics!). The ethics initiative started to make sense and we understood the need for ethics in several contexts. Since then, ethics has been a must have and my new challenge was how to change behaviors and habits in myself and my team members to do the right things and to do the things right. This was especially challenging in some countries in the Latin America (LA) region where corruption is endemic.

Today, PPPMs (Portfolio, Program and Project Managers) are challenged with new technologies, approaches and resources. They are also challenged to develop new competences that are considered critical to increase their employability. Some of the new competences are described in several papers and leading books, such as agile, communication, leadership, influencing, negotiation and others. In parallel one can observe the need for a set of new habits and behaviors that creates credibility and trust and therefore a greater leadership capacity.

Such sets of behaviors and habits are part of ethics and professional conduct. Organizations are demanding that their contributors and contractors make visible the “doing the right thing and doing this the right way”. Ethics is a competence that allows the organization to increase its sales, make sustainable deals and become an employer of choice.

In my experience as a keynote speaker in several chapter events in Latin America during the last few years, every time I talk about Ethics, I perceive that the audience are not convinced of the importance of the subject, especially young participants.  When I ask for feedback to my presentation, they tell me: “Yes, it was an interesting subject” or “Yes, I liked your presentation”, but not as enthusiastic as when I present about tools and techniques. Why is it so difficult for average participants to become attracted by ethics? Probably they don´t see the immediate use and benefits.  Maybe they perceive that ethics is for someone else and not for me. Other comments I receive are related to what´s in it for me? At other times, the comment is “Ok, ethics is important, but how can I become more ethical?”

I am convinced that it is not possible to be successful if the tools and techniques are not properly matched with a set of behaviors that convince key stakeholders that personal ethical values are not negotiable.

I leaned that it is easier to promote ethics if it is perceived as set of competences that can be developed (as many other skills and competences). This can be accomplished by creating an awareness, the desire for ethics behaviors and a plan to develop the new behaviors. The motivation and desire to develop the competencies differ according to the person´s filters. However, there is not a simple recipe for everyone. In some instances, the orientation to tasks and quick achievements will motivate individuals. In other cases, the motivation is the process, the welfare of others, or the flexibility.

Once you create the awareness and the individual is willing to develop the new habits and behaviors, they need to be able to find the tools and techniques that help them transform the ethics principles into a new set of behaviors and habits. The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (the “Code”) and the Ethics Tool Kit are great resources for practitioners to start and sustain their journey. For further Information on the code and the Ethics Tool Kit, please visit


[1] In 2002, Sarbanes-Oxley was named after bill sponsors U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Michael G. Oxley (R-OH). As a result of SOX, top management must individually certify the accuracy of financial information. In addition, penalties for fraudulent financial activity are much more severe. Also, SOX increased the oversight role of boards of directors and the independence of the outside auditors who review the accuracy of corporate financial statements.[1]

Posted by Enrique Cappella on: May 12, 2020 09:53 AM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Thanks for sharing., very interesting.

Thought provoking article

Very interesting. I agree 100%. I have got one question: can ethics become a selection criteria for external resources? I am confident that if a resource has got solid ethical behavior he is reliable, no matter the competence he has got. The problem is how I can evaluate objectively ethics in a selection process.

Interesting insights on a universal topic. I believe it could be difficult to relate to ethical practices passionately for someone who doesn't have much working experience and thus not encountered these kind of situations. I use to think in the similar manner when I started working and couldn't relate much with it but now with increasing experience and after multiple challenging projects, able to appreciate that importance of building that competency right from the beginning so that one could take informed decisions and follow ethical practices.

Thanks for sharing....
Ethics as a competence....

Eduin, Joshua, Marco, Pryanca, Kwiyuh: thank you for your comments. I invite you all to visit our discussión on the topic:

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