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Topics: Career Development, Ethics, Organizational Culture
Ethics as a competence: the ongoing challenge of the Project Manager.
The project management community agrees that ethical behaviors and professional conducts are critical for success. As in any other areas, the development of new behaviors and conducts to show your competence is a real challenge.

Here is an invitation to discuss about this approach and for that purpose I propose to discuss about the following questions:

Can ethics be considered a competency?

What have you personally done to build your personal competence in ethics? For ypour team?

What do you need to do to build a competency for ethics for yourself, for your team?
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Enrique -

I don't like to think of ethics as a competency as that means it is acceptable to have a low/no level of ethics in how we act.

I'd rather think of acting ethically as being a value, principle or promise which we make.

Kiron
Hi Kiron, that is an excelent pespective, and I agree that low levels of ethics are not acceptable.However let´s look at my proposal form other perspective:

Over the years I delivered presentations on PMI Chapter Congress and the question that always raise is: How do I develop ethics? My advise has been always: think about as a new set of behaviors and habits you need to develop.

And by definition, that is a competence. I agree with you that in this case the level of expertise should be set as high level, but when you think of it as an individual development plan to reach that high level, the professional should start somewhere and I cannot imagine that professional waiking up the next day showing a set of new habits and behaviors he/she did not have the day before.

For those reasons, I invite PM professionals to include ethics as a competence that can be developed as part of their Individual Development Plan and the behaviors to develop are align with the ones derived from PMI statement: "honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness are the values that drive ethical conduct for the project management profession.´
Again Kiron, I appreciate and understand your comments, and I appreciate your contribution. Definitely Ethics is about values and principles that drive new behaviors and habits. The question remains: How to people develop those new behaviors and habits.
Thnak you very much.
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1 reply by Nguyen Khai
Aug 21, 2020 11:32 PM
Nguyen Khai
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I agree with you that ethics can be considered as a competency. From my point of view, "responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty" can be considered as core competencies in ethics in PM community. I build my competence and encourage my team members to do so by following what the "Code of ethics and Professional conduct" document recommends such as "We accept only those assignments that are consistent with our background, experience, skills, and qualifications.", "We listen to others’ points of view, seeking to understand them", "We provide accurate information in a timely manner"... Ethical competence of a PM can be rated by people around such as leaders, colleagues, and community.
I think ethics are values and principles that we learn from our family and society and its learnable because we see how is the culture play a big role in understanding the right and wrong
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1 reply by Enrique Cappella
Aug 21, 2020 3:39 PM
Enrique Cappella
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Hello Mohamed. I agree with you, however what happens when your family environment did not helped you to learn those principles? And worse, when you don´t know how to translate them into behaviors to make them visible?
I agree with the sentiment that ethics fits more as a value, than as a competency.

My own performance management has included ethics as a value rather than a competence for many years. It fits in there with corporate citizenship and diversity. How do you measure someone's ethical competency? It's extremely difficult to differentiate those types of performance attributes in a meaningful way unless you are the department ethics focal, lead the annual school fundraising drive, etc.. On performance reviews, I see them as ways to push everyone towards the middle.

If you work in a generally ethical environment, it's hard to demonstrate your ethics aside from just not exhibiting clearly unethical behavior. You can demonstrate your personal ethics in your daily work, but setting yourself above others can be a risky proposition as it may involve pointing out ethical issue of others. That can get you low marks for "working together" as a value or competency.

Consider if you were to point out unethical behavior from your supervisor. That can lead to quiet retaliation such as less desirable project opportunities or just generally less enthusiasm about your career development.

While I see ethics as extremely important and think we should continue learning what that means as an individual so we can practice it in our daily lives, I think that for competence in the workplace you need to be able to differentiate it by levels or degrees.
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1 reply by Enrique Cappella
Aug 21, 2020 3:44 PM
Enrique Cappella
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Keith: this is interesting, I am propsing that ethics could be measured by a set of bahaviors related (in PMI environment) as a set of behaviors as stated in the Code of Ethics. Maybe within organizations where Ethics is an organizational value it might be easier, but what about a Project Manager that does freelance work? My perception is that he/she will be credible if he/she demostrate ethics through behavios and habits, the same way othre competences are measured.
Aug 21, 2020 12:54 PM
Replying to Mohamed Hassan
...
I think ethics are values and principles that we learn from our family and society and its learnable because we see how is the culture play a big role in understanding the right and wrong
Hello Mohamed. I agree with you, however what happens when your family environment did not helped you to learn those principles? And worse, when you don´t know how to translate them into behaviors to make them visible?
Aug 21, 2020 2:04 PM
Replying to Keith Novak
...
I agree with the sentiment that ethics fits more as a value, than as a competency.

My own performance management has included ethics as a value rather than a competence for many years. It fits in there with corporate citizenship and diversity. How do you measure someone's ethical competency? It's extremely difficult to differentiate those types of performance attributes in a meaningful way unless you are the department ethics focal, lead the annual school fundraising drive, etc.. On performance reviews, I see them as ways to push everyone towards the middle.

If you work in a generally ethical environment, it's hard to demonstrate your ethics aside from just not exhibiting clearly unethical behavior. You can demonstrate your personal ethics in your daily work, but setting yourself above others can be a risky proposition as it may involve pointing out ethical issue of others. That can get you low marks for "working together" as a value or competency.

Consider if you were to point out unethical behavior from your supervisor. That can lead to quiet retaliation such as less desirable project opportunities or just generally less enthusiasm about your career development.

While I see ethics as extremely important and think we should continue learning what that means as an individual so we can practice it in our daily lives, I think that for competence in the workplace you need to be able to differentiate it by levels or degrees.
Keith: this is interesting, I am propsing that ethics could be measured by a set of bahaviors related (in PMI environment) as a set of behaviors as stated in the Code of Ethics. Maybe within organizations where Ethics is an organizational value it might be easier, but what about a Project Manager that does freelance work? My perception is that he/she will be credible if he/she demostrate ethics through behavios and habits, the same way othre competences are measured.
Ethics: "the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation; a set of moral principles: a theory or system of moral values AT THE PRESENT DAY " (merriam-webster).

The key phrase here is: AT THE PRESENT DAY. Values change over time, hopefully for the good. As an example slavery was acceptable not so long ago and now is not - what was once ethical is now unethical. Or was it always unethical but not recognized as such (due to incompetence?)?

I think a person has to be tuned in to today's values and maybe that can be described as competence - Can you adjust, do you recognize the evolution of values? If you are stuck in the past, is it a value issue or a competence issue?

Is competence the ability to see what will be ethical or unethical in the future? Is it ethical to demand behavioral changes when today's society is comfortable with the status quo. Is it ethical to judge another culture against yours?

Lots of questions, few answers.
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1 reply by Enrique Cappella
Aug 28, 2020 6:09 PM
Enrique Cappella
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Hi Peter, yes to many questions. That is the reason I wanted to trigger this discussion. My focus is not on the values that define the behaviors, my focus is: once you decide for our values and once your decide the behaviors that will make visible those values, then the concept of competence raise. Defining competence as the will, the knowledge and the experience to make those new behaviors visible to others.
Aug 21, 2020 12:31 PM
Replying to Enrique Cappella
...
Hi Kiron, that is an excelent pespective, and I agree that low levels of ethics are not acceptable.However let´s look at my proposal form other perspective:

Over the years I delivered presentations on PMI Chapter Congress and the question that always raise is: How do I develop ethics? My advise has been always: think about as a new set of behaviors and habits you need to develop.

And by definition, that is a competence. I agree with you that in this case the level of expertise should be set as high level, but when you think of it as an individual development plan to reach that high level, the professional should start somewhere and I cannot imagine that professional waiking up the next day showing a set of new habits and behaviors he/she did not have the day before.

For those reasons, I invite PM professionals to include ethics as a competence that can be developed as part of their Individual Development Plan and the behaviors to develop are align with the ones derived from PMI statement: "honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness are the values that drive ethical conduct for the project management profession.´
Again Kiron, I appreciate and understand your comments, and I appreciate your contribution. Definitely Ethics is about values and principles that drive new behaviors and habits. The question remains: How to people develop those new behaviors and habits.
Thnak you very much.
I agree with you that ethics can be considered as a competency. From my point of view, "responsibility, respect, fairness, and honesty" can be considered as core competencies in ethics in PM community. I build my competence and encourage my team members to do so by following what the "Code of ethics and Professional conduct" document recommends such as "We accept only those assignments that are consistent with our background, experience, skills, and qualifications.", "We listen to others’ points of view, seeking to understand them", "We provide accurate information in a timely manner"... Ethical competence of a PM can be rated by people around such as leaders, colleagues, and community.
...
1 reply by Enrique Cappella
Sep 01, 2020 7:23 PM
Enrique Cappella
...
Nguyen: thank you for your insight. Again, my point is that Ethics is essentially a set of values that are visible through behaviors and the choices you make. That is very close to my definition of a competence. Regards.
Enrique

I agree with your hypothesis that ‚ethics‘ is a comptency expressed in expected behaviors (like those written in the PMI code of ethics). These behaviors can be deduced from the values, which are stable and unchanged for centuries, probably thousands of years of humanity developing.

Fairness for example was a key value in the French revolution, the foundation of the US but can also be observed between monkeys. Similar to respect, responsibility and other values.

There is a good article in HBR Jan 2020 about how to become a good person or develop your competency in ethical decisions.

And I published an article on LinkedIn in June 2020 on values.
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1 reply by Enrique Cappella
Aug 28, 2020 6:11 PM
Enrique Cappella
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H Thomas, thank you for your comment and the reference, I will read it.
It seems like part of the discussion needs to be centered about the definition of a competence.. A good place to start might be the PMI Competency Development Framework (2017). In that document, a competence is described as

"a cluster of related knowledge, attitudes, skills and other personal characteristics that affects a major part of one's job) i.e. one or more key roles and responsibilities), correlates with performance on the job, can be measured against well-accepted standards, and can be improved by means of training and development" (p. 184).

Further, this document defines the elements of of competences : "They describe, in output terms, actions or outcomes, which are demonstrable and accessable [sic]." (p. 184)

Then the question become whether ethical behavior fits this definition.
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1 reply by Enrique Cappella
Aug 28, 2020 6:16 PM
Enrique Cappella
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Hi Valerie: great contribution, quotes and question. In my mindset the definition you quoted fits my definition, because on can make visible one´s Ethical Values through a set of behaviors. When others see those behaviors is when others will perceive you as an Ethical professional. In other words, you might think you believe in the values, but if you don´t behave accordingly, you will not be perceived as such.
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