Ethical Issues in Project Management and How To Deal with Them


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Ethical Issues in Project Management and How To Deal with ThemWhen it comes to the workplace, right and wrong decisions may not be so obvious. For many project managers, ethical considerations are bound to arise at some point. They can rear their ugly heads in the form of interpersonal disputes or in the broader project goal. Here are some common problems you might run into while shepherding your team to the finish line:

Post-project repercussions.

You may be tasked with overseeing and delivering on a project within an inadequate amount of time. This can mean that elements may need to be foregone in order to complete the project on time, else you risk the project not being completed at all. Essentially, you may be required to identify shortcuts. The results of your project, however, may have some lasting effects. So what do you choose when you must either deliver a precarious result or let the project fail altogether? Consider the stakes. For example, if you work in the area of pharmaceutical development and the new drug your team is working on could really use some extra time or resources before it hits the market, the stakes are pretty high. If you deliver a substandard drug, you may find that it has some severe adverse side effects in the long term. If the stakes are lower in the sense that the potential long-term risk is lower (for example, not within the field of healthcare), you may choose to move forward with your amended project, knowing full well what the risks are.

Your team members have varying work ideologies.

This problem may be more likely to present itself in multi-generational teams. You may find that the baby-boomer generation has a more traditional outlook, preferring to maximize efficiency through long hours. On the other hand, you may encounter Generation X, Y, and Millennial team members who value a better work-life balance and prefer to maximize efficiency through technology and other innovations. So how do you work with a diverse team and meet everyone’s needs? Prevention is key. Make it clear what the company-wide policies are regarding employee expectations and reiterate this to your team pre-project. Be sure to encourage communication with each other and with you if they feel the need to.

You, as manager, are at fault for the project’s failure.

First of all, a project’s success is never guaranteed, so when you do experience a failure, try not to take it personally. However you should conduct a “post-mortem ” to identify how and why it failed. And sometimes that failure may be everything to do with you; perhaps you failed to delegate an element that slipped through the cracks, or you missed your own deadline. Whatever the reason, take responsibility for it. If you sweep it under the rug or try to pass the blame to someone or somewhere else, you risk undoing the trust that you’ve built with your team. Chances are, your team will already have some idea that you failed as manager anyway, so don’t underestimate honesty and communication.

A team member dropped the ball.

This is a tricky one. When you fail as project manager, it’s appropriate for you to own up to it. But when someone on your team fails, can you assign blame? The simple answer is no. No benefit will come from singling out one of your team member’s shortcomings in front of the team. Shame is not a great way to strengthen your team for future projects. However, you will need to seek external disciplinary action if the team member’s failure was due to some larger ethical issue, like theft. Keep in mind though, that the latter situation should still be kept private. If someone other than you directly fails, chalk it up to a team failure and move on. If you’re ever in doubt about how to ethically handle a problem within your team, seek some outside advice. Other colleagues, mentors, or your HR department can have insight that will help you to see the project through. Just because you’re the leader, doesn’t mean you have to be an island.

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