Code of Ethics for Project Managers


Matthew H. Parry

ESA Project Manager

At the October Annual Meeting of PMI in Toronto, the Board of Directors accepted the proposals of the ESA Project Group. Included in those proposals was a method for the management of all matters pertaining to Ethics, Standards, and Accreditation.

Essentially this method consisted of a series of steps modeling a procedure for submitting proposals followed by scrutinizing, approving, and subjecting proposals to membership critique, with final adoption by the PMI Board as policy. Final authority rests with the Board regardless of results presented to them.

One of the proposals which was presented to the Board was a “Code of Ethics for Project Managers,” along with a process of enforcement. According to the new PMI/ESA rules of procedure, this code was “adopted in principle” by the Board for a period of one year. During the year a “Select Committee on Ethical Matters” is to receive feedback from the membership regarding suggestions, changes, opinions, etc. to take advantage of this opportunity to make the code useful to the field of project management.

Under the ESA procedure, anyone may provide feedback to the Select Committee who will determine whether or not to incorporate their responses into a revised proposal at the 1983 Annual Meeting. Representatives of groups (6 or more members) may make a presentation to the annual meeting themselves, providing it is deemed appropriate by the Select Committee. The Annual Meeting panel for hearing these representatives will be organized by the ESA Management Group.

Dr. Lewis Ireland of SWL, Inc., Washington, D.C., has been named the chairman of the PMI/ESA Select Committee on Ethical Matters. Also named to the committee were:

Walter E. Pike, Nuclear Utility Services,
      Washington, D.C.

Toni S. Small, SWL, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Joann L. Schrock, Ethikos Research, Inc.,
      Washington, D.C.

Neville Smith, University of British Columbia,
      Vancouver, B.C., Canada

This committee has a designated life-span of one year to review any submissions and organize material for the Annual Meeting in Houston, October, 1983.

A discussion and information regarding the Code of Ethics follows. It is hopeful that the members of the institute will look at it with a critical eye and offer their opinions to Lew Ireland and his committee.

Lew Ireland

The October 1982 acceptance in principle of a code of ethics (see Figure 1) by the PMI Board of Directors is the basis for submitting it to the membership for review and comment. This article describes how the code of ethics was developed and solicits comments from the membership regarding this code of ethics. The results of this review will be presented at the PMI-83 Seminar/Symposium in Houston, Texas.

Ethics and the Need

Webster defines ethics as: (1) the study of standards of conduct and moral judgment; moral philosophy, (2) a treatise on this study, and (3) the system or code of morals of a particular person, religion, group or profession, etc.1 For the purposes of PMI, ethics can be simply stated as a code of moral standards for professional conduct.

The need for a code of ethics is emphasized by a variety of illegal activities that have occurred over the past ten years. Watergate, corporate kickbacks, and “payoffs” are a few examples of such activities receiving extensive news media coverage. Moreover, public interest and concern over such conduct has caused professional organizations to review existing, or establish new, codes of ethics.

Codes of ethics for professional organizations are viewed as a means of accomplishing several objectives. These objectives include:

  • Providing guidelines for members in gray areas of professional conduct,
  • Reminding members of their moral and legal requirements,
  • Advertising the organization’s standards of conduct,
  • Advertising standards of conduct that the organization’s membership is expected to meet,
  • Promoting public confidence in the profession, and
  • Promoting self-regulation with the goal of reducing or heading off governmental regulation.

The selection of some or all of these objectives depends on the particular organization and the needs of the profession represented.

Some professional organizations view a code of ethics as necessary for professional status and as one of the differences between a trade organization and a professional organization.2 Enforcement of an established code of ethics also varies among societies. Some professional groups have no enforcement, while some have a board that reviews complaints against members and applies sanctions (which can even include expulsion from the organization). The extent of an organization’s code of ethics and enforcement depends on the collective view by the members of their professional obligations.

Development of the Code of Ethics

The code of ethics was developed by reviewing the ethics codes and related materials of several other professional societies. From this material, 16 areas of ethical obligation and seven groups of individuals or agencies to whom these obligations are owed were identified. This information was placed in a 7 x 16 matrix and used to identify principal areas of ethical obligation for the code itself and specific ethical standards applicable to each of these areas. After reviewing several codes of ethics, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) code of ethics was used as a model for format, style, and tone. The Code of Ethics for Project Managers (Figure 1) was thus developed.

A code of ethics requires enforcement to be a viable element for project managers. Thus, a flow diagram was developed that outlines procedures for receiving, investigating, hearing, and disposing of complaints against project managers. This Code Enforcement Procedure, Figures 2a, 2b, and 2c, is the framework for an unbiased, uniform processing of complaints, to include protecting the rights of the project manager who allegedly violated the code.


The code of ethics and the enforcement procedures are published here specifically for the membership’s review and critique. Although extensive effort has been expended to develop the code and enforcement procedures, your help is needed to develop a final version of the code to present to the PMI Board of Directors.

Comments must be specific as to recommended changes and should contain supporting rationale. Forward your comments and changes to: Lew Ireland, 12332 Coleraine Ct., Reston, VA 22091, USA.


1. Webster‘s New World Dictionary of the American Language, David B. Gurainik, Editor in Chief, The World Publishing Company, New York and Cleveland, 1968.

2. “Project Management: A Marketable Profession or a Technical Trade?” Presentation to Project Management Institute, Washington, DC Chapter, May 18, 1982, Robert P. Campbell, CDP, Advanced Information Management, Inc.

Code of Ethics for Project Managers

Figure 1 Code of Ethics for Project Managers

Code Enforcement Procedure, Preliminary Inquiry

Figure 2a Code Enforcement Procedure, Preliminary Inquiry

Code Enforcement Procedure, Hearing

Figure 2b Code Enforcement Procedure, Hearing

Code Enforcement Procedure, Appeal

Figure 2c Code Enforcement Procedure, Appeal



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