Mandatory Honesty Standards in the PMI Code of Ethics

Posted on February 9, 2010 by

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Project Management Institute

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Responsibility, Respect, Fairness, and Honesty are the four pillars of the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Each of these four pillars contains both aspirational and mandatory standards. There are two mandatory standards for honesty in the Code of Ethics. The first statement is: “5.3.1 We do not engage in or condone behavior that is designed to deceive others, including but not limited to, making misleading or false statements, stating half-truths, providing information out of context or withholding information that, if known, would render our statements as misleading or incomplete.”

It should be obvious that if honesty is a value, outright lying by making knowingly false statements is unacceptable. However, that’s not all that is unacceptable. Even if everything that someone says or writes is technically 100% accurate, if it’s presented in a way that is meant to deceive, it is still considered dishonest and therefore unacceptable. For example, Kathy says, “Jim, I hear you took a sick day yesterday. Are you really sick?” Jim responds in a huff and snaps sarcastically at her, “No! I just felt like taking a day off to play golf! How can you even ask me that???” and then he storms off. The truth is that Jim did call in sick so that he could play golf, so what he said was technically true, but by saying it sarcastically he intended to deceive Kathy.

Here’s another scenario. Kevin asks Kathy if Jim would be a good addition to his project management team. Kathy says, “Oh, Jim is exceptional! He’s always working late.” So Kevin understands that Jim would indeed be a good choice for a team member. What Kathy is really thinking is, “Yeah, Jim’s exceptional—exceptionally lazy! And since he appears incapable of getting to work on time he’s always here late trying to get caught up.” So again, by deliberately leading Kevin to believe something that is not true, Kathy is being dishonest and violating the PMI Code of Ethics.

The second statement of the mandatory honesty standards is “5.3.2 We do not engage in dishonest behavior with the intention of personal gain or at the expense of another.” Now this statement seems superfluous, because if we are to be honest at all times, that includes the times when it would appear to be to our benefit to be dishonest. So this statement merely emphasizes the preceding statement that dishonesty is unacceptable conduct for members of PMI even when it appears to be in our best interest.

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