Power Abuse and the PMI Code of Ethics

Posted on March 16, 2010 by

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John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

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“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men” is a popular quote originating from Lord Acton. This saying reveals the frightening lure of using one’s acquired power to benefit one’s self at the expense of others. The second mandatory Respect standard in the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (http://www.pmi.org/About-Us/Ethics/~/media/PDF/Ethics/ap_pmicodeofethics.ashx) is “3.3.2 We do not exercise the power of our expertise or position to influence the decisions or actions of others in order to benefit personally at their expense.”

This standard focuses on specific abuses of specific powers. It does not mention power derived from all sources such as great riches or good looks, but specifically the power that accompanies our knowledge and the power associated with our position. There are many ways that this power could be abused, such as making decisions that would benefit us personally while harming our organization, but this standard focuses only on the abuse of influencing the decisions or actions of others. For example, a project manager would be abusing their position if they encouraged a team member to stay late to finish paperwork that was the responsibility of the project manager complete.

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