How to structure an ethical project when cash is king

Patrick Weaver of has posed the following question: is it better to “pay for a job done properly once or to pay for the cost of fixing problems years later?”

Initially, the answer seems clear – do it properly once. But what if the cost of paying for a job well done was higher than the cost of cutting corners and hoping that problems don’t arise?

While we’d all like to think that we wouldn’t cut corners, the issue is that money plays a huge part in the planning and management of projects. The cheapest decision is often made above the most ethical decision – especially when ethical behaviour is more expensive and time-consuming.

Faced with warring priorities of ethics and cash, many project managers and contractors are not trained to recognise ethical dilemmas until it is too late. Educational institutions are often more concerned with making sure their students meet technical requirements, rather than preparing them for ethical situations that may never occur.

Mehwish Majeed suggests that project managers would benefit from knowing some of the most common ethical situations that arise in the field. These include:

  • Exploitation of workers
  • Ignoring health and safety standards
  • Negative behaviour towards co-workers
  • Corrupt deals
  • Nepotism and favouritism
  • Biased behaviour
  • Blaming of others

While extra training may be necessary for project managers to deal with some of the more complex scenarios, often all it takes is to increase a project manager’s awareness of what constitutes unethical behaviour.

Weaver states that the “root cause” of corruption in the building industry is that, in every stage of the project, contractors are more concerned with making profit than they are with behaving ethically. While a lot of individuals may be responsible for the unethical behaviour, project managers have a responsibility to do their part to make sure that their project is completed in the right way.

When those running the project (for example: builders, contractors and project managers) are not those affected by unethical behaviour (usually the building owners or lower-level staff), it can be difficult for the right decision to win out. When money is king and regulatory standards are enforced by the corrupt, there is little incentive to follow ethical standards.

Often simple tweaks to a project can make all the difference. One way is to ensure that any overseers and regulatory bodies work for those who benefit from a finished project. The aim should be for those involved in completing the project to be individuals who also benefit from ethical behaviour.

Reviewing your project plan can ensure that those you select to complete the project are working towards the end goal, rather than cutting corners to benefit themselves.

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