Engineering Ethics - Moral Leadership

Engineers, within their communities and professions contribute to technological process, as managers, business entrepreneurs, corporate consultants, academics and government officials they provide many forms of leadership in developing and implementing technology. Leadership can be understood as success in moving a group collectively, towards goals.

Moral leaders, are the individuals who direct, motivate, organize, creatively manage, or in other ways move groups towards morally valuable goals. Leaders might be in position of authority within a corporation, or they might not be. Leadership can be shown by individuals participating at all levels of organizations.

Moral Leadership

Morally creative leaders

Moral leaders are morally creative. This does not mean that they discover or improvise new moral values from scratch. Moral values are the product of centuries and millennia of gradual development, not instantaneous invention. Moral creativity consists in identifying the most important values that apply in a particular situation, bringing them into focus through effective communication within groups and forming workable commitments to implement them.

Moral creativity is achieving success through new ways of thinking with standard moral values. This is achieved by identifying new possibilities for applying, extending and putting values into practice rather than inventing new values for temporary comforts. But, this requires fresh moral insights with deeper commitments grounded in integrity.

Participation in Professional Societies

Professional Societies do more than just promoting continuing education for their members. They also serve to unify a profession, and to speak and act on behalf of it. Professional societies provide a forum for communicating, organizing and mobilizing change within and by large groups, which has a moral dimension. After few incidents, many of the tensions existed in professional societies are because of the uncertainties about their involvement in moral issues.

Effective professional activity whether in Engineering or any other profession, requires a substantial degree of trust from clients and the public. Total absence of such trust would undermine the possibility of making contracts, engaging in cooperative work, exercising professional autonomy free of excessive regulation and working under humane conditions. Building and sustaining that trust is an important responsibility shared by all engineers. It is also an area where moral leadership within professional societies is really important.

Leadership in Communities

In communities and groups, the issues that bother and that are important should be informed to everyone. But the stronger obligations arise for those who by professional background are well grounded in specific issues as well as for those who have time to train themselves as Public advocates. It shows that there is certainly a need for moral leadership in identifying and expanding the areas of possible good that can be achieved.

Ideals of Voluntary service

The need for moral leadership in Engineering, emphasizes the need for involvement in professional societies and in community service. The leadership should have substantial involvement in professional societies which, in addition to furthering technical knowledge and representing engineers collectively, help establish high standards of moral integrity within the profession. The moral leadership should also have some involvement in community service. Moral leadership does not consist of moral elitism and dominance, but instead moral creativity in helping to guide, organize and stimulate groups toward morally desirable goals.

Sample Code of Conduct

The professional societies for engineers have formulated few codes of ethics which are expected to be followed by an engineer of the particular discipline. Following are a few societies that look into the discipline in Engineering −

  • NSPE − National Society of Professional Engineers

  • IEEE − The Institute of Electrical and Electronics engineering

  • AIChE − American Institute of Chemical Engineers

  • ASCE − American Society of Civil Engineers

  • ASME − American Society of Mechanical Engineers

  • ACM/IEEE/CS − Joint Task Force on Software Engineering Ethics and Professional Practices

All these societies have proposed different codes of ethics expecting adherence from the Engineers, to the highest standard of ethical conduct. This not only helps the societies but also the Engineers.

The NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) has formulated codes as engineering has a direct and vital impact on the quality of life for all the people. Accordingly, the services provided by engineers require honesty, impartiality, fairness and equity and must be dedicated to the protection of the public health, safety and welfare.

The fundamental things to be kept in mind, while engineers fulfill their professional duties are the following −

  • Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.

  • Perform services only in area of their competence.

  • Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.

  • Act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.

  • Avoid deceptive acts.

  • Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation and usefulness of the profession.

All the other societies have proposed the code of ethics to be followed in their respective disciplines, by the engineers. The professional ethics should be accompanied by moral concerns, in acting responsibly towards the profession while being in ethical limits.