For many engineers, it helps to discuss ethical dilemmas with their colleagues and seek guidance for the appropriate application of a code of ethics.
Many professional and technical societies have ethical guidelines for their members. SPE’s Guide for Professional Conduct for SPE members includes a Preamble, The Fundamental Principle, and 12 Canons of Professional Conduct. The canons (see next page) detail the expectations of SPE professionals in the areas of competency, societal and work consequences, honesty in presenting information, ethics, conflicts of interest, nonbiased actions, personal responsibility, impact on public health and safety, environmental impact, multidisciplinary work, and observation of the law.
Registration as a professional will often have an ethics component to the testing for licensure (that is, the granting of a license which gives permission to practice) and an annual requirement for continuing education in ethics. The National Society of Professional Engineers in the United States has a Code of Ethics for Engineers with these Fundamental Canons, stating that “Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:
An employer that encourages and nurtures a pervasive culture of ethical behavior is taking a crucial step toward ensuring long-term superior performance and competitive advantage. Important corporate commitments such as sustainability and social responsibility have higher chances of success in companies where strong ethics permeate the corporate culture. Providing case studies of actual situations illustrating violations of codes of ethics helps employees to understand the potential consequences of ethical violations and their own roles and responsibilities with regard to ethical behavior.
Ethics can be complex, without clear answers. The Decision Framework developed by the Ethics Subcommittee of the Society of Petroleum Engineers can help the petroleum professional make sound decisions when faced with complex ethical issues. The following are key questions to ask:
Companies can enhance their ethical competency in a fashion similar to the way safety best practices are learned. Ethics can best be instilled in a corporate culture through programs of awareness, advocacy, and alarm systems.
“Integrity and Ethics” is one category of soft skills addressed by the SPE Soft Skills Council. Early in their career, SPE student members begin to develop their own perspectives on behaviors they see as exemplifying excellence in the areas of integrity and ethics. The ethical behavioral patterns they establish early in their career will help them establish a solid reputation as a professional.
Establishing an ethical culture in an organization requires more than just teaching the values and concepts we have just discussed.
It requires actions at every level of an organization to reinforce the corporate culture such that the company really supports and encourages employees to behave ethically, even if it takes more time or costs more money. That is, an organization is not always ethical unless everyone acting on its behalf acts ethically.
Acting ethically, in the final analysis, involves treating people with dignity, respect, and in the way you would like to be treated by others. We have to look at each interaction from the other person’s point of view as well as from our own.
We must consider how to make ethical decisions in our work. What is important is to continue to sharpen our skills in order to recognize and appropriately respond to ethical dilemmas.
“SPE Guide for Professional Conduct,” SPE Member Guide. Society of Petroleum Engineers, http://www.spe.org/join/docs/member_guide.pdf.
“NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers.” National Society of Professional Engineers, http://www.nspe.org/Ethics/CodeofEthics/index.html.
Fattahi, Behrooz; Howes, Susan; Milanovich, Narandja; and Paccaloni, Giovanni (2012). “Soft Skills Council: A New SPE Initiative.” Journal of Petroleum Technology 64(8) 52–55.
Susan Howes is an organizational capability consultant in the Reservoir Management Department at Chevron, with prior assignments as reservoir management consultant in the Reservoir Management Framework Group and as manager of the Horizons Program. She formerly was the learning and organizational development manager at Anadarko. Howes is a petroleum engineer skilled in reservoir management, business development, knowledge management, economic analysis, portfolio rationalization, and petroleum engineering, with experience in the US Rockies, midcontinent, Permian Basin, and offshore Gulf of Mexico, as well as several other locations throughout the world. A petroleum engineering graduate of The University of Texas, she is the Chevron UT recruiting team lead for petroleum engineering and drilling. Howes is Chevron Women’s Network president, having previously served as its vice president. Howes currently serves on the SPE Soft Skills Council.