I have noticed that bribes are the norm, rather than the exception, is quite a few countries outside North America and Western Europe. Bribes don't even have to be subtle in some countries. Now the question is, is this unethical? I think it depends on who you are bribing, why you need to bribe to get the project done, and are you hurting anyone because of your bribe. Another question to determine the legitimacy of a bribe in projects is to ask yourself, does a competitor have also to bribe someone to get the project?
Now if you want to talk more about ethics, let me discuss a few other points:
- Making shady "deals" with the vendors
I have noticed that backstabbing is a common trait in weak project managers, they try to backstab anyone lower than them in the food chain (typically their team members). The problem is that project managers are often the ideal scapegoat if the project fails, so they try to share the blame with someone else.
The project managers often assumes the role of the procurement (purchase) manager, inviting bids and ordering purchases from vendors. But what if the project manager decides to choose the vendor who's providing more value to his (the project manager's) pocket, rather than his organization? Money is tempting, and unethical can become very convincing when they want to win a bid.
Fraud: This is where we reach the top of the ladder when it comes to unethical activities. Fraudulent activities in project management, include but are not limited to, paying for material that doesn't exist, creating a fictitious company and buying material/equipment from, or just plain stealing from the company and flying to an unknown destination. There are hundreds of other ways that project managers can defraud their company; fraudsters are very creative!