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Ethics, Engineering, and Leadership

William A. (Bill) Brant, JD, PE

Course Outline

How can ethics help me?  How can Ethics, Engineering, and Leadership help me?  You and I will explore the answers and benefits of these questions together.
Shakespeare in his comedy, As You Like It, said, “All the world’s a stage.”  We are acting on the world stage.  Our actions and words influence others.  This is leadership.  Whether our actions and words are right or wrong is ethics.  Applying leadership and ethics to engineering is the challenge of this course.  We do this by living in reality, with honor, ethics, and leadership.  We must think, act, and be ethical.

Our course consist of three main parts: (1) Personal Ethics, (2) Engineering Ethics, and (3) Leadership Lessons. 

Personal ethics is the cornerstone of ethics.  We must be true to ourselves to be true to others.  How do we be true to ourselves?  One way we address being true to ourselves is setting our Life’s Priorities.  In essence, we have to know what we are looking for in life in order to achieve it.  Moreover, Life’s Priorities change; they are not the same for teenagers, young adults, and adults.

We will spend a brief minute with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle studying the “good life” before we jump into Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  On our way to developing our full potential, we will list out our “good things in life.”  Your list represents a portrait of your priorities and character traits for your life.  We will work with your list to develop what matters most to you, governing values, and happiness. 

The three main schools of ethical theory will be briefly covered before we discuss core engineering virtues and values.  Years ago I developed a pictorial representation of “The Problem,” different directions pulling on us---society versus the individual, and good versus evil.  With “The Problem” in mind we will visit some tough ethical issues.  We will conclude personal ethics with an honor code.

In the second part, engineering ethics, we discuss references to different engineering societies’ ethics codes, i.e., ASME, ASCE, etc.  The CitiCorp Building structural problem is viewed as an ethics case.  Thereafter, we will discuss briefly the Texas Professional Conduct and Ethics Code, which is similar to many states’ codes.

We finish the engineering ethics part by discussing the 5P’s---precursors to ethical problems---and apply them to the Columbia Shuttle tragedy.

The last part of our course, Leadership Lessons, will examine leaders President Lyndon Johnson and Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Lyndon Johnson was selected for his leadership in a crisis immediately following President Kennedy’s assassination.  Johnson handled the crisis well and there are leadership lessons we can learn vicariously through the crisis.
Marcus Aurelius would have been Plato’s example of a philosopher-king.  His virtues were love of fellow man, truthfulness, moderation, and these should be the same qualities of law.  Right, reason, and justice were one and the same for Aurelius.  The idea of a natural law was written into the legal code of Rome.

Marcus Aurelius wrote a guide or journal to himself during the war with the Germans, now referred to as “Meditations.”  In “Meditations,” Marcus grappled with great philosophical questions.  Aurelius practiced stoic philosophy.  Stoics try to control the things within their control and let go of things beyond their control; something we can learn.
In our concluding remarks, we discuss Jena Pincott’s article, “Are these rules worth breaking?”  We see that it is important to give ourselves ethical reminders often.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

Following this course, you will:

Intended Audience

All engineering disciplines, all levels of management, anyone interested in ethics, both in the U.S. and globally, should attend this course.

Benefit for Attendee

Upon completion, you will have gained an insight into yourself, gained confidence to think, predict, avoid or solve ethical dilemmas, set values, and learned leadership lessons from Lyndon Johnson and Marcus Aurelius.

Course Introduction

Reality, Reality, Reality!  Honor!  Ethics!  Leadership! Socrates told us, “The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world, is to be in reality what we would appear to be; all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice and experience of them.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower defined leadership, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  These two statements act as our theme through this course.

Ethics, Engineering, and Leadership challenges us by our personal ethics, engineering ethics, and gives us leadership lessons to build upon for life.

Course Content

The course content is contained in the following PDF file:

Ethics, Engineering, and Leadership

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Course Summary

We look inward at ourselves in personal ethics.  Abraham Maslow’s basic needs are reviewed.  We set our life’s priorities.  We use the 5P’s as a guide to potential ethics violations.  We look at our honor code.

The engineering ethics part reviews ethics codes.  The CitiCorp Building ethics case is briefly reviewed.  The Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy is discussed using the 5P’s.

Leadership lessons present Lyndon Johnson on crisis leadership and Emperor Marcus Aurelius living an ethical stoic life.  Aurelius teaches us to control what we can control and leave alone what we cannot control.

Lastly, we learn that we should give ourselves ethical reminders.


Course references, endnotes, websites, and acknowledgments are provided with the Course Content. 


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

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DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefro