Point of Beginning

Opinion: Surveyors and Engineers Should Be Above Reproach

August 1, 2009


Ethics and integrity are keystones of the surveying and engineering professions.

Although I believe most licensed professionals in these fields are honest and operate with ethics and integrity, guidance is necessary for the members of all firms. Further, nonprofessional engineers, unlicensed land surveyors and technicians working in our professions have not had the benefit of ethics training in continuing education courses, and most are unaware of the codes of ethics of our professions. It is important for everyone in the surveying and engineering professions to understand that the privilege of providing professional services comes with the responsibility of doing so ethically and with integrity.

Ethics and Integrity Defined

Integrity is a strict adherence to a set of core values; it is what a person does when no one is watching. Integrity comes from within and is closely associated with the character of a person. It is being honest with oneself and with others.

Ethics is defined as conformance to the principles of conduct as generally accepted by a specific profession. Ethics provides a framework of rules that govern right and wrong when applied to everyday practice on the job. In the surveying and engineering workplace, the main concepts relating to ethics include fairness, conflict of interest, honesty and, sometimes, morality. The players are owners, employees, supervisors, managers, clients and suppliers.

How many times have you as a professional surveyor had to tell a client that you cannot sign a document prepared by someone not under your supervision? Most surveyors would say this situation happens to them frequently. How many times have you had a client come to you with a certification form given to them by the county or city with instructions to “just have your engineer or land surveyor sign it”? Often, county and city personnel conveniently forget to tell the client about the vast amount of work that must be completed before the document can be signed. It would be unethical to sign the document without verifying the information the form required.

Ethical problems often surface when conflicts arise between the interests of the parties involved. An example is a disgruntled employee walking away from a company and attempting to steal clients from his or her former employer. The employee may justify this action by convincing himself or herself that he or she deserves the clients or has some special rights to the clients. However, this employee is acting unethically.

Ethics and integrity are closely related concepts. You cannot have ethics without integrity, and a person without integrity cannot perform ethically in the workplace. Sometimes a person may abandon his or her integrity and code of ethics for short-term gain. However, those who believe that unethical behavior is in their best interest will ultimately discover that their thinking is misguided. Experience has proven that, in the long run, an individual’s personal interests are best served by doing the right thing despite short-term perceptions.

The Mark of a Leader

The business world is extremely competitive, and it is looking for ethical leaders. These leaders must be trustworthy, respected and credible in their business lives and in their communities.

The road to unethical behavior is a slippery slope. Often, a small unethical decision leads to bigger unethical decisions. The state boards for professional land surveyors and engineers take ethics very seriously and investigate claims of unethical behavior. Professional land surveyors and engineers should stay away from even the appearance of dishonesty and unethical behavior.

I urge every professional land surveyor and engineer to read their codes of ethics and take continuing education courses on ethics. Additionally, discuss ethics within your firm, especially with new hires and unlicensed individuals. This could be the best investment you will ever make in your profession.


What do you think? Is the profession doing enough to promote ethics and integrity? Are there problems in these areas that aren't being addressed? Please post your comments below.

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