8 Professional Responsibility, Ethics and Legal Issues
Linguistically, professionalism means the standing, practice, or methods of a professional distinguished from an amateur. Culturally, it means the expertness characteristic of a professional performing a profession, regardless of the task or job they perform. In the context of engineering and management, a profession has particular attributes that distinguish it from other jobs and expertise. These attributes include:
1. Membership requirements:
• Extensive formal education and training of intellectual character.
• Sophisticated skills, autonomy, and use of judgment; not routine.
2. Public and society view:
• The knowledge and skills of the members are vitally needed for society well-being.
• Professional organizations are allowed to self-control and regulate the practice.
3. Professionals are normally regulated by ethical standards, embodied in a Code of Ethics.
Examples of professions include engineering, medicine, and law. These professions have an implicit contract of trust with society to practice according to the highest professional standards. It is also understood that they will self-regulate their profession in exchange for guarding and protecting the health and welfare of the public. Some of the ethics and standards of practice for these professions are enforced by laws; others are self-imposed. Regardless of the enforcement mechanism, all professionals must fully understand that their actions, the image they convey to the public, and the physical impact they have on the public's health and welfare, will either influence the public's trust in the profession or the opposite. For these reasons and many others, it is the responsibility of every engineer and engineering manager to apply and promote the ethics of the profession as part of his or her professional practice.