A commentary on Pells’ “higher purpose” editorial, Part 2


Organisational social responsibilities


By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


This commentary relates to social responsibility issues raised by Pells 2021 in Part 2 of his editorial Project management needs a higher purpose! He discusses corporate social responsibility (CSR) at large in some detail before raising questions about its relevance to the project management world. This commentary is intended to contribute further to some of his discussions on CSR activities.

Pells starts his discussions by pointing out that CSR began to truly take hold in the U.S. in the 1970s, notably when the concept of the “social contract” between business and society was declared by the Committee for Economic Development in 1971. In Australia, I first became interested in this topic in the mid-1970s while working with Lend Lease and its subsidiary Civil & Civic. My enquiries at the time found that there were vast differences of opinion, and of practice, as to the types of social responsibility activities that could be, and were being, undertaken. I am led to understand that there is still little agreement on this topic, so that revisiting some of my earlier work may still have some current relevance.

First, we briefly look at two different perceptions of the role of business organisations – i.e. profit-only, and broader perceptions, and I introduce relevant quotations from the CEOs of Lend Lease and Civil & Civic. Broader perceptions are congenial to social responsibility activities, whose concept and take-up are then briefly discussed.

We then turn to look at types of corporate social responsibility activities, and use the three “social contract” responsibilities declared by the Committee for Economic Development in 1971 as the bases for discussion. Essentially, the first two social responsibilities are concerned with “fair and honest” conduct of the business regarding providing jobs and economic growth, and then more explicitly on employees and customers. We discuss the latter, and extensions to it, particularly in the context of the Lend Lease approach.

The third “social contract” responsibility is to become more broadly involved in improving the conditions of the community and the environment in which it operates. Here I discuss differences between what I have labelled Philanthropic/ ex-competence and Operational in-competence approaches, and also their relationship with stages of the organisation’s growth, and other factors.


Profit-only perceptions and practices

Historically, business organisations were primarily concerned with producing goods and services to help cope with problems of scarcity. Their goal, and that of society at large, was economic growth. And, in pursuing growth, private enterprise organisations were expected to maximise their profits to shareholders. Profit maximisation came to be seen as the sole raison d’etre of business.

In spite of movements away from this perception – to be discussed shortly – there is no doubt that it continues to be widely held, and practiced. On a global scale we had the 2008 financial crisis, which was strongly associated with unbridled pursuit of profits. In more recent times in Australia we have seen stark examples of uncontrolled pursuit of profits in the banking industry, resulting in highly detrimental consequences for very many people. However, in spite of large numbers of very widely publicised examples of great harm caused by the single-minded pursuit of profit maximisation, this perception of the role of business organisations appears to still be strongly entrenched, and unlikely to go away any time soon.


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How to cite this article: Stretton, A. (2021). A commentary on Pells’ “higher purpose” editorial, Part 2: Organisational social responsibilities; PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue III, March. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pmwj103-Mar2021-Stretton-on-organisational-social-responsibilities-commentary.pdf

About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD     

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)


Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 200 professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at alanailene@bigpond.com.au.

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.