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Ethics scandals, such as the accounting practices that brought down not only Enron but the audit firm of Arthur Andersen, led to regulations that required increased corporate oversight to protect against ethics violations. Many companies now have positions for an ethics and compliance officer to help ensure all corporate activities are legal and ethical.
Core Qualifications and Skills
Although the board of directors in a company should determine exactly what constitutes ethical behavior for its workers and executives, the ethics officer needs certain characteristics and skills. Integrity might be the most important. She must have the courage to bring potential or actual ethics violations to her superiors and to protect employees who report ethics violations. An ethics and compliance officer must be able to manage multiple projects. She also should have excellent verbal and written communication skills.
Policies, Message and Support
Although laws and regulations are typically clear-cut, ethics deals with human behavior, and there are many gray areas. Employees must understand the organization’s ethical policies and follow them consistently. The ethics officer is often the person who writes the policies and integrates the corporate ethics message into the organization’s culture. She also must encourage people to come forward if they see possible ethics violations, by building relationships at all levels and supporting those who make ethics reports.
Keeping it Clean
Secondary responsibilities include monitoring, identifying and reporting possible ethics violations. The ethics officer might investigate a claim of dishonesty or poor service and report her findings to the CEO or board of directors. In some cases, she must report to outside agencies. She also might work with other executives to ensure that all departmental policies address ethics and that the organization does not put barriers in the way of ethical behavior or reporting possible violations.
Background Requirements and Pay
An ethics officer is typically a member of the senior management team, although that could vary from one organization to another. As such, she is likely to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and in larger organizations typically would have a master’s degree. Her basic education might be in the legal field, human resources, security, education, theology or philosophy. She might hold a general or specialty certification in ethics and compliance from an organization such as the Compliance Certification Board. Indeed.com reports the average annual salary for chief ethics compliance officers was $91,000 in 2014.