Antecedents and consequences of ethical leadership of PR practitioners

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The purpose of this research was to explore antecedents and consequences of public relations practitioners' ethical leadership behavior. Before doing so, this study integrated practitioners' ethical behavior into the concept of ethical leadership behaviors. Ethical leadership behavior in public relations is not only the application of ethical standards in day-to-day work, but is also the promotion of ethics: A practitioner promotes ethics by acting as an ethics counselor, and an activist. I administered an online survey to the 252 members of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in August and September of 2008. I mainly used factor analysis and regression analyses to test the research questions and hypotheses. Ethical behavior of public relations practitioners are composed of two dimensions - applying ethical standards, and promoting ethics within an organization. This result is consistent with the conceptual definition of ethical leadership. In addition, ethical autonomy was found to be a prerequisite of ethical leadership. The findings suggested that organizational environment and individual factors affect ethical leadership behaviors. Regarding organizational environment, the ethics of the top management were found to be a fundamental source of an organization's ethical culture. Top management's support for ethical behavior facilitated the establishment of formal ethics systems, such as codes of ethics, ethics training programs, and ethics officers. It also fostered an open communication environment. Among formal and informal ethics systems, only an open communication environment significantly affected the level of ethical autonomy. The organizational environment also fostered dissent actions against unethical decisions. If top management did not encourage ethical behavior, public relations practitioners were more likely to confront management against unethical decisions. Agitating tactics were more often used in the organizations which did not have an ethics code. In an organization that repressed discussion, practitioners were more likely to use information selectively to make their own arguments against unethical decisions, and to sabotage the unethical decisions. On the other hand, individual ethical positions affected practitioners. Practitioners with a high level of idealism and low relativisitic ethical stances were more likely to apply ethics standards at work, and to act as ethics counselors. Practitioners with high idealistic and low relativistic ethical stances preferred confrontational actions. Advocates of ethical relativism were more likely to collect information to make their own arguments, use sabotage and even leak information about unethical decisions. As consequences of ethical leadership behaviors, the levels of ethical influence and job satisfaction were examined. The more practitioners perceived that they applied ethical principles to their work; the more likely they were to perceive that their views about ethics were influential. The perceived level of ethical influence was also strong among practitioners who confronted management over unethical decisions. These behaviors appeared to increase job satisfaction through an increase in ethical influence. However, enacting the ethics counselor role was not positively associated with the level of ethical influence. Lastly, answers to the open-ended question suggest that ethical conflicts decrease practitioners' job satisfaction.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Mass Communications, Sociology, Organizational, Business Administration, Management