This edition of Professional Military Education (PME) discusses bystander behaviour and speaks about the actions we can take to avoid it.

'A Roadmap to the Extinction of a Bystander' is an article written to help define the term ‘bystander’ and explores the Chief of Army's Directive 03-21 on bystander behaviour. Start by reading this short article to introduce yourself to the topic.

Next, listen to this short podcast where Warrant Officer Class One Michael Coggan from WONCO-A discusses the bystander effect.

Want More?

For a more in depth look into bystander behaviour take a look at Chief of Army’s Directive 03-21 – Bystander Behaviour (DPN only).

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your definition of bystander behaviour?
  2. Do you have an example where you have seen bystander behaviour in action?
  3. How do we ensure that all NCOs and officers have the moral courage to stop bystander behaviour?
  4. Do you agree with the premise in the article that by holding our people to high standards and not allowing bystander behaviour, that we can get to a point where there are no longer bad soldiers and officers that need to be corrected by bystanders? Can we get to a point where we no longer need bystanders to speak up? Or will there always be a need for it?
  5. What is your role as NCOs and Warrant Officers in ensuring that the bystander effect doesn’t happen in your unit, sub unit, platoon, section, etc.?
  6. What is the best way to deal with an individual or group of people who have slipped below the expected standard?
  7. Does anyone have an example of how they have experienced bystander behaviour and what they did, or observed someone else do to rectify it?
  8. As WO1 Coggan says in the podcast, we all have a responsibility to uphold standards. Do you think there is a risk of being seen as having different standards based on the rank of the individual? How do we balance holding every rank to the same standard while treating everyone like an adult?
  9. What do you think your role is in the chain of command for setting and maintaining standards in your organisation?
  10. How do you guide and mentor those around you to maintain high standards and not contribute to bystander behaviour? Discuss the different ways you would handle a subordinate, peer and superior.

Other Activities

If you enjoyed this activity, why not try the other PMEs available on The Cove?

Want more material? For JNCOs to conduct with their soldiers, here is a link to our Quick Military Education resources. For Junior Officers here is a link to our Junior Officer PME sessions.

Concluding Comments

If you have suggestions for improvements – additional readings or reference material, alternative discussion points, new delivery methods – or just wish to provide feedback, please contact The Cove Team via

Here are the Facilitator Notes for this PME.