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What Are Responsibility and Accountability in Management?

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What does responsibility mean? What does accountability mean? Does your organization treat them as interchangeable terms leaving you wondering what exactly you're being tasked with?

It is important for a manager’s own self-development and the development of their people to have a clear understanding of the difference between accountability and responsibility, how the terms should be applied in the workplace, and why they’re important.

To help you gain such understanding, let’s start by defining accountability and responsibility.

 

Responsibility vs. Accountability: What Is the Difference In Management?

The Definition of Responsibility

Responsibility is having the obligation to complete a task or oversee the output of others that you are directly in charge of.

The Definition of Accountability

Accountability is the acceptance, good or bad, of your personal actions that contributed to attaining or failing to meet an intended goal.

Those in a management role are required to be both responsible and accountable. They are held responsible for whatever their span of control is, whether it be a team, business unit, facility, or process. They are held accountable for whatever their goals are whether it be revenue, customer satisfaction, or productivity.

 

Accountability and Responsibility in the Workplace

What a manager is responsible for should be well defined. Job descriptions are most often a list of responsibilities and senior leadership tends to focus much of their management attention and conversation on ensuring that those responsibilities are being met. For example, a manager could be responsible for a particular step in a manufacturing process and thus responsible for the people and machines that perform that step. That responsibility could entail ensuring the team understands and follows policy and procedures while the machines are well maintained and safe.

What managers are accountable for should also be well defined with clear boundaries, metrics, timelines, and be agreed to by both the senior leader and the manager. For example, a sales manager is accountable for hitting the agreed-upon revenue targets for a given time period, which could be a quarterly or annual target. For good or bad, they are solely accountable for hitting that target through the sales team they manage.

Learn what skills you need to excel as a leader in the guide to people  management.

The Importance of Accountability in Management

Organizations thrive when managers are accountable. When those in a management role are focused not only on what they’re responsible for but also accountable for how their own actions contributed to goal attainment, great things happen. Accountability reduces the time spent on unproductive and distracting activities that do not take individuals closer to their defined goal. Employees monitor their leaders to understand what is acceptable and how they themselves should operate. When their leader’s behaviors signal the importance of being accountable and how to actually do it daily, there is a great likelihood their employees will do the same, building an organization focused on accountability.

Organizations understand the importance of accountability and for good reason. When a company fosters a culture of accountability, there are significant positive outcomes.

  • It increases performance as there is a close eye on correcting less than optimal output while rewarding the results of achievement.
  • It builds trust as each individual, team, and department knows they can rely on one another.
  • It promotes employee engagement because it has been shown when individuals feel empowered to find solutions to achieve their goals, that sense of ownership is a key driver in employee engagement.

For these reasons, it is not surprising that in one study, 91% of those surveyed rank accountability as one of the top development needs of their company.

Conclusion: Responsibility and Accountability are Important

No one wants to follow a manager who isn’t responsible or dependable or one that places blame on others when things do not go according to plan. When managers lead by example, by being consistent, accountable, and focused on achieving the goal, they are modeling the behaviors that they want to instill in their employees. 

As much as accountability is critical to success, it can be overwhelming to put it into practice. You can overcome this by seeking out leadership training or a one-on-one coaching package. Both will support your success in management, as they encourage personal accountability, as well as equip you with the tools and techniques you need to intentionally establish accountability in others on the job.

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