It is crucial for one's own development and the development of their people to clearly understand the difference between accountability and responsibility in the workplace and why both skills are essential for success.
In this article, we will explore the difference between responsible vs accountable, examples of how responsibility and accountability are demonstrated at work, why accountability is important, and a quiz to take to see if you're accountable.
The best place to start to understand the topic is with a definition of responsible and a definition of accountable. This will help you gain an understanding of how they're different, yet both critical competencies for anyone in management.
Responsibility is having the obligation to complete a task or oversee the output of others that you are directly in charge of.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 demonstrate it with their behaviors and actions, there is a greater likelihood their employees will do the same, building an organization focused on accountability.
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.
Now that you know what it means to be accountable in management and its importance, the question remains: just how accountable are you? To help you find out, take the following quiz!
No one wants to follow a manager who isn’t dependable or who 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.