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What Does It Mean to Take Responsibility for Your Actions At Work?

What Does It Mean to Take Responsibility for Your Actions At Work?

Today’s workplace is arguably more interconnected than ever. What you do may not only affect your own productivity, performance, and success, but your coworkers, teammates, bosses, customers, and so forth. For this reason, it is imperative that you take responsibility for your actions and maintain a high level of personal accountability even in the face of failure. 

Is it easy to do? Of course not. 

Is it worth it? Absolutely. 

In the following article, you will find what it means to take responsibility for your actions, examples of taking responsibility at work, and the key factors that impact one’s likelihood of doing so. 


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What Does It Mean To Take Responsibility for Your Actions?

Taking responsibility for your actions requires the realization that you play a part in every situation or experience and, therefore, have some degree of responsibility over the outcomes or consequences. You may have heard it referred to as taking accountability. It means that your first reaction when a mistake is made or a conflict arises isn’t to blame others, make excuses, twist the facts, or flat-out lie. Instead, you swiftly acknowledge there is a problem, identify your role in it, and implement an action plan to minimize (or entirely eliminate) the chances of it happening again.


Examples of Taking Responsibility for Your Actions

As one Forbes author pointed out, someone who takes responsibility for their actions is an accountable individual. Here is what that may look like in action on the job:

  • You recognize and own up to your part of what is occurring
  • If your message is hurtful to someone, you are willing to examine how your communication may have been damaging
  • You don't blame others when you're at fault
  • You don't make excuses for why things are happening
  • You don't pawn off all the responsibility (or all the failure) onto your team or subordinate
  • If you continually miss deadlines or essential project parameters, you don't pretend that it is all out of your control
  • If your employee or team is failing, you don't stick your head in the sand and stay in denial - you proactively do something about it
  • If your relationships are faltering, you’re open to seeing how you’re contributing to (and even exacerbating) the challenges and conflict


What Makes Someone Take Responsibility for Their Actions?

As Martin Luther King Jr. stated in a 1953 radio address, “One of the most common tendencies of human nature is that of placing responsibility on some external agency for mistakes we have made. We are forever attempting to find some scapegoat on which we cast responsibility for our actions.”

So, what exactly would make someone take responsibility for their actions at work? In an article for Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine that cross-referenced a number of studies, it was found that “when you believe that your behavior can change, you are more likely to be willing to admit responsibility. A big reason why you are able to admit fault is that you recognize that once you admit what you have done wrong, you can work to make it better, and so you are not threatened by admitting mistakes. People who do not believe that they can change are stressed by admitting their mistakes because they believe that those mistakes say something fundamental about who they are as a person.”

This highlights the importance of non-judgemental team culture and a relationship of trust with one’s direct leader when it comes to taking responsibility for your actions. If those things do not exist, it is not surprising that you are stressed, anxious, or fearful of taking responsibility for your actions as you assume ridicule, hostility, or even disciplinary action will follow. On the other hand, when your team’s culture is non-judgemental and everyone, including your leader, has your best interests at heart, taking responsibility for your actions actually becomes a valuable learning experience that you can move on from.



It is never easy to take responsibility for your actions, especially when those actions have consequences. But rest assured; it is worth it! As the bestselling author John C. Maxwell once said, “People who blame others for their failures never overcome them. They simply move from problem to problem. To reach your potential, you must continually improve yourself, and you can't do that if you don't take responsibility for your actions and learn from your mistakes.” 

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