Accountability vs. Responsibility

Accountability vs. Responsibility

People often use the words accountability and responsibility interchangeably.  I do too.  However, because I am a strong believer that specific words have specific meanings, I decided to clarify their use, so I could increase the effectiveness of my communication to people.

Accountability is the responsibility to take action.  Responsibility is the authority given to you to do something.  Accountability must be taken.  Responsibility must be given.  That means that you can have responsibility for someone or something, but not take accountability for them/it.  For example, I can be given the responsibility by my boss to hire another salesperson on my team.  If I hire someone within the timeline, I have been accountable (taken action).  If I do not hire someone within the timeline, I have not been accountable (not taken action).   Accountability is something you do yourself, not something done for you.

Discussions about accountability happen when things go wrong – that is, when someone “drops the ball.”  A person says, “I did not know that I owned this project.”  Lack of accountability most often occurs because the when, what and how of a specific responsibility was not clearly defined for them.  The more clear people are on their duties, the more likely they will be to take personal accountability for them.  When people take personal accountability for results, they take ownership for making sure that the ball does not get dropped.  Thus, managers must be clear on the outcomes that they want from people to build a culture of accountability within their organizations.

All contents copyright © 2011, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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