Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Responsibility And Accountability

Responsibility builds strength!Most of us value those who have the mental and emotional strength to take responsibility and to be held accountable. We become frustrated and angry when there is a lack of accountability at the higher levels of our organization, or when those at lower levels seem to refuse to take responsibility.

Since those two issues are important for respect and confidence, let’s look at their definitions to get some clarity:

Responsible: Able to be trusted or depended upon; reliable. Liable to be required to give account, as of one’s actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust. Involving personal accountability or the ability to act without guidance or superior authority.

Accountable: Liable to being called to account; answerable, responsible for actions and results.

Hmmmm. It appears that responsibility and accountability are just about the same! If we are responsible, we can be held accountable. If we are held accountable, we were responsible.

There are two things to note about responsibility and accountability:

  • Have you noticed that we tend to think of responsibility as a good thing, but being held accountable as punitive? 
  • It is nearly always easier to apply those concepts to the other guy than to ourselves.

We often brag (sometimes by pretending to complain) about all of our responsibilities and how the weight of everything is on us. But, if it looks like there will be negative comments, we are suddenly more than willing to share the responsibility: “Someone else was in charge! I barely was involved at all.”

We say we want our supervisors and managers to be held accountable. (“They never get in trouble but we always do!”) But, we condemn them for micromanaging or not trusting us, if they try to make sure nothing goes wrong. Think of that logic: “I want them to get out of the way and let me do my work. Then, I want them to be held accountable if there is a problem with the way I do my work.”

Communicating about responsiblity and accountability: As with most workplace issues, we would all benefit by more open communications about responsiblity and accountability. One way to do it is to use the words:

  • “I want you to be responsible.”
  • Make me responsible for it.”
  • “I’m giving you the responsibility for this.”
  • “You lived up to your responsibilities. Great job!”
  • “This has to be done correctly because you and I will be held accountable for it.”
  • “All of us will be held accountable for this, so I will be checking with you to make sure we are on schedule and that it’s going well.”

Notice how uncomfortable you feel even thinking about telling an employee he or she will be held accountable? No wonder many employees are shocked at the idea!

Noble weights: Responsibility and accountability can be burdens, no doubt about it, but they are noble burdens. (Noble: That’s a word we don’t use much anymore!)

We develop personally and professionally when we look for ways to be held responsible and when we are willing to be held accountable. That might require us to carry a heavier mental and emotional load than someone who has no sense of responsibility, or who avoids accounting for his or her actions. However, the weight of it will not drag you down. Ultimately it is the very thing that will help you stand tall in your work. You will gain strength, and that strength will show in your confidence and in the respect others have for you.

Maybe that is why those who shirk responsibility or who prefer to put it all on others, seem so small and puny!

June 26th, 2008 Posted by | Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 4 comments


  1. Hello Tina, this is just to thank you for the great job you did in Englewood last month. You were by far the best speaker of the day, and the prettiest too!

    This is a good post about responsibility. I hadn’t thought of quite that way, but you are right that people will jump up to say they want authority or they want to be put in charge of something, but they don’t usually say they want to be held responsible for it. I think I’ll try using some of those words you suggest. Sean (the body-builder, like Charles Atlas in this post.)

    Comment by Sean Jamison | June 27, 2008

  2. Thanks for the nice compliment! I had a good time there and enjoyed meeting everyone. You mentioned about people only wanting to go out of town for training. Think about this approach:

    “Who wants to go out of town for training? You’ll be held fully accountable for attending every session. Then, you’ll be responsible for developing a briefing about it upon return. It will also be your full responsiblity to submit vouchers on time, and you’ll be held accountable if there are errors.”

    That ought to save you some training dollars! 🙂 Tina

    Comment by Tina | June 27, 2008

  3. Noble burdens. A very good phrase that I’ll borrow. I’ll also try to remember it this next week when I have to accept some blame. I wish the person who is most responsible would step forward to take his share, but I think the buck will stop with me. I’m going to stand tall, thanks to your Sunday inspirational message. Kind regards, Don

    Comment by DR | June 29, 2008

  4. Thank you for writing, Don! I wish I could make this coming week better! I understand your willingness to accept the results, even of someone else’s actions. But I have to also say, in all honesty, and because I respect you, that I believe you would have done that employee a favor to be more stern about his mistakes a long time ago.

    I’ve sent you an email about this, but I wanted to include it in a comment, in case others read them. My experience…my harsh experience…has been that when we let people get by easily when they make mistakes, and we take the brunt of the negative results ourselves, they don’t even realize what we’ve done for them.

    And the person who is angry about the mistake probably does realize what we’ve done, and thinks we’re weak because we’re too nice. Or worse yet, thinks we ARE responsible and after awhile figures we’re dopes!

    It’s difficult to balance, but being responsible also means placing responsibility in the right places too and holding people accountable. (I think that is where this all began!)

    Comment by Tina | June 29, 2008

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