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