ACCOUNTABILITY VS. RESPONSIBILITY: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?

Anyone who has spent even a little time in the workplace has heard about people needing accountability and responsibility to effectively do their jobs. However; these words are often used interchangeably, which can cause confusion as they both have distinct meanings. In this article, we will take a moment to break down what each term means and how you can utilize them day to day.

 

Accountability

Definition: an obligation or willingness to account for one's actions

Simply put accountability means taking personal ownership of ensuring that a task is completed. Note, that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you must also do the task itself. For example, a marketing manager may be accountable for ensuring that his/her team creates and installs a new decal onto a clients truck. However, this doesn’t mean that the manager has to create the graphic or attach the decal to the truck. Instead, he or she would monitor their team’s progress to verify that the overall installation of the decal meets their company’s high standards.

An important aspect of accountability is taking personal ownership of ensuring the task is effectively done on time and be willing to put in their own personal effort if an unexpected obstacle arises. In addition, while an entire team can be accountable for their tasks within a project there should only ever be one person who is accountable for the overall project. This is to ensure that if any issues arise the designated person can quickly report out the problem to their superiors and then work with the team to determine an effective solution. Having two people accountable to a project can lead to both employees assuming the other person is keeping everyone up to date on the project’s progress which could lead to miscommunication or a lack of direction for resolving an obstacle.

 

Responsibility

Definition:  something that it is your job or duty to deal with

Responsibility for an employee means that they are being tasked with ensuring that a specific task is completed. While initially, this may sound very similar to accountability the crucial difference is that the responsibility is being delegated out while accountability is personally assumed. Responsibility largely revolves around ensuring a specific task is complete within a deadline rather than monitoring an overall project. Furthermore, if the task isn’t completed within the deadline then the employee will be expected to report as to why the task can’t be completed or what obstacles are preventing progress on the task. Utilizing our earlier example, a graphic designer within the marketing team may be responsible for creating a truck decal while an installer may be responsible for applying the finished decal to the client’s truck.

Note that the main aspect to consider for responsibility is that the individual who is responsible for the task is also the same individual expected to actually do the work to ensure the task is completed. While it isn’t unusual for someone who is responsible for a task to ask for outside help they themselves still need to do the work to complete the task. For example, the graphic designer from our marketing team example may ask the marketing manager to help with gaining the client’s feedback on what decal they like, but the graphic design still needs to actually create the graphic themselves. Another point to consider is that a task can potentially have multiple people responsible for ensuring it is completed such as the installer from above having an assistant help out with applying the decal to the truck.

 

While both of these terms may sound similar, it’s important to keep them separate given both are crucial for ensuring that projects are completed in a reasonable time without error. If you need a quick refresher on the overall differences between both, use this handy chart below.

Accountability

The person who monitors the overall progress of a project

Should only be assigned to one person

Is needed so that the company can adapt to obstacles that come up during the completion of a task

Responsibility

The person or team that must do the work to complete a task

Can be assigned to multiple people

Is important to assign so that tasks are completed and progress is maintained for a project

 

If you would like to learn more about how to clearly utilize both accountability and responsibility within your teams, then reach out to us at the A Z Advisory Group. We have substantial experience implementing accountability charts into companies of all sizes and helping identify roles and responsibilities for all kinds of employees.

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