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Responsibility vs. Accountability in Leadership

Leaders are both responsible and accountable in their day-to-day tasks. Generally, many use these two terms interchangeably, mainly because they appear to have similar meanings, but they carry distinct meanings in leadership, which sometimes can be confusing.

This article will discuss responsibility and accountability and how they differ for the road ahead.

Responsibility identifies who oversees specific actions or tasks and refers to the obligation to perform or comply with the rule. In contrast, accountability specifies who is liable for the consequences of those actions and implies answerability for the outcome of the task or process.

Responsibility is imposed, whereas accountability is accepted. Responsibility can be partially delegated, but more is needed to empower accountability.

It is imperative to distinguish these two terms as it can lead to frustration, trust issues, difficulties with execution and potential burnout.

After reviewing many definitions, responsibility can be defined as fulfilling certain obligations or tasks. It is being responsible to someone or something. Each person in the team is responsible for certain tasks that must be fulfilled to complete a project or achieve a goal.

Accountability, on the other hand, refers to the act of taking responsibility. Each member of the team is responsible for their tasks fully and autonomously. Accountability precedes a situation or decision-making, reflecting how a person approaches and takes ownership.

When you look closely, responsibility is in the present, accountability is forever, and the difference between these concepts is: that you are responsible for things. You’re accountable to people, but both are conscious choices from within.

While accountability ultimately lies with company leaders, each team member can still be individually accountable for their role in reaching team goals.

Accountability starts with leaders, and leaders need to demonstrate exemplary behaviours to their teams because they are responsible for their teams’ ultimate successes and failures.

Trust is pivotal, so leaders must listen to and understand the concerns and ideas of their team members.

Provide support, engage team members with praise and encouragement when things are going well, and provide a safe space to share information on improving performance and discuss difficult issues without blaming anyone. The goal should always be to solve problems and to find solutions.

With continuous support, people need to make themselves accountable and accept the consequences of their actions. Don’t punish people for making mistakes but make it clear that mistakes have consequences.

Accountability and responsibility are big words, especially in leadership. Leadership can only be successful with accountability. Each team member and leader have a job to ensure company goals are achieved—but leaders must own the overall result. A leader’s ability to understand and assume accountability is critical for business success and the road ahead.


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