Responsible or Accountable : Which is more significant to you?

What is it to be responsible vs. to be accountable?

Based on, Responsible is defined as “answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control or management.”  Accountable is defined as “subject to the obligation to report, explain or justify something.”

Therefore can a person be responsible and not accountable or not be responsible but accountable.

Is there a difference in your opinion?

Which is more significant in the workplace?  I used the word accountable more often that being responsible in the workplace.  I have asked myself why is accountable more significant to me?  The answer lies in taking ownership and being ready to take on the outcome whether good or bad.  Being responsible to me means that I am carrying out a task or a promise but I may not be ready to accept the consequences of that action.  For example, I am tasked with completing project A.  The desired outcome of project A is to increase sales by xx%.  To be responsible to is to take on the task, complete it and report back that I have completed the task.  To be accountable is to then take on the outcome of meeting the goal of increasing sales by xx% and taking on the consequences of achieving or not achieving the goal.

Being accountable takes it one step further, beyond just completing a task, it’s about accepting the consequences of the decision and actions.

What is your perception of accountability?

What is your attitude towards accountability?

Who holds your accountable?

I have experienced many direct reports, peers and managers who have demonstrated accountability at various levels.    I believe that the difference in the way that it is handled lies in courage/fear.  It is not easy to be accountable for bad results.  The human nature will want to find a blame factor or a scapegoat.  It is not a pleasant situation to admit that a decision was wrong or that an action led to a not desirable outcome.  To accept failure is not part of our DNA.  Hence lies the difficulties in being accountable.  It is either our fear or courage that will determine what level of accountability we are willing to taken on.  On areas that might not mean as much as to us in terms of significance, we might be extremely bold and courageous.  In situation where we are not afraid to fail or nothing to lose, the level of accountability is high.  However, when a situation might mean that we are going to lose a job or reputation, would we still be so bold?

Let’s face it, being accountable means standing up for a conviction without fear or favour.  It’s about doing the right thing.  Hence the varying degree of accountability.  When I first started my career, I will now admit that the fear factor was high and the fear of negative results, consequences drove a lot of the decision-making process as well as how I took on ownership and accountability.  As I became more established, built credibility and results, the fear naturally decreased as confidence increased.  And once the fear of losing my job diminished, it was incredibly freeing and empowering which allowed for greater level of accountability.  In my humble opinion, once we are no longer afraid of consequences, the level by which we are able to be self-critical and objective about success or fail is different.  We are able to take accountability to a different level.

Would you consider yourself as an Accountable or Responsible person or both?

What is your current comfort level with accountability?

Do you desire to be accountable?

Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone of blaming others vs. being accountable for your actions?

Who are you accountable for?

Who are you accountable to?

To be self-critical in assessing where we stand is the first step towards taking responsibility and accountability for your own development.  Are you ready to start?


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