Group of colleagues chatting

Accountability vs responsibility

You’ve got a few years of experience under your belt, and you’ve stepped up to a leadership role. You feel you are ready for the responsibility. But are you acting in a way that is accountable? And what is the difference between the two? 

Understanding expectations

Responsibility and accountability are often confused. They are similar but the differences are important. Responsibility is all about what happens before a task is completed. It is about whether you are capable enough to see it through. It is about your duty, timeframes, ability and intrinsic motivation. Responsibility requires self-management, and responsibility can also be shared across a team, but it is a choice. Whether you and/or your team are responsible enough will usually be measured by an outcome – was the project delivered on time, on budget and is the solution fit for purpose?  

Accountability is slightly different. It is about what happens after an event and is usually related to a single person. The phrase, ‘the buck stops here’ relates to accountability. You cannot choose to be accountable yourself, other people will apply accountability to you. So, did your project run over time? Did it cost too much? Did it fall short of requirements? As team leader, you will have to be accountable for the results even if you weren’t personally responsible for the decisions that led to them.  

The importance for emerging leaders

If you are new to a leadership role, you need to be aware of why accountability matters, and what it means in the context of your responsibilities to your team. You may be used to speaking up, implementing good ideas and showing natural leadership – that is why you are in this leadership position. But this may be the first time you have ever been held accountable for your actions, and those of the people who report to you.  

Being accountable isn’t just about being able to explain why you did or did not do something in your team. It is also about being able to identify problems early-on and take action to counter them because you recognise it is beneficial to the organisation. If you’re acting responsibly, you are probably acting accountably.   

Use RASCI to stay accountable 

RASCI is a project management matrix that can help young and emerging leaders understand when they need to be responsible, when they need to be accountable, and how to unite both for the benefit of project delivery.  

It is an acronym and it stands for: 

Responsible – whose job is it to complete a task? Can be more than one. 
Accountable –  who has ultimate project control? Can only be one.  
Supporting – who provides assistance to those who are ‘responsible’? Team members. 
Consulted – who gives advice to those who are ‘responsible’? Consultants and contractors.  
Informed – who needs to be kept in the loop? Project stakeholders.  

Use this framework to resolve conflict, clear up confusion, manage workflow and resource allocation and to keep clear records. It isn’t just a great project management tool, it’s also a great way for team leaders to stay accountable while being responsible.  

Discover more about Project Management Fundamentals to deliver your projects within budget, on time and with high quality results. 

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