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Accountability and Responsibility: What’s the Difference?

Responsibility and accountability are more than corporate buzzwords: they’re the cornerstones of successful companies. Leaders must work proactively to encourage effective collaboration while giving team members the support needed to fulfill responsibilities.

The differences in the accountability vs responsibility debate are slight but worth noting. Here, we’ll explore these crucial characteristics and how they are developed.

Defining Responsibility

Responsibility is the ability to perform assigned tasks while responding to events and situations in the workplace. It’s often associated with guilt, fault, and blame, which leads many to avoid it. While some see responsibility as a burden, it’s a conscious, individual choice.

Explaining Accountability

When we acknowledge our responsibilities and answer to others for the results of our decisions and actions, accountability occurs. Without acceptance, obligation, answerability, choice, and commitment, there’s no accountability in the workplace.


Accountability and Responsibility

The difference between these two distinct but equally important concepts is that we’re accountable to our supervisors and colleagues, but we’re responsible for our actions and choices. Team members are responsible for finishing tasks on time, and they’re held accountable when deadlines aren’t met. When leaders commit to changes and give others the tools to accomplish goals, they acknowledge their responsibilities while holding themselves and others accountable.

Creating an Accountability Mindset

Accountability-centric cultures encourage leaders and team members to exert control over their results. According to Jessica Kriegel, a pre-eminent workplace culture scientist, a culture of accountability benefits companies by:

  • Helping them make better choices faster.
  • Encouraging them to consider the opinions and skills of all team members.
  • Engaging employees more effectively.
  • Not wasting energy and effort on office conflicts.
  • Boosting productivity.
  • Improving customer service.
  • Giving teams the autonomy they need.
  • Achieving goals.

Leaders can create an accountability mindset by providing attainable, specific goals and expectations, encouraging team members to commit to desired outcomes, and outlining consequences when goals are not achieved.

Tips for Leaders

While accountability lies with leadership, team members can be individually accountable for the roles they play. Encourage responsibility and accountability by:

  • Remembering that it starts at the top. Leaders must model the behaviors they want to see in their teams.
  • Building trust. Without it, your workplace will devolve into a culture of blame-shifting and deception. To build trust, listen to and validate workers’ ideas and concerns.
  • Practicing cultural alignment. When showing outsiders how the job gets done, set clear expectations, supervise teams supportively, and exemplify the values the company upholds.
  • Providing feedback. Give team members a safe space to discuss issues and receive feedback without shifting blame.

Don’t punish team members for mistakes but remind them that errors have consequences. With ongoing support, people will hold themselves accountable.

Our Closing Thoughts

Getting back to the basics of workplace responsibility and accountability is essential. It helps us become more self-aware, it allows us to understand why we do the things we do, and it helps us implement the changes we wish to see.

Corporate leadership can’t succeed without accountability. Every leader and team member has a role in ensuring that goals are met, but organizers must take responsibility for the results achieved. When executives recognize these qualities, they increase their chances of success. Learn how Culture Partners can help your team foster a culture of accountability and responsibility by booking a consultation with one of our senior partners today.

Bryan Cunningham is a writer who explores many different types of stories. He is skilled at creating interesting tales in various categories, making his work enjoyable for a wide range of readers.

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