Accountability is a huge topic when it comes to leadership and management. The thing is, it’s quite a tricky one to understand because it’s not overly tangible or concrete when it comes to implementation. You can’t really just tell someone “be more accountable” or “take accountability” and expect them to just do it, particularly when it comes to more junior of less experienced members of your team.

Accountability vs responsibility

One area of confusion can be understanding the differences between accountability and responsibility. In summary:

  • Accountability: this is where you are the person who owns the overall outcome of a project or task, along with dealing with the consequences of it. Whether that is positive or negative. Another way of describing accountability is that someone takes ownership of the success or failure of a project or task. They have final say and the final call over most key decisions or direction as a result.
  • Responsibility: this is where you play a role in the completion of a task or a project, but you may not necessarily be the person who needs to ensure that the project as a whole is a success. You may also be accountable, but you don’t have to be in order to be responsible.

When it comes to management, a key challenge that many managers will face is to get their team to not only understand these differences, but also to get people to take accountability and responsibility.

People can sometimes avoid these because there is an implication that accountability and responsibility are about placing blame with someone when something goes wrong.

Unfortunately, this implication can sometimes be well founded in cultures that allow for the focus to be on blaming someone as opposed to learning and moving forward.

Taking accountability

When it comes to taking accountability, one of the most effective things that you can do as a manager is to lead by example and take accountability for your own actions and projects. This is particularly important for accountability because as we’ve discussed above, it’s quite an intangible concept, so you can make it more concrete and easier to understand by openly showing when you’re doing it yourelf.

For example, you can openly talk about being accountable for a project or being accountable for the outputs of the whole team. Then go a step further by describing what it means in reality – such as you taking ultimate accountability for the work that your team delivers, but the team members themselves play a big part in this and are responsible for their respective tasks and work.

Your goal as a manager is to build a culture where team members aren’t afraid of taking accountability because they see this as a positive thing and not something that will be used against them at some point.

Ultimately, taking accountability for work is about being prepared to maintain high standards with the work that you deliver.

Accountability examples

As we’ve discussed, the nature of accountability means that it’s often quite intangible and tricky for someone to truly understand and embrace. This is actually why a lot of people will default to the negative outcome – that accountability is a negative word and that it’s more about pinning blame on someone.

This is why being able to share accountability examples is so important. We all learn better by seeing examples and as a leader, giving examples that relate to your team and their everyday work will help with driving accountability into your team.

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