The terms accountability and responsibility are often thought to be interchangeable but, from a management perspective, there’s a huge difference between them that needs to be understood if individuals and organisations are to be successful.
Accountability means that as well as being responsible for something, you’re also going to be answerable for your actions and the results – you need to ensure that you can account for your activities and their outcomes and be liable for the things you do. Accountability cannot be shared whilst responsibility can.
When you take responsibility, you have authority over your actions. A task or project may be yours alone to deliver, but you know that the person who gave you the task has also invested in its successful completion. Responsibility requires reliability, dependability and the skill to successfully complete the task assigned to you. In that respect, you could say that a responsible person is always accountable.
Accountability and responsibility are both key features in any work situation but it’s especially important when working in a team. We’ve all seen the “I thought someone else was doing that” scenario so its essential that one person is accountable for pulling together the whole project, whilst the rest of the team takes responsibility for delivering their own assigned task in support of the main project. Encouraging team members to take responsibility will not only help move the project move forward, but will also make them feel more trusted and supported.
In any decision, strategy or task, accountability and responsibility both contribute to its ultimate success or failure. However, although the responsible person may do the actual work and make the decisions, it’s the accountable person who has the management or governance role to oversee the work.