What It Means to Be Responsible and Accountable in the Workplace

Blaming others for results is not being accountable for your work.
i Christopher Robbins/Digital Vision/Getty Images

When a manager tells you to be responsible and accountable at work, you might be confused at what she means. Many people often use these workplace buzzwords to mean the same thing, when they have different meanings. Your ability to be responsible and accountable is a direct result of the tasks you are assigned and your personal work ethic when you take ownership of your work product.

Responsibility and Accountability

    When you are hired for a job, your manager provides you a list of your duties, also known as responsibilities. She'll tell you that it is your job to ensure the tasks on the list are completed when due. While you can be assigned a variety of responsibilities, whether or not you are accountable depends on your character. A person who demonstrates accountability takes the hit if she doesn't complete the task on schedule. When you refuse to be accountable, you'll place the blame on someone else for the project's failure.

Work Ethic and Character

    Some people could care less about their work product. They slap together a report haphazardly or do the least amount of work they can just to get their paycheck. Instead of displaying a positive work ethic and character by taking personal pride in their work, they only do what is required of them and no more. People with solid work ethic and character take responsibility for the work they do. They demonstrate a willingness to not only ensure the job is done, but also accept responsibility for the results -- good or bad. They take their assigned duties seriously and go the extra mile to make sure the work is the best that it can be. When you have character and are accountable, you recognize that the quality of your work is also a representation of you.

Not My Fault

    The person at work that says, "It's not my fault," does not accept the liability for any results. She is not unlike the waitress who ignores your request for water by saying, "It's not my table." For example, instead of following up with other teammates to ensure the project is completed timely, the unaccountable worker forgets about the project the minute it leaves her desk. If the project's deadline is missed, she'll be sure to let everyone know that she did her part. A person who demonstrates accountability makes it a point to follow up with team members so that the project doesn't fall through the cracks.

Taking Ownership

    In the book "The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual And Organizational Accountability" authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith share that "taking personal accountability means making a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results; to see it, own it, solve it and do it.” Accountability is something you choose to exhibit – it is not assigned to you. Both authors agree: "In short, you can be given responsibility, but you have to take accountability."

the nest