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Responsibility vs. Accountability – What’s the Difference?


Responsibility vs. Accountability – What’s the Difference?

In leadership, responsibility and accountability are both crucial aspects of a well-rounded leader, but what’s the difference? These two terms are almost always confused, interchanged and usually poorly understood.  In today’s post, we’re breaking down the differences and similarities between the two terms.

Responsibility vs. Accountability

A literature search highlights the fact that there doesn’t seem to be clear and thorough definitions for these terms. According to Merriam-Webster, responsibility is defined as “the quality or state of being responsible” and accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”.

In The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, authors Connors, Smith & Hickman suggests that:

“Responsibility may be bestowed, but accountability must be taken. To simply put, responsibility can be given or received, even assumed, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee that personal accountability will be taken. Which means that it’s possible to bear responsibility for something or someone but still lack accountability.”

Let’s examine the following simple scenario by Sylvia Lafair with Inc.

“Most of us grew up in a structure that called us out to be responsible. As children, we were responsible for taking out the garbage or putting our toys away in the toy bin. We lived in a check the box world. Here’s what you need to do, get it done and check it off the list. Our parents, however, were accountable. They needed to decide what makes up a happy family, and how to keep the house clean was merely one variable of a larger vision.”

Responsibility is a check the box mindset and accountability is a consequence mindset.

Responsibly Choose Accountability

Accountability is a choice. If that choice isn’t made, it’s possible to have responsibility but still lack accountability. When individuals, teams, and organizations chose greater accountability, you’ll see and get more. More ownership. More performance and more innovation. Responsibly, let’s choose accountability. As you do so, you’ll see that the strategy for success is accelerated, and productivity and creativity will soar.