Accountability Vs Responsibility



Accountability and responsibility are two terms commonly considered interchangeable, but when you manage projects, you begin to see very distinct differences. It quite the oxymoron as the terms convey a strong association to the everyday user, and indeed they do not stand independently from one another, but the impact of the difference can be immense.  The project manager who understands the difference and can help promote an accountable environment will inevitably have a more successful career.

The difference in accountability and responsibility

Simply put, the difference between the two terms is that responsibility involves having authority over one’s actions. Accountability means you are liable or answerable for one’s actions. In order to be responsible, you must be accountable and vice versa.

Accountability in the project team

Accountability and responsibility are key features in any workplace but here at The Tomorrow Lab, accountability is the pivotal hinge which each and every one of our projects stands upon.

The smart project manager will realise the difference between accountability and responsibility fairly early on in their career.  The smart project manager will only work with people who make themselves accountable.  The smart project manager will make they themselves accountable.  Some web projects can be pretty complex, requiring multiple people delivering within their own specialisms and therefore it is only logical that project managers can only succeed if each person is accountable for their assigned tasks.

Responsibility may be bestowed, but accountability must be taken.
– the Oz Principle

The right mixture of accountability and responsibility

We are lucky at The Tomorrow Lab in that we don’t just see our tasks as a responsibility in the traditional sense. We take things personally.  We stand up, grab hold, get things done, and are ultimately accountable for our own specialisms.

For example, the developer is accountable to solve technical problems (fast and flexible ecommerce sites), produce quality code that is as future proof and bug free as possible.  The UX designer is accountable for ensuring a top notch interface that people will love to use and one that is not riddled with implementation headaches.  The project manager is accountable for identifying project goals and keeping the project within scope, on time and at a high quality level.  And of course, the client too. They are accountable for engaging to the best of their ability with the project, making sound business decisions and cooperating.

When people take accountability they are more engaged and produce far better results.  A project manager must cultivate an environment that helps people achieve this by providing clarity, realistic goals, space to achieve and individual respect and trust in that person to deliver – and fix it when they don’t.  Negative associations e.g. statements like ‘I hold you accountable’ only incite a blame culture that is toxic.

Together, a team of people will have collective responsibility for delivering a project, which is much more likely to be a success if they are each accountable for their own tasks and never willing to pass the buck.  That’s why we at The Tomorrow Lab work hard to recruit people not only with the right skills, but with the right attitude.  We won’t get it right every time – but we will always take ownership when we falter.


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