Returning library books on time, stopping at a red light or offering a seat to senior citizens is our responsibility. But we also have to be accountable when we tear a page out of a book or jump a traffic signal. Responsibility and accountability are two sides of the same coin.

Responsibility is often confused with accountability, but there’s a significant difference between the two. The former is our duty (something that we’re expected to do) and the latter is a personal choice (an ethical or moral decision).

Accountability is about being aware of your mistakes and owning them up. Responsibility is what you’re required to do at work—completing your tasks on time and following up where needed. Ignoring the difference between the two can undermine the importance of accountability in our personal and professional lives.

Just doing the bare minimum may not help you achieve your goals. Sometimes you might have to make a personal decision to be accountable for your words and actions to get where you want to reach.

Let’s look at the difference between accountability and responsibility with examples.

Difference Between Accountability And Responsibility

At workplaces, we have predefined responsibilities. These are the duties set out for us in the job description.

For example, the duties of an audit associate at an accounting firm comprise year-end filing, bookkeeping and visiting client sites to make an inventory. Meanwhile, accountability for an auditor would be to ensure that all numbers tally and account for discrepancies or instances of fraud. If something goes wrong and there’s a misstep in their professional judgment, it can lead to litigation and heavy losses for the firm.

Responsibility and accountability are interdependent. Understanding this relationship will help you overcome obstacles at work such as conflicts, budgetary concerns and legal actions. Here’s a broad overview of the difference between accountability and responsibility.

  1. You have to fulfill your responsibility before you can be accountable for it.

First, you have to be clear on the roles and responsibilities associated with your position. If you’re a digital marketer, you may have to look after your organization’s social media platforms. Or, an IT specialist will have to ensure that the system is up-to-date to mitigate errors.

Second, you have to be accountable if things go wrong. If a digital marketer uploads sensitive material on social media without approval, there may be trouble. Similarly, the IT specialist’s oversight can result in the entire system crashing down.

  1. You need skills to meet your responsibilities and judgment to be accountable.

When you apply for a job, you might highlight your skills and abilities, strengths and weaknesses in your resume. Focusing on your experience and what you can do can help you land the job of your choice. These skills will get converted into your responsibilities at work and help you improve your performance.

Meanwhile, your accountability at work needs your professional judgment—how you assess a problem, resolve conflicts or communicate with your co-workers.

  1. You can share your responsibility but not your accountability.

If you work in a team, you can share your responsibilities and tasks with other colleagues. Everyone is responsible for their individual as well as group tasks. Working collectively to achieve organizational goals is an employee’s ultimate responsibility. But accountability is about being answerable for your decisions and actions alone.

  1. You can be responsible before and after the task but accountability is only about results.

Being responsible for your work is a continuous process. It doesn’t end simply when you’re done with your tasks. You may have to revisit some of them to check if they’ve been completed optimally. But you can be held accountable only when the task is completed. You have to be answerable for the decisions that led to the results. Addressing a co-worker’s negligence or your oversight is part of being accountable.

You need to understand accountability and responsibility in the workplace to deliver the best results. Accountability and responsibility in management can enhance team performance and identify who should be held accountable for what. For organizations that want to achieve their targets without compromising on quality, it’s necessary to encourage their employees to be accountable for their work.

Harappa Education’s Navigating Workplaces course will teach you how to identify decision-makers, navigate different work styles and manage office politics. Sometimes it’s hard to hold just one person accountable, especially if you work in teams where tasks are interdependent. With our course, you’ll develop the insight to understand accountability, which will lead to enhanced collaboration at the workplace.

Explore topics such as Employee Engagement, Employee Engagement Strategies, Employee Development, Principles of Delegation & Process of Delegation from our Harappa Diaries section and give your employees the right tools for development.

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