Responsibility vs. Accountability: What’s the Difference?

Being held accountable is personal and individual, meaning it cannot be shared and belongs to only one person.

The difference between accountability vs responsibility.
Accountability Responsibility
Results-focused Task or project-focused

When discussing results, the terms accountability and responsibility often come up, especially when the desired results are not attained. When that happens, comments and exclamations like “Who’s responsible for missing the deadline?!” and “Which department is responsible for not delivering our goals?” start to be used. As the creators of Accountability Training®, we frequently receive inquiries about the distinctions between these two terms and how they relate to the achievement of results. In fact, many of the professionals we work with initially mistakenly believe that they have responsibility issues rather than accountability problems. They don’t fully understand that accountability—rather than responsibility—plays a significant role in overcoming nearly every challenge they face until we demonstrate how we approach accountability. To achieve this, we first assist them in realizing that the definition of accountability is flawed and needs to be fixed in order to be fully understood. Dictionary. com defines each as:

Although the terms responsibility and accountability are frequently used interchangeably, we think there is a crucial and fundamental difference between the two—a difference that is night and day—and that the definitions of accountability that are currently in use are incorrect. We respect the definitions of responsibility and the idea that it is necessary, but we also understand from years of experience that accountability is truly empowering rather than negative (“subject to; answerable”). When these two words are used interchangeably, it can unintentionally lead to tendencies toward blame, unnecessary confusion, disengagement, and subpar performance.

Brown Dog Minute #1 — Accountability vs Responsibility: What’s the Difference?

What it means to be responsible and accountable in the workplace

Although these terms have some overlap, several characteristics separate them. In the workplace, people typically share responsibilities, but a specific person, like a manager, is responsible for those team members’ behavior.

Accountability for leaders in the workplace

An effective, persuasive workplace leader must have accountability. The person or people in charge must take responsibility for the actions of their team members and make sure they carry out all duties as expected. Before taking on a managerial position, you should be fully aware of the abilities and resources your team members will require to complete a task.

Companies can gain from leaders who are responsible for all of their actions and deliver results as expected by:

Responsibility for team members in the workplace

Members of a responsible team are ready to accept both the penalties for their actions and the rewards of achieving exceptional results. For instance, a responsible construction crew will finish their work on schedule and within budget while upholding the highest safety standards. Additionally, since they understand that doing so will result in satisfaction and praise, they’ll probably continue to search for new ways to enhance their performance.

Accountable vs. responsible: How to tell the difference

The five factors listed below are crucial in determining who might be held accountable vs responsible for workplace-related issues.

What is the difference between being responsible and accountable?


Simply put, when a team member, organization, or business faces repercussions for their choices or actions, they are held accountable. After a serious incident or problem arises, accountability occurs, and the outcome depends on how someone reacts to and assumes responsibility for the problem.

State and federal laws, for instance, can make businesses answerable for their deeds. The organization will typically be required to pay for the cleanup if a business releases an oil spill or contaminates nearby groundwater. The business might also have to express regret to the neighborhood for the error and explain what steps they will take going forward to prevent it from happening again.

Similar to this, if a customer slips and falls on slick outdoor steps, a store may be held responsible. The store’s owner or manager could decide to fire or demote any staff members responsible for any injuries. If a different business or independent contractor constructed the stairs, the employer could demand that they add a non-slip surface for no charge in order to stop further accidents.


According to the examples above, it is possible for someone to be accountable while also being irresponsible, and vice versa.

Responsibility is project- and task-oriented. For instance, a project manager might be thought of as more accountable than whereas each member of a work crew may be held accountable for finishing a small portion of the larger project, the lead is responsible for overseeing a group of processes or tasks. Let’s assume that in this instance a worker or workers were in charge of constructing the aforementioned flight of stairs and ensuring their security. The workers could be held responsible for the outcomes if they fail to fulfill their obligations to this project.

7 tips for managers to develop accountability and responsibility

Here are seven pointers for managers to help them develop accountability and responsibility:

Using transparent reporting to increase accountability and responsibility

Clear lines of accountability and responsibility can only be established when managers maintain open communication with every member of their team throughout the course of a project. Everyone in your department or organization should have access to comprehensive information about each team member’s responsibilities, deadlines, and backup plans. This is your responsibility as a manager.

To-do lists that are itemized, have due dates, and receive regular project updates can make it clear who is in charge of what, as well as who can be held accountable for unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, you should demand regular updates from team members or project managers regarding pertinent details related to the project, such as their sales performance, production rates, and customer reviews. You can simplify the reporting process by using high-quality project management software, making data easily accessible for those who require it.

You can make yourself more accountable as a leader by putting the proper procedures and tools in place. Additionally, you can be certain that everyone’s duties are clearly laid out, which should make it easier for you to manage team members’ performance and uphold your responsibility to the company as a whole.


What is the difference between accountability?

While accountability generally refers to what happens after something has happened, responsibility generally refers to someone’s obligation to carry out a task to completion. Therefore, accountability is more concerned with the results of someone’s actions than it is with their initial obligation to carry out those actions.

What is the difference between accountable and accountability?

Being accountable entails not only taking responsibility for a matter but also ultimately answering for your deeds. Additionally, you can only hold someone accountable for something once a task has been completed or not.

What is difference between responsible and accountable?

The person who is ultimately responsible for the action or choice is the accountable party. This includes “yes” or “no” authority and veto power. Only one accountable person can be assigned to an action. The person or people who actually carry out the task are those who are accountable.

What is the difference between accountability and personal responsibility?

While accountability occurs after a situation arises, responsibility is an ongoing obligation to complete the task at hand. It is how a person reacts and assumes responsibility for the outcomes of a task.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *