As an Officer in the Armed Forces I have a legal, professional and moral obligation to ensure I delegate responsibility but remain accountable. This requires great trust in your team but if achieved can lead to substantial results and ultimately success for you and your team! The age old question is understanding the differences between responsibility vs accountability.

You Need to Delegate Responsibility

In the Army as a young commander I have 30 men and women to achieve any task that might be required. In the future I will likely have a team of up to 200 men and women to achieve much more complex tasks. The point is, to be a successful leader and to complete the task to the best of my ability, I need to delegate.

The following list shows 5 top reasons it’s absolutely imperative to delegate:

  1. It’s your job, you can’t do the work of a 30 person team.
  2. Your team know more than you do in their own fields.
  3. It will encourage team ‘buy in’, this will engage team members with tasks and motivate them to see the project’s success.
  4. Let your team members develop from experience and the team around you will get stronger!
  5. You need to focus your time else where on grand strategy etc.

For more information on why you need to delegate read 5 Reasons You Need To Delegate Your Way To Success.

No Matter What, You’re Still Accountable

The Business Dictionary defines accountability as:

The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.

I look at accountability as the residual responsibility. When you assign someone responsibility of a task they’re responsible for carrying out the task. But ultimately you’re still responsible for the outcomes of the task. That’s not to say it’s not the team member’s fault. But that fault must be shared by yourself because you’re the one who chose to give that task responsibility to that individual.

Lets consider 3 examples of the accountability vs responsibility debate with a professional, legal and ethical scenario.  Some of these examples are based on situations I come across in my day to day job. However all these examples are also suitably relevant to a business scenario.

Example 1: Moral Responsibility vs Accountability

This example is particularly recent for me. As a commander within my platoon we get certain newspapers delivered to our brew room (staff room) daily. Now it’s the duty of one of my subordinates to organise the delivery and the payment for the papers (from platoon funds).

In a recent review of our funds I realised we hadn’t been charged for papers in over a month. I asked the individual responsible for our papers how this could be as we’ve still been receiving papers. The platoon member explained that the local shop that provides the papers has obviously been forgetting to charge us. This particular person therefore decided not to raise the issue for the benefit of the platoon.

As the Platoon Commander it’s my duty as the ‘moral compass’ to ensure that our team’s values are kept. The payments got backdated and the team were able to see our values being put into practice. If you can exhibit your own team’s values when it’s easy to do otherwise, then you will gain the respect of your team and hopefully encourage your team to work and live by those values also.

Example 2: Legal Responsibility vs Accountability

Let’s say that as a CEO you employ an accountant. Clearly you employ that accountant because you neither have the skill nor the time to manage your own books. Your accountant does your finances for the year and it gets audited. The next thing you know you have a letter from HM Revenue & Customs saying you owe tax.

You dig a little deeper into the situation and it turns out your accountant hadn’t been particularly thorough and made some miscalculations. You as the CEO gave that responsibility to your accountant but it’s you as the CEO who may be fined. One could argue that you as the CEO isn’t to blame at all. But who employed that accountant? Who’s responsible for that accountant’s continual professional development and training?

Example 3: Professional Responsibility vs Accountability

In my Regiment we have frequent Military Transport (MT) checks to ensure our vehicles are in good working order. Last year, with a large check due, my Officer Commanding (my boss) told me to check my platoon’s vehicles. I was responsible for about 15 vehicles and was no where near qualified to conduct mechanical or electrical checks. However I was also command of a platoon of 30 men many of whom were qualified to conduct these checks.

I assigned the responsibility of these checks to my Section Commanders (my sub-team leaders) and explained that once they’ve supervised the men completing their checks to let me know. A couple of days passed and my Section Commanders informed me that all the checks have been completed and the vehicles are in good order. I walked around the vehicle park with my Section Commanders whilst they showed me any problems and gave me what we call a ‘warm fuzzy feeling’.

I compiled the report and sent it up to my boss. That was the end of it…

…Or so I thought. A couple of weeks later the Quarter Master (person in charge of all the kit) did a check and found an issue with my checks. Before I knew it I was in my boss’s office explaining why I’d failed to appropriately carry out the checks.

Now, was it really my fault? After all, I wasn’t the person even qualified to carry out the checks. The answer is yes, of course it’s my fault. Whilst I may have delegated responsibility of the task to one of my subordinates it’s impossible for me to delegate the responsibility for the outcomes of the task, in other words I was still accountable.

I had to take full responsibility to my boss and explain i’d fix the situation. I did not explain it wasn’t my fault and shift the blame to my subordinates. That would be the worst thing I could have done. Not only would my boss lose respect for me so would my team.

Deal with Accountability Don’t Just Accept it.

In all of these instances just because you might be ultimately responsible or accountable for the task doesn’t mean that your team members haven’t done anything wrong! Whilst you need to deal with the consequences of your team letting you down you also need to get to the bottom of what went wrong. This may allow you to highlight an issue within the team that can then be dealt with.

What To Do Next

The need to delegate responsibility to your team is inescapable if you wish to be successful. Therefore you must come to terms with the fact that the only answer is to invest in your team. Allow them time to train, try new things and develop personally and professionally.

Sometimes by making it very clear to what extent responsibility has been delegated to those within your team there is less chance of that responsibility being dismissed. In the Army when running projects we use something called the RACI Matrix.

The RACI Matrix

The RACI Matrix is basically a responsibility assignment matrix. It allows you to clearly show who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed throughout the progress of a project.

The example RACI Matrix below shows an example of how it can be used.

  •  R – Responsible
    • Who is/will be doing the task?
    • Who is assigned to work on this task?
  • A – Accountable
    • Who’s going to be the one in trouble if this goes wrong?
    • Who has the authority to take decision?
  • C – Consulted
    • Anyone who can tell me more about this task.
    • Any stakeholders already identified?
  • I – Informed
    • Anyone whose work depends on this task.
    • Who has to be kept updated about the task’s progress?

Have Your Say

I’m curious to know if you can think of an example when you as the team leader shouldn’t be accountable for your team’s actions? Let me know in Your Thoughts or comment below and as always i’ll reply and may even elaborate on your thought in a future post.

-The Military CEO