An illustration of a network of business people to illustrate a piece on the Difference Between Responsibility and Accountability

Effective Leadership: The Difference Between Responsibility and Accountability


The most effective leaders provide direction and inspiration in order to nurture and build stronger teams, but that’s not all required. Effective leadership requires accountability and responsibility. Although both terms have different meanings, they are often mistaken and considered interchangeable. What is the difference between responsibility and accountability?

Responsibility in the workplace

Responsibility is, by definition, “something that it is your job or duty to deal with”. Responsibility is, essentially, the duty to complete a task that someone is meant to complete.

Additionally, responsibility can be shared amongst teams: a group of people can have the same task to complete or objective to achieve, for instance.

Lastly, responsibility is task-oriented, focuses on defined roles and jobs, and cannot be assigned to someone; someone must choose to take responsibility for something themselves.

Accountability in the workplace

The definition of accountability in a business environment is “a situation in which someone is responsible for things that happen and can give a satisfactory reason for them”. It means taking ownership to ensure responsibilities are achieved, the duty to report on tasks and events.

Accountability for a specific task or process should be assigned to one leader only, as it can be confusing otherwise. For instance, if a group of people is accountable for a task, each person may think others are taking charge instead.

Opposite to responsibility, accountability focuses on the results of a task, instead of the task itself. Being accountable also means facing consequences if tasks are not completed as expected. The accountable person, who will be answerable for the results, should be chosen based on their skills, experience, and competencies. Lack of accountability can lead to negative reviews and relationships.

Responsibility vs Accountability

Now that we have explored both terms, what are the key differences between responsibility and accountability?

Effective teamwork with business simulations

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