Accountable vs. Responsible: How Are They Different?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 19, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The success of a project or company often relies on a number of people involved. When team members are responsible and accountable for their actions, it can lead to increased effectiveness and success. Understanding the similarities and differences between accountable vs. responsible can help to improve your success in the workplace and help you be more effective in your role. In this article, we look at the definition of accountable and responsible, learn about what makes them similar, and discover a list of their differences.

Definitions for accountable vs. responsible

Here's a list of some of the major differences between the concepts of accountable vs. responsible:

Accountable

Being accountable means that you're able to take ownership of your actions and justify the results. This means that whether the results of your actions are positive or negative, you're the person who answers for them. Being accountable means you also justify the outcome of your actions. For example, if a big project at work turns out poorly, you may be required to explain the decision-making process and why you made those decisions.

A large part of being accountable is accepting your decisions and not putting the blame on others. If you're able to do this at work, you may become more trusted and show strong leadership skills.

Responsible

While being accountable means taking ownership of the outcome of your actions, being responsible is about being in charge of specific events, tasks, or roles. This may mean that you're delegating duties to members of a team, developing the parameters of certain roles, or creating the objectives for a task. Being responsible means that you may be required to oversee each part of a task and help all members of the team achieve success.

For example, if you're the project manager, then you may be required to help develop roles for all members of the team and make sure that everyone is staying on task. If you're responsible for the success of a project and it goes well, you may become more trusted by managers and by your peers at work.

Related: What Are the Responsibilities of a Manager?

Similarities between concepts of accountable and responsible

Here's a list of some of the ways that the concepts of accountability and responsibility are similar:

They can build trust

Both accountability and responsibility can help to build trust within a company. If people take responsibility, or a manger shows accountability, it makes it easier for other members of the team to trust them. This can help lead to a happier and more productive workplace. When people are able to trust their fellow employees, they can collaborate better and potentially produce a higher quality of work than they may do on their own.

For example, if an employee makes a mistake and takes responsibility and accountability for their error, a manager may respect their decision and trust them more in the future. This is because the manager knows that the employee is honest and forthcoming.

They help a company achieve success

When people take accountability for their actions, or give the right people responsibility of a project, it can drastically improve the success of a company. When employees know that the people in charge can take ownership for both their successes and failures, it allows them to work more freely and explore new ideas, knowing that they have the support of their manager. If the employees are in charge of a task that best suits their skill set, it can lead to further success for them and the company.

They both involve decision-making

Being accountable and taking responsibility both involve making decisions that can affect the outcome of a project. Being accountable means that you take ownership of the results of your decisions, but being responsible means that you're making decisions that can improve the success of a task. While the decision-making process for each is different, both roles involve making decisions that have can have a large impact on the company and other employees.

For example, if a project that you're leading produces worse results than anticipated, taking responsibility or having accountability can affect how your coworkers and employers perceive you. The decision to accept that the results of the project were your fault may actually increase your reputation in the office.

Related: 8 Essential Tips for Leading by Example in the Workplace

Differences between accountable and responsible

Below is a list of some differences between being accountable and taking responsibility to help you learn more about each concept:

Responsibility is task-oriented

Responsibility is more focused on completing tasks. It relates more directly to someone's role in a larger project. Being responsible for a specific part of a task, or for assigning duties to other team members, can be a big role and essential for a productive workplace. Making sure that you complete your responsibilities can show good leadership skills and make it more likely that the company may trust you with more responsibility in the future.

Related: What Is Task-Oriented Leadership? (With Benefits and Skills)

Accountability is result-oriented

Being accountable considers the results or your actions, rather than your actions throughout the project. Your managers want to know that you can take ownership of your choices and justify them, even if the results were underwhelming. If you can justify your results, then many managers may overlook poor results. Being accountable shows that you're confident in your skills and that you understand some of the burdens that come with being in a leadership position.

Responsibility is ongoing

Being responsible requires you to maintain your commitment throughout the entire length of the task. At every stage, you may be required to make decisions and delegate tasks to different people. Each stage of the project may bring different obstacles that people may want you to help them overcome. Being responsible means that you're the one people may turn to for guidance or clarification during the project. While this can be daunting, it's also a sign that you've gained the trust of your managers and peers at work.

Accountability applies after a job is over

When you're accountable for something, your supervisors may review your performance after a project. The company may evaluate the project success and of the people who lead the task. Whether the project was a success or failure, you are accountable for the results. When you're committed to being accountable, it means accepting the blame for the failures and the praise for its successes. If you're able to justify your decisions, accepting accountability can help you gain respect and trust at work and help you progress further in your career.

Related: What Is Accountability in the Workplace? (With 10 Examples)

Responsibility can belong to many people

It's possible to share responsibility between many people who all work on the same project. This helps to encourage collaboration and innovation during the job. It also can help people to avoid becoming burnt out at work. When you're able to share responsibility, you can rely on others to help you and ask other people's opinions about your decisions. Each person who takes on a part of the responsibility can assign roles to others and help ensure the continued success of the company and the project.

Accountability usually belongs to a single person

Accountability is more about personal ownership of your specific actions, rather than group responsibility or responsibility for the actions of others. In the context of work, it means that you're taking ownership of the decisions you made and the results that came from them. When you're accountable, it's important to remember that you can justify your actions. If you make a decision that results in progress slowing down, as long as you reasonably justify why you made that choice, then it can still be a positive decision.

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