Project Mechanics

Accountability and authority

“I just want my accountability is equal to my authority”

Understanding the relationship between accountability and authority is a key skill of leadership. 

Authority is the ability to perform a given action.   This ability can be both formal and informally acquired.   For instance, the type of authority that is institutionalized in a particular job, function, or position that is meant to enable its holder to successfully carry out his or her responsibilities.  This includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed.  There is also an implanted authority such as a subject matter expert or long time member of a team that has much institutional knowledge.

Accountability is the responsibility for the outcome of a given action.   Teams are measured by what was accomplished rather than what they could have accomplished.    Accountability typically comes from an external person or organization.  In other words someone else defines the objectives upon which you will be measured. Accountability implies an obligation to account for the defined activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results of these activities in a transparent manner.

Accountability and authority go hand in hand. Having power implies that you will be held accountable for the use of that power. But unfortunately this is not always the case.

Accountability without authority can be very frustrating. It is hard to implement any meaningful changes that will improve your likelihood of success if you can’t make a decision that will be followed.  Non-management team members often fall into this situation. They are accountable for an objective, yet have no direct authority to require a change that they recommend.

Leaders, however, do not. They can rapidly become disillusioned and perhaps even bitter if they are not given authority to do the things they will be accountable for. This is especially true if they are being held to high standards.

The opposite situation, authority without accountability, is dangerous and thankfully rare. Simply by being in charge, people assume accountability for the performance of a team.

Being on a project team gives many people their first real taste of accountability and authority for others. People in day-to-day jobs get the authority to operate machines, and are accountable for following a process, but on a project team, suddenly they are asked to make decisions in a way that they are not generally accustomed to. They may decide to move a person’s desk as a part of an office kaizen, upsetting that employee. And they will have to stand up in front of an audience and spell out the gains from the week.

Project leaders should be aware of this challenge that their team is facing, and work to provide specific coaching on the topic.

Try to identify, and change, situations where leaders, especially junior leaders, in your organization are held accountable for things they cannot control. It creates a very frustrating situation that saps job satisfaction.

If you are in charge of other leaders, make sure you are clear about your expectations for them. This will actually benefit you while also helping your team. When you grant authority, your subordinate leaders will make decisions. Being clear about how you will hold them accountable helps them use that authority effectively.

Being on a project team gives many people their first real taste of accountability and authority over others. People in day-to-day jobs get the authority to operate machines, and are accountable for following a process. But when they are assigned to a project team, suddenly they are asked to make decisions in a way that they are not generally accustomed to. They may decide to move a person’s desk as a part of an office kaizen, upsetting that employee. And they will have to stand up in front of an audience and spell out the gains from the week.

Project leaders should be aware of this challenge that their team is facing, and work to provide specific coaching on the topic.

The privilege of authority comes with the burden of accountability. It is important to note that authority can be delegated but accountability cannot. There will certainly be overlap, but a production manager, for example, cannot make a supervisor solely accountable for the performance of an assembly line.

Never blame a subordinate for something you are accountable for. The truth is, one of your jobs is to get your team members, even your junior leaders, to do their jobs. If they don’t, it is still a knock on you. Basically, what this means is that you should embrace the philosophy of “The buck stops here.”

 

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