Accountability is an overworked word with mostly negative connotations with the current workforce. That's a shame because accountability is critical if we are to keep our projects on budget, schedule, and to quality standards. The answer is to make everyone's accountability (liability, guilt, blame, you chose the word) explicitly stated up-front. Bringing accountability into the formal discussion only after an event wastes everyone's time and energy.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, someone who is accountable is completely responsible for what they do and must be able to give a satisfactory reason for it. Merriam-Webster states the definition more concisely as subject to giving an account: answerable.
Accountability, according to Merriam-Webster, is an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.
Other Words for Accountable
The standard definitions have some loaded big words, but we probably all agree with them in concept. However, in addition to responsible and answerable, these are some other keywords that have similar meanings: culpable, liable, obliged, obligated, beholden, and indebted.
Did Anyone Sign-Up for That?
Did anyone really sign-up for being culpable (guilty) or liable for project management?
Yeah, I may be responsible for it, but I didn’t really think you would not give me a raise or fire me if the results were not what you wanted. I am unsure if I would have accepted being a project manager under those conditions. By the way, is being liable for project management in my job description?
Why Accountability is Critically Important
Tom Moriarty describes accountability as one of the big three problems that most organizations face. Accountability must be two ways, and most project delivery organizations have five to seven layers of management that must be accountable to each other for things to get done well.
Moriarty describes organizational reliability as each member of the organization being accountable for specific aspects. And accountability is binary – you either have it or you don't. Accountability must also be explicit.
The One Thing
The one thing that I believe is accountability must be explicit up-front. The usual case is that something goes wrong with the project budget, schedule, or quality (maybe all three), and then the management team starts pressing for accountability. Who was liable for what was not established explicitly in the beginning? No one will plead guilty and suffer the consequences if they did not know that was part of their deal.
Putting It into Practice
Accountability is an overworked word with mostly negative connotations with the current workforce. That’s a shame because accountability is critical if we are to keep our projects on budget, schedule, and to quality standards. The answer is to make everyone’s accountability (liability, guilt, blame, you chose the word) explicitly stated up-front. Bringing accountability into the formal discussion only after an event wastes everyone's time and energy.
The Productive Leadership System by Tom Moriarty, a retired Executive Officer in the US Coast Guard and a successful consultant for the past 20 years.
JD Solomon Inc provides solutions for program development, asset management, and facilitation solutions at the nexus of facilities, infrastructure, and the environment. Subscribe for monthly updates related to our firm.