Often the terms accountability and responsibility are used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing.  

Responsibility is all about what you are responsible for doing. 

Accountability is about having to answer for the outcome of our decisions, work, mistakes, and actions.  

Responsibility is task-oriented, whereas accountability is people-oriented.  


Accountability Includes

When thinking about accountability, it might help to understand what accountability includes. It includes: 

  • Acceptance/consent to take on the responsibility.   This acceptance can be implied and even unspoken.   
  • Obligation to deliver as promised 
  • Ownership
  • Answerability for the actions or decisions.  
  • Decision-making when faced with possibilities or challenges
  • Commitment to the results.  

Accountability is about recognizing and acknowledging responsibility and then answering for the outcomes.  


You can delegate responsibility, but you cannot delegate accountability.  

Let me be a bit clearer about that. In my accountability groups, members at the end of the meeting commit to getting stuff done.   How they get them done, I don’t care. They can delegate to their staff, use a VA, or do it themselves.   Who is responsible for the doing is up to them.  

However, they are forever accountable for it. When we get back together, they are accountable for the results. They are accountable to the group.  

You can’t have accountability without people.

When I worked in corporate, I may have been responsible for preparing the reports that would be presented to the board, and I may even have done the presentations myself. However, accountability for those reports and for me belonged to the VP of finance. If my reports were inaccurate or my answers incomplete, the board would ultimately look to the VP. The same was true with my team. I held them responsible for completing tables, compiling numbers, and more, but ultimately, I was the one accountable for our results.  

We use the words interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.  

Responsibility is a to-do. 

Accountability is a way of thinking.  

When you think everything is someone’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.

Dalai Lama

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