Essential Management Semantics - Responsible vs Accountable



I've had a discussion at the office about who is responsible for a certain activity. And as expected, the junior colleagues got into a discussion of who is more and who is less responsible for the activity. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) defines two distinct roles: 
  • Responsible and
  • Accountable

If you open Websters dictionary (www.websters.com) and look up the adjective "responsible" you get the following description: answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management
If you do the same for "accountable" here is what you get: subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.

It is a common sense to assume that "accountable" and "responsible" are synonyms. But both in Management and IT their meaning differs slightly and that makes all the difference:

Accountable is the PERSON (singular) who answers for the entire set of results in a performed activity or process.
Responsible are the PERSON or PERSONS (singular or plural) who answers for the quality of a subset of tasks performed within an activity or a process.

So, there can be many responsible persons for the proper performance of a process, but should ALWAYS be only ONE person accountable for the entire process. 

Bonus Question
Q: When something does not get done right, who gets blamed. The Accountable or the Responsible:
A: The Accountable has the task to identify which Responsible is failing his job and take measures to fix the problem. In the long run however, if the problem is not fixed and the entire process fails, the Accountable will be called to answer.


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