An Unaccountable Responsibility

Feb 05, 2015 // No Comments » // HR Insights | Stories Retold

accountability (1)

“But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” – 1 Peter 4:5 (NIV)

Where’s your sense of Responsibility?

For sure you can’t leave this to fluffy sensing and feeling…especially so if livelihood of people, organisation survival and perhaps nation building are at stake.

Not long ago I wrote a piece on Responsibility – “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility…Really?” and that sets me thinking deeper into the difference between responsibility and accountability.

You see, responsibility without accountability is like knowing What but not knowing How; knowing What is your role (title/position) and perhaps What to do but not knowing How your role and action really matters.


I would like to share a story that may help us further understand why without accountability, responsibility just isn’t enough…

I spent 6 years as a technician in the Singapore Armed Forces. In one of my overseas posting, I was leading a team of mechanics that support the maintenance, repair and inspection of a fleet of military vehicles to ensure combat readiness. One summer, before a major infantry exercise my team worked their socks off through two weekends (without day-offs) ensuring that the vehicles will be ready for the exercise. A day prior to the action when the infantry unit assigned drivers were moving out the vehicles from the garage park, one of the utility transportation truck has it’s front-left wheel almost completely disengaged from the wheel-hub causing major damaged to its rim. The maintenance logged indicated that two of my men were “responsible” for the wheel changed. Upon investigation, they were charged for negligence of duty and required to sign “extras” (a form of punishment that remove the entitlement of weekends off to perform guard duty).


Many years later, upon reflection I felt a sense of being responsible because as their team leader I am supposed to ensure their work are duly completed to the standard required. Hence without clearly indicated the standard of outcome and performance (accountable result) expected of them could have caused them to misplaced their sense of responsibilities.

Simply put it, accountability should be tangible and quantifiable. With accountability, responsibility make sense and help one another towards achieving results.

The term “holding one another accountable” indicated that without a set of tangible and quantifiable outcome-oriented deliverables, responsibility by title and position often leads to more misunderstanding  and confusion; worst if being abused or even a misplaced sense of responsibility which may lead to blame.

What and who are you responsible for today and how are you going to be accountable?

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