Responsibility vs accountability LO2887

Jean-Marie Bonthous (
Sun, 17 Sep 1995 22:02:50 -0700

Replying to LO2793 --

Dear fellow net'ers

I am enclosing the summary of replies to my question:

Accountability vs responsibility ?
>There is much talk about shared accountability being a sign of true teams.
>Can someone shed clarity on the distinction between accountability and
>responsibility? Are they one and the same? or do they do they have
>different connotations and denotations?.

While the replies shed some clarity in that they identify a distinction
(accountable TO vs responsible FOR, and "accountability" indicating the
reporting aspect of responsibility), they bring up a new question:

- In the light of this new distinction, when speaking of teams, should we
not speak of shared responsibility rather than of shared accountability, as
is usually the case?

Here are the two replies received:

Organization: Flinders University of S. Australia
Replying to LO2793 --

Dear Learning-org-ers
In my experience in the public sector (which deals with this issue
all the time) there is significant confusion over this distinction.
I teach my Masters students that it may be useful to refer to these
as two sides of the same coin. Public office (e.g., Company
Director) is a position with certain discretions to act on-behalf
of others' interests which brings certain responsibilities to those
interests to perform according to agreed expectations of outcomes.
Accountability is the reporting part of the responsibility. These
two concepts have a relationship embodied in the old aphorism that:
'justice must not only be done - but BE SEEN TO BE DONE'.
In other words there is a responsibility to do the right thing, and
being accountable means proving that one has done so to the interested
This is obviously an area of importance for performance evaluation
and management ethics.
Dr Colin Sharp
Assoc. Prof. Management,
Flinders Institute of Public Policy & Management
Flinders University
GPO Box 2100 Adelaide, SA, 5001 Australia
Ph: -61-8-201-2629; Fax: -61-8-201-2273

Date: 15 Sep 1995 09:52:32 -0400
From: "Barry Mallis" <>
"Responsible for..." "Accountable to..." here are the different movements...
In working toward ISO 9001 certification, we found that level two
documentation, the procedures which explained WHAT we do, are different
from work instructions (level 3) documents which explain exactly HOW
someone does something. A procedure or level 2 document distinguished
itself especially becuase it assigns responsibility across the organization
for the stages of a process. In the hierarchy of things, those who perform
various funcions or tasks, the How to..., and accountable both to their
managers/supervisors, and to the customers internal and external who set
the specification. The ISO standard makes us accountable to it for meeting
customer specifications.
Best regards,

-- (Jean-Marie Bonthous)