Authority, Responsibility & Accountability…

I think there is a lot of mis-understanding within the layers officers/working personals with respect to certain terminologies…


The term responsibility is often mis-interpreted as an obligation (?) to perform a particular task assigned to a subordinate. In an organisation, responsibility is the DUTY. Means, for any particular assignment given to a person for accomplishing, the said person will be RESPONSIBLE for completing it.

So, effectively Definition of Responsibility can be put as “an obligation of individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability under the direction/guidance of his leader” OR a little crisply, ”the duties and activities assigned to a position or an executive”. Is it not simple enough?

Characteristics of Responsibility:

  1. Normally, responsibility moves upwards, and normally the higher

the position one assume, the more the responsibility.

  1. Responsibility is continuing in nature.
  2. Responsibility cannot be delegated.
  3. The person accepting responsibility is accountable for the performance of assigned duties…….Wow..


Authority is the right or power assigned to an executive or a manager in order to achieve certain organisational objectives.

A manager will not be able to function efficiently without proper authority. Authority is the root of organisational framework. Without authority, a manager ceases to be a manager, because he cannot get his policies carried out through others. An Organisation cannot survive without authority. It indicates the right and power of making decisions, giving orders and instructions to subordinates. Authority is delegated from above but must be accepted from below i.e. by the subordinates. In other words, authority flows downwards. Showing one’s authority at wrong person, time and place can boomerang. So authority need to be handled wisely and judiciously.

Definitions of Authority:

“Authority is the right to give orders and the power to extract many activities from many people for the smooth running of an organisation.”

“Authority is the principle at the root of Organisation and so important that it is impossible to conceive of an Organisation at all unless some person or persons are in a position to enforce things needed to run the organisation.”


Every employee/manager is accountable for the job assigned to him. He is supposed to complete the job as per the expectations and inform his superior accordingly. Accountability is in a way is the liability created for one’s use of authority. Or it is the answerability for performance of the assigned duties.

Definition of Accountability:

“Accountability is the obligation of an individual is to primarily discharge the responsibilities entrusted on him successfully and report formally to his superior about all such activities that had undergone to accomplish it.”

When authority is delegated to a subordinate, the person is accountable to the superior for performance in relation to assigned duties. If the subordinate does a poor job, the superior cannot evade the responsibility by stating that poor performance is the fault of the subordinate. A superior is normally responsible for all actions of groups under his supervision even if there are several layers down in the hierarchy. Simply stated, accountability means that the subordinate should explain the factors responsible for non-performance or lack of performance.

Authority, Responsibility and Accountability are Inter-related

They need proper consideration while introducing delegation of authority within an Organisation. In the process of delegation, the superior transfers his duties/responsibilities to his subordinate and also give necessary authority for performing the responsibilities assigned. At the same time, the superior is accountable for the performance of his subordinate.


Madhu K. Nair [18th July 2005]

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