Accountability and responsibility defined

McGrath, Stephen Keith and Whitty, Stephen Jonathan (2018) Accountability and responsibility defined. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 11 (3). pp. 687-707. ISSN 1753-8378

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to remove confusion surrounding the terms responsibility and
accountability from the general and project management arenas by creating “refined” (with unnecessary
elements removed) definitions of these terms.

Design/methodology/approach – A method of deriving refined definitions for a group of terms by
ensuring that there is no internal conflict or overlap is adopted and applied to resolve the confusion.

Findings – The confusion between responsibility and accountability can be characterised as a failure to
separate the obligation to satisfactorily perform a task (responsibility) from the liability to ensure that it is
satisfactorily done (accountability). Furthermore, clarity of application can be achieved if legislative and
organisational accountabilities are differentiated and it is recognised that accountability and responsibility
transition across organisational levels. A difficulty in applying accountability in RACI tables is also resolved.

Research limitations/implications – Clear definition of responsibility and accountability will facilitate
future research endeavours by removing confusion surrounding the terms. Verification of the method used
through its success in deriving these 'refined' definitions suggests its suitability for application to other
contested terms.

Practical implications – Projects and businesses alike can benefit from removal of confusion around the
definitions of responsibility and accountability in the academic research they fund and attempt to apply.
They can also achieve improvements in both efficiency and effectiveness in undertaking organisation-wide
exercises to determine organisational responsibilities and accountabilities as well as in the application of
governance models.

Social implications – Refined definitions of responsibility and accountability will facilitate building social
and physical systems and infrastructure, benefitting organisations, whether public, charitable or private.

Originality/value – Clarity resulting in the avoidance of confusion and misunderstanding together with
their consequent waste of time, resources and money.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Accepted Version deposited in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please contact ePrints Editor if access to Published version is required: Library.ePrints
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Management and Enterprise (1 Jul 2013 - 17 Jan 2021)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Management and Enterprise (1 Jul 2013 - 17 Jan 2021)
Date Deposited: 29 May 2018 00:41
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2022 06:05
Uncontrolled Keywords: accountability, responsibility, define, refined definition, accountable, responsible
Fields of Research (2008): 15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services > 1503 Business and Management > 150310 Organisation and Management Theory
Fields of Research (2020): 35 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 3507 Strategy, management and organisational behaviour > 350709 Organisation and management theory
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