What does it mean to be held accountable?

Accountable and accountability is one of those terms that are easily thrown around. In this article, we’ll discuss the what it means to be accountable, describe the behavior and character traits and you’ll learn how to hold yourself and others accountable.

What does it really mean by being accountable?

Being fully accountable starts with you. All the excuses:

  • I was too busy
  • I can’t do that / I don’t want to do that
  • Everyone one else in the business does that

Won’t wash. You need to show some strength, leadership, and keep your word. It’s time to rise above that.

What is the difference between accountability and responsibility?

While closely related, its easy to be confused. But when you think about it, both responsibility and accountablility have distinctions.


Being responsible is when you have a duty to complete the task. I like to think of it as you will fulfill the task, even if no one is watching or will know. The task will get done. Being Responsible can apply to the person (I am responsible) or to the team (the team are responsible or requiring responsibility)


When someone is being accountable, it refers to what happens afterwards. Accountability has consequences, and is generally restricted to a specific person. You are liable and answerable for the result. This is because accountability is about ownership – ownership of the task and any possible consequences if the task is was not done.

Generally accountability is not shared with a team or group. This is refered to as the ‘blame game’.

Can you be accountable and make mistakes?

Accountability is not perfection. The key distinction is:

  • Who found the mistake?
  • What happened once the mistake was identified?

Taking ownership of your mistakes can often be seen as a strength. You might call it a slip, a blunder, an omission or a misunderstanding – we’ve all been there before – by fixing it, or at least taking proactive steps to resolve it, you’ll gain the trust, respect and admiration of your peers.

Accountability examples and why poor managers get these wrong

A quick Google search for “examples of being accountable”, and you’ll get a list like:

  • Bring solutions to problems
  • Being proactive, not reactive
  • Showing initiative & leadership
  • Taking responsibility for your work / actions / words

The problem with these is that they aren’t specific. How do you hold someone accoutable to be more proactive and less reactive?

If this might describe you, consider the following for greater accountability:

Do what you say you’ll do

Such a small and simple thing, yet so many people fail. One’s actions and conduct go a lot futher than fancy words or statements.

Own your mistakes

Transparency of your actions and mistakes will go a long way. Generally, no one cares that you weren’t perfect, they only care what you do about it.

Don’t use “weasle words” to try and justify what happened. This goes well beyond laws or rules. It happened – own it.

Be clear on what you want

You’re capable. You can do this. You want the success, so be specific on what you want and when you want it.

Breaking Cultural Norms to Influence Accountability Behaviors

Its rare to see in companies having a cultural focus on being accountable. According to Bob Prosen, the five key indicators of poor performance in teams are:

  • absence of clear directives
  • lack of accountability
  • rationalizing inferior performance
  • planning in lieu of action
  • aversion to risk and change

Accountable accountability – how to hold someone accountable?

The best way to hold a team or family member accountable is by having an accountability conversation.

Its quick, easy and we break down the exact steps here.


Christian Payne is a technologist and entrepreneur with a passion for innovation. He has over 20 years of experience in engineering and product development across enterprise and consumer sectors. He has experience at both small start-ups and enterprise level generating +$2M per month. When he's not hard at work on his latest project, he spends his time involved in Men’s Support Groups, Leadership training and Mentoring.

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