Authority and Responsibility

Many people in positions of power seem to misunderstand the differences between authority and responsibility. Too many want the authority but are afraid to assume the responsibility.

An example of this is the manager who has the task of making sure a project is done. This manager would be given both the authority and responsibility to accomplish this task.

The manager might then delegate to an employee the tasks needed to do the project. In doing so, they can delegate the authority and can give the employee some responsibility but in the long run, the manager is ultimately responsible if the project isn’t done properly and on time.

While the authority to do something can be delegated, ultimately, the person given the assignment originally is the one who will be held accountable for the project.

If I hire a General Contractor to build a house and the electrician he contracts with to wire the house does a poor job, it will come back on the General Contractor to get the problems fixed. He delegated the authority but is still responsible for the completion of the project.

If I ask an employee to finish a web site and he enlists the help of other people to help, if the site isn’t done properly and on time, I don’t want to hear about how the other people didn’t do what he wanted. Ultimately, this employee has to take responsibility for the project and make sure it’s done and done on time.

When a person is given the authority and responsibility to do something and chooses to delegate to others (which frequently makes a great deal of sense), it’s important for this person to know they are still, ultimately responsible. This means that they should be regularly monitoring the others to make sure things are progressing smoothly and making themselves available to help when needed.

If you do have ultimate responsibility for a project, and things don’t seem to be going as smoothly as you hope, it’s MUCH better to enlist the help of others. This might mean delegating down to a coworker and employee or, it might mean delegating up (asking for help from people with more knowledge or experience).

It’s important to understand that ultimately, authority can be delegated but responsibility, once given, stays with you till the end.

Have a great day!


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