Authority & Responsibility…an indivisible pair

Humans are silly.  We try to separate responsibility from authority, but it can’t be done as they’re two sides of the same coin. People shouldn’t be held responsible for things they don’t have authority over; doing so is illogical, bordering on delusional. In reality, when someone claims responsbility over something they are also assuming authority to act, and vice versa.

What does this mean in practice?  Simple:  supervisors can’t delegate responsibility without also delegating authority.  Either both are delegated, or neither is, regardless of any fancy words a supervisor may use to try to justify a logical disconnect.  To tell a subordinate they are responsible for something without also delegating authority to affect the situation is foolish and sets them up for failure…eventually the supervisor will blame them for an outcome they had no control over. Most of us have been on the receiving end of that delightful scenario and hated it; we owe it to our troops not to continue passing that dysfunction down through the generations.

Please remember this the next tme you wish to pass responsibility down the chain.  Are you also passing decision making authority?  If not, the responsibility still rests with you whether you realize it or not, so it’s important to not mistake this. Similarly it’s wise to ask whether delegating the authority is appropriate; if it’s not, then don’t make the mistake of attempting to pass responsibility because the two can’t be split up, they’re a package deal.

[disclaimer:  nothing new here; Peter Drucker has said this various ways before but it bears repeating.]


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