5 Ways to Improve Accountability in the Workplace


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Accountability in the workplace once felt disciplinary, but Jennifer Bridges, PMP, shows that accountability in project management is now about setting teams up for success.

Here’s a screenshot of the whiteboard for your reference!

Ways to get your team to be accountable

In Review – 5 Ways to Improve Accountability in the Workplace

Accountability is a word that has evolved in its meaning, at least in the world of project management, said Jennifer. Where it had once had the taint of punishment, comparable to being under the thumb of a manager, that definition has since changed to being more positive.

Jennifer said that accountability is really a mechanism to set teams up for success. So, how is accountability defined in project management?

What Is Accountability?

Jennifer defines accountability as an obligation. Think of it as a willingness to accept responsibility, she said.

When looked at in this light, accountability is an important measure of employee success. It doesn’t act as a stick as much as a carrot that leads people and helps them learn from their mistakes and accept their part in the project.

By accepting accountability, a team member shows that they’re engaged in the project and are not passing the buck, so to speak. However, accountability needs context.

An Accountability Scenario

To underscore how important it is to look at each situation as unique, Jennifer offered some scenarios where accountability is not immediately clear.

For example, what if the manager thinks they’re giving very clear instructions and setting clear expectations, but they’re not so clear to the team member, or at least they’re not sure?

Then, what if the team member doesn’t follow up for whatever reason, maybe they’re embarrassed or feel intimidated by the manager? Maybe they’re apathetic or overwhelmed by too many competing requests.

Are they accountable or not? It’s not so easy, is it? It’s best not to make too many assumptions and be open to the possibility that there is more at play than you can gleam from the encounter.

How to Improve Accountability

Jennifer offered a handful of suggestions to help maneuver through the minefield of accountability.

  1. Define Roles & Responsibilities for Team Members: You can’t be accountable for what you don’t know you’re supposed to be accountable for. Therefore, clearly communicate who does what, and get feedback and concurrence from the team. Take questions, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
  2. Clarify Reporting Structure: Accountability needs a structure. There must be a system in place to explain who reports to who, who can authorize and approve, so that there’s a clear channel to disseminate and report on people’s work and their accountability with it. Again, field questions from the team to make sure the reporting process is understood by all.
  3. Provide Specific Deadlines: If tasks are open-ended, then there can be no accountability for missing deadlines that don’t exist. So, be clear as to when a task or deliverable is due, and maybe set up notifications to remind team members when deadlines are looming. As always, get feedback and answer any questions the team has about this process.
  4. Document Everything: Well, maybe not everything, but documentation is the paper trail that ensures the person who is accountable knows that. Be sure to ask the team if they have any questions about the documentation process.
  5. Send Alerts, Triggers and Notifications: There are project management software that can automate reminders of looming deadlines, but also when a task is late, and any number of other notifications. You can decide what you want to communicate to your team through this system, which avoids you giving the impression that you’re constantly looking over their shoulders. But before you program these alerts, be sure you discuss it with the team and get their feedback.

Pro-Tip: A project management tool that supports task visibility and time tracking would be ideal for implementing these accountability tips. Time management software helps you better manage your team.


Today, we’re talking about five ways to improve accountability in the workplace. Well, accountability may seem like an old-fashioned term, but it’s alive and well today.

We may have thought about it in the past as maybe a manager looming over you asking for something maybe that you did or didn’t do. But today, we think about it…we’re really trying to set our team members up for success. If you think about it it’s an important measure of employee success.

So what is accountability? It’s an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility.

So here’s a common scenario that we see in the workplace. A manager thinks that he or she gives clear instructions or expectations. So the team member may not be sure exactly what the expectations are or what’s to be done, but they failed to follow up to clarify.

Well, there could be reasons for that. The team member may be embarrassed to go back and ask, they may be somewhat intimidated by the manager, they may just be flat out apathetic and they really don’t care, and they may have too many competing requests and they just really don’t have time to go back to the person.

So are they accountable or not? We don’t really know at this point because maybe they don’t have the information that they need to get the work done.

So let’s look at five ways to improve accountability.

Number one, define roles and responsibilities for every team member. Make sure everyone knows who does what and get feedback in concurrence. Make sure that each person knows and understands, give them the opportunity to ask questions. Maybe they don’t feel like they have skill to do that or maybe they just need more clarification.

Number two, clarify the reporting structure. Let everyone know who reports to who. Maybe the deliverables are some things that they’re responsible for or accountable for, need authorizations or certain approvals. So make sure they know who they report into. And again, I always say ask questions and make sure that they understand what those lines are.

Number three, provide specific deadlines. Let everyone know when tasks or deliverables are due, and set up any kind of notification so they know in advance. And again, ask any questions. Give people the opportunity to let you know if it’s reasonable that that can be completed in that timeframe.

And then document. This is the strongest thing is to document and give it to everyone on the team so that they have proof or they have something that they can look at to see what they’re responsible for and what every team member is responsible for. But ensure that everyone is accountable, that they really know.

We’ve probably all been in those situations where someone was expecting something from us, but we were the last one to know. And again, give everyone the opportunity to ask questions.

And then number five, send alerts, triggers, and notifications. With today’s tools it’s easy to set up so that people can be reminded in advance, maybe during or even after. And again, give people time or the ability to ask questions.

And here’s my biggest tip, is to use tools. Today we have so many tools and apps that can support the task visibility and time tracking. So this gives a little bit more information about accountability and so you can ascertain whether the team members are being accountable or not.

But if you need a tool that can help you with your accountability with your team members, then sign up for our software now at ProjectManager.com.

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