How To Hold People Accountable

Holding people accountable

Do you know what’s great about being a project manager in a matrixed organization? You don’t have anyone reporting directly to you! Isn’t that great? You don’t have to worry about all the things other managers worry about such as employee reviews, raises, disciplinary actions, and the loads of other administrivia that comes when you have people who report directly to you.

Do you know what’s absolutely terrible about being a project manager in a matrixed organization? You don’t have anyone reporting directly to you! Isn’t that terrible? You don’t have the control or authority over those you work with to determine their raises, employee reviews, and disciplinary actions. You can’t tell them directly what to do or how they need to get something done. All of these details run through the functional manager over their department.

It’s a fact that being a project manager in a matrixed organization is indeed a two-edged sword. The biggest trick is how do you hold people accountable that do not report to you directly. You may wonder how you can hold non-direct reports accountable for their work.

First, to answer the question in the title about what is a project management tool that can help with accountability. There’s really not one project management tool that can be used but rather a suite of actions, management skill, influence and collaboration. The following list of 7 management skills will help you instill accountability in those who do not report to you directly.

Have a Great Relationship with the Person’s Boss

The first thing you must do if you are looking to instill accountability in a person who does not report directly to you is to find out who they do report to. You undoubtedly know the answer to this already, but it’s your responsibility to let this person know that you will be working closely with someone in their department and wanted to let them know.

This is good from a professional courtesy perspective, as well as to make sure this manager knows what is expected of the resource you have been assigned.There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you skip this step.

For example, let’s say a functional manager doesn’t know that you are using one of their resources. This person gets behind on their work that has been assigned by the functional manager and lets him know the reason is because they are working on your project! In one brief sentence, any form of accountability that person has immediately evaporates and you are on your own!

Put Things in Writing

Once you’ve established a good relationship with that person’s functional manager, it’s good form to put things in writing.What is a project management tool you can use to accomplish this? It could be something as simple as an email sent to this person or it could be as involved as a centralized server that stores the latest documentation for the project.

This documentation should clearly spell out what is expected of this person, due dates, quality levels, and related items that will remove ambiguity out of the relationship. It’s not that you don’t trust the person, it’s just that there are so many things going on that it’s easy to misinterpret what was said or allow things to get lost in the shuffle.

Be Extremely Clear

If you are working with someone that doesn’t report to you directly, then it is extremely important to be crystal clear about your expectations. They undoubtedly have developed a working relationship with their functional manager and may understand certain things in certain ways.

For example, one area that many people get tripped up on is “what is the definition of complete?” One person thinks “complete” is one thing and someone else thinks “complete” means something entirely different. What is a project management tool that can help with clarity? Many times it’s just taking the extra time necessary in a conversation to clearly explain what you expect. The ideal situation is to show them an example of what the finished product or objective you want to accomplish looks like.


Notice…we said “follow-up”, not “baby-sit”. There’s a huge difference between the two words. Some project managers may feel as if it’s their job to baby-sit someone in another department until they get their job done. Incessantly checking in on them, following up behind their back, and other disruptive activities will backfire in the long run. Your follow-up should be in the form of the process you already have in place as a project manager.

What is a project management tool to use for this function? Your weekly status meetings would be good. Or, perhaps you have the luxury of setting aside 1-on-1 time with each of the people on your projects where you can get a real good sense for where things stand on the project.

Appeal to a Higher Cause

It’s true that this person does not report to you directly, but they will have a certain sense of community and camaraderie that begins to form on the team. Appeal to this higher cause, to the good of the project, or the importance of the person’s reputation to instill a sense of accountability within someone who may not report to you directly.

Make Sure They Are Involved

You can sense pretty quickly whether a person is “all-in” or holding back. It’s your job as a project manager to make sure someone is committed to the project they are assigned and giving their all. This will instill in them an innate sense of accountability.

What is a project management tool that can be used for keep people involved? Regular updates on what is going on with the project always help. People do like to know what others are working on and keep tabs on the big picture. You can pull together meetings to talk about the exciting progress that has been made or milestones that have been reached. Use these opportunities to recognize the good work that people from each department have been able to accomplish.

Instill a Sense of Urgency

Finally, in order for someone to remain engaged and accountable on a project there needs to be a sense of urgency associated with getting the project done. Nothing says “I’ll get around to this later” more than not having a deadline or goal that you are attempting to reach. It’s human nature to put things off until the last minute…and if there’s no set time for that last minute to occur then nothing will EVER get done at the last minute.

For example, I have a friend who says they will be moving to another state. When you ask them when they are moving they say the really don’t have a date. The problem is that they have been moving for 3 years now!

What is a project management tool to use to instill a sense of urgency? There’s nothing like the project schedule with all of its deadlines and dependencies to light a fire under someone to get their work done.

There are plusses and minuses to working in a matrixed organization. The stress and concern you save by not worrying about managing people directly is replaced by the stress and concern you feel by, uh, not managing people directly. Regardless, it’s your job as a project manager and using the tools outlined above will help you keep people accountable…even if they don’t report to you directly!

Here’s some project management software tools that will help instill accountability in those who may not report to you directly. Try ProjectManager.com free project management software for 30 days and see how our free project management tools  – for Reporting, Collaboration, Planning – will raise everyone’s level of accountability…including yours!

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