Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility is the greatest form of accountability in any team or organisation. Organisations whose leaders deliberately cultivate an organisational culture of personal

Proper people placement prevents problems © .shock |

Proper people placement prevents problems
© .shock |


Arguably the most important accountability measure to build into any organisation is personal responsibility.

The term “personal responsibility” should, I think, be pretty self-explanatory. Unfortunately it seems to have been lacking in many people’s upbringing and training. Often a culture of blame shifting exists In place of a culture of personal responsibility.

Blame and responsibility are not the same thing. Blame is fundamentally about fault. Whose fault was it? Responsibility is about fixing the problem regardless of whose fault it may have been. personal responsibility is best demonstrated when individuals within the organisation work to solve a problem and prevent it from happening again, regardless of how it happened in the first place. In an organisational culture of personal responsibility the focus is on preventing the problem from happening again and to ensure the best outcome for all involved in the mistake – clients and team members.

 “What did I do, or not do, which may have contributed to this problem?”

Leaders who have a strong sense of personal responsibility ask themselves the question, “What did I do, or not do, which may have contributed to this problem.” They do not look for who they can blame. Leaders who have mindset of personal responsibility and who actively encourage others to adopt a mindset of personal responsibility, are focused on the things they can make a difference to. They do not spend time on things they have no power to change.

Ulrich and Smallwood advise leaders to use “I” statements whenever they are tempted to blame someone else. “I” statements focus leaders on what they could have done differently and trigger reflective practice which adds value to an organisation. By reflecting leaders help the organisation move forward. Blame is always backward oriented. Personal responsibility is always forward focused. The authors also point out that when leaders are tempted to take the credit for organisational success they should use “we” statements in the place of “me” statements.

When leaders set an example of personal responsibility and cultivate an organisational culture of personal responsibility they will readily admit to their own mistakes, Share the credit for success widely and use mistakes as opportunities for reflection and growth. When leaders do this they generate great social capital with the members of their team.

When leaders set an example of personal responsibility they generate great social capital with the members of their team.

As I mentioned in the last post (Shared Accountability Gives Immutable Principles AgencyUlrich and Smallwood add three other practices their research showed added to accountability structures in organisations. In addition to a culture of personal responsibility they refer to going public, being consistent with your values and brand, and holding others accountable.

Going public involves leaders making their goals known to others. It is a way of letting others have a window into your own level of personal responsibility. When are aware others are watching to see if you are able to follow through on what you have said you will make the extra effort to do so. You can go even further and ask a few key people to check on your progress. This is an added dimension of personal responsibility and is one way leaders can model personal responsibility within the team or organisation.

Take responsibility © Artistashmita |

Take responsibility
© Artistashmita |

Being consistent in values and brand is another way to stay accountable and build a culture of personal responsibility. When leaders commit to staying true to a set of immutable principles and to operate consistently within those principles they set another example of taking personal responsibility. Commitment to consistent operation within clear immutable principles, especially when everyone in the organisation is familiar with those principles, causes leaders to develop a continuous pattern of reflection as a part of their decision making process. Reflection is both a together and an alone process. So if reflection focuses on identifying what went wrong and not on who should take the blame, the reflective process contributes to building personal responsibility. Leaders will run their decision through the filter of the principles as a check for consistency before enacting the decision. This is another strategy of personal responsibility, as well as another way to model and build a culture of personal responsibility.

The fourth accountability measure identified by Ullrich and Smallwood is holding others accountable. Taking personal responsibility works well when everyone in the team adopts it. It has weaknesses when not everyone operates with personal responsibility or not everyone interprets the immutable principles the same way. An organisation wide commitment to holding each other accountable is one way to reinforce personal accountability. Once immutable principles have been established, communicated and adopted accountability conversations create much less potential conflict. Team members can simply use the question, “Help me understand….” To ask another team member for an explanation for any behaviour which seems out of sync with the principles. This depersonalises accountability and reduces workplace tension (when handled gracefully). When everyone on the team knows they will be held accountable they will work harder to hold themselves accountable first. Thus, holding each other accountable builds personal responsibility.

I encourage leaders to seek to develop a strong sense of personal responsibility within themselves and within their organisations.


  • Personal responsibility is the cornerstone of effective accountability within any team or organisation
  • When a leader makes their goals public, admits their mistakes and models personal responsibility he or she builds social capital in the team.
  • Fourth Question leaders, those committed to helping others be the best they can be, build organisational culture of personal responsibility to replace blame shifting.
  • Going public with your goals, being consistent in your application of immutable principles and developing an environment in which team members expect each other to hold them accountable also contribute to a strong culture of personal responsibility

Additional resources

Four principles help leaders build – and accept – accountability

Leadership Sustainability – Seven disciplines to achieve the changes great leaders know they must make.