Authority and Responsibility are the same thing

Inspired by Ron Jeffries‘ “Manager Responsibilities” article, I responded…

I like that you gave the word “Responsibilities” such prominence. While in some ways I have been quite critical of “management” lately, I think that my issue lies more with the question of authority and responsibility.

I think that…

Authority and Responsibility are the same thing.

And that this is important.

I think that those who try to delegate or impose responsibility on others, while denying them the necessary authority to act are frauds.

And I have seen quite a few people over the years misusing agile concepts to do that. “This is SCRUM.” they say, “And you take full responsibility for your commitment to deliver all these things by the deadline (… regardless of anything I or others do to you). This is ‘your commitment(that I’m imposing on you).” And (sometimes) then, they actively sabotage your efforts and yet still insist on holding you “responsible” for “your commitment.” I find such behavior fraudulent. You give both or you take both. You can’t give one and keep back the other.

To clarify…

If you use your authority, then you are taking responsibility.

When you intervene and tell your people to stop doing this, and to do that instead… When you tell people to stop doing things the way they think is best, and do things your way instead… Then you have used your authority to override others. And by doing so, you have taken responsibility for the results. No matter how much you might try to deny it. No matter how much you might try to appeal to “their professionalism” or “their job title” as reasons why they should give up everything and possibly “do the impossible” to “deliver on their commitments,” you have used your authority in ways that affect the outcome, and so you are responsible for that.

When I am working as a leader or manger, I strive to keep that in mind: That it’s impossible to delegate responsibility without also delegating authority. And when I use my authority, I am taking responsibility.

I have found that that works well. And I wish that others would also keep that in mind, and do the same.


One Response to Authority and Responsibility are the same thing

  1. Jeff Grigg says:

    What I’ve had in mind is that when a person uses their authority, then they are taking responsibility. It doesn’t matter if they like the idea or want the responsibility or not; they are taking responsibility.

    In different cases, this could be a “good” thing or a “bad” thing. In all cases, it’s still a *true* thing.

    A common case is where a boss delegates authority and responsibility to a subordinate, which is a good thing; it’s empowerment. (Yes, the supervisor still retains some responsibility; their boss will probably still hold them responsible for the results.) But the “issue” is when the boss uses their authority over their subordinate, contrary to that delegation/empowerment: This is valid; the boss does have the authority to do this. But by doing this, they have also taken back full responsibility for the results. The subordinate is no longer responsible for the results of their boss’ overriding orders. The boss may not like this. They may want to keep holding the subordinate responsible for the original expected results, in spite of the boss’ interference. This is fraud. This is (often/typically) an attempt to assign responsibility while withholding the authority necessary to achieve the desired results. This may or may not be intentional, on the part of the boss. But, again, it’s *true*, even if unintentional.

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