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February 27, 2023 5 Min Read

Create an Environment of Accountability

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Is lack of accountability a leadership behavior gap? 

We all know that if you agree to take on a task, project, or role, then you are responsible for doing the work. You own that work, no one else. Yet such a fundamental understanding of being accountable can be undermined by actions or behaviors that result in a lack of accountability. Perhaps you’ve had an experience where you interacted with an individual to hold them accountable for an outcome yet the results were not achieved. They did not acknowledge their responsibility, nor did they take any ownership for the result. How can that be?

Is this a miss on the part of the person doing the work, or is it a gap in the behavior of the leader? According to training and development experts, 84% of leaders admit that they don’t really hold others accountable. It’s uncomfortable to have that conversation and easier just to move on. Limited time to follow up is an often-heard excuse. 

Stated in another way, accountability is a core behavior. If you avoid it, everything else will become a lot harder. Enforcing quality standards, building trust, and employee satisfaction are examples of how things become harder when there is no accountability. To be a leader requires effectively holding other people accountable. 


Does it really matter? 

There are multiple benefits of being accountable and holding others accountable. At the individual level, accountability processes such as setting goals and expectations, as well as the understanding of the consequences when not meeting expectations, increase one’s interest in doing good work. Some policy guidelines are very important for safety and workplace wellbeing. Holding people accountable in that instance can prevent accidents and lawsuits. 

At the team level, when there is clear and consistent communication of expectations and actionable feedback for improvement and growth, everyone gains a sense of psychological safety that increases trust. 

If the organization as a whole takes accountability seriously, then the culture has a built-in sense of equity. No one can ignore the part they play in accountability which often means the job is done right the first time, cutting errors and rework, both of which reduce costs and boost profits.


What are accountability behaviors as a leader? 

There is a way to set yourself up for success with accountability by taking these observable actions. The first is to state your expectations, share your vision and be clear as to what success looks like. Taking the time upfront to generate team feedback around the task, making sure that the tools needed for success are in place, ensuring a clear understanding of the work upfront and confirming buy-in is an effective start. Skipping this part because you’re super busy or assuming others know already will create a vacuum that your team members or peers will attempt to fill with assumptions. Conduct frequent check-ins on progress and establish and confirm an open line of communication allowing for mid-course correction and feedback that creates safe and timely opportunities for coaching and guidance. Lastly, don’t forget to recognize progress as it occurs. Identify and share measurable results and goals as people value recognition more than anything else, including money.  


What if I have an accountability issue? 

If a team member is not taking ownership of their work, or not keeping promises, you need to find the root cause of the problem. A one-on-one coaching conversation in a private environment with a chance for both sides to safely communicate is your starting point. Be open to two-way feedback. There may be external or personal contributing factors; and understanding this will allow you to move forward. This is a coaching opportunity, a chance to provide guidance and support if expectations are not clear or skills are lacking. At some point with continued clear and timely communication yet no change, your HR team and formal measures like a Performance Improvement Plan may be required. 


What should I do next?

The impact of recognition for being accountable rises with the level in the organization of the individual giving that recognition. Look for opportunities to include senior leaders in the recognition act. This will take time and energy to orchestrate, but the benefits in terms of job satisfaction and increased accountability by your employees suggests that it’s an investment worth making.  Here are some questions to ponder that we invite you to consider for your coaching session:

  • What would your peers say about your level of accountability?
  • If on reflection, you don’t hold others as accountable as they should be, what is one action that you can take to improve? 
  • How can I do a better job of coaching when accountability is lacking? 

Discuss your role in creating an environment of accountability with a TaskHuman coach.

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