Responsibility vs. Accountability: What Is the Difference?

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The terms responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeably, but actually have separate meanings. If you are unsure of the difference it’s important to make sure you understand both terms. Learn the difference between responsibility and accountability as they apply to your past experience, and how they should be incorporated into your resume.

What is responsibility?

A responsibility is an assigned duty. It consists of three main components: it can be shared by multiple people, it is task-oriented and it focuses on a specific role and the processes needed to achieve a goal. All companies rely on employees to fulfill their designated responsibilities. Completing tasks correctly and on-time keeps a business operating properly. Responsibilities dictate an employee’s basic daily duties, which they are expected to perform with the best of their ability.

Example: It is Sarah’s responsibility to keep the office supplies stocked, so her tasks include keeping inventory and ordering more supplies before they run out.

What is accountability?

Accountability is taking ownership of a responsibility. Accountability is specific to one person depending on their skill set and role, and is the commitment to successfully complete tasks. Accountability also includes how someone responds to the results of tasks. Everyone in the workplace is accountable for the outcome of their responsibilities, especially leaders. Accountability requires leaders to surrender a ‘follower’ mentality by taking more accountability for their role and how their actions affect the rest of the team. Accountability in leadership roles is beneficial for companies because they are quick to identify issues and come up with solutions, and can inspire others to be responsible and accountable for their work as well.

 Example: Sarah is responsible for keeping office supplies stocked, and accountable for her actions if supplies run out.

Difference between responsibility and accountability

There is one main difference between the two terms. A responsibility to complete a task can be shared among a group, but only one person is accountable for that task being completed or not being completed, and will have to answer for the outcome.

Including responsibility and accountability in your resume

When writing a resume, it’s important to note responsibilities and accountabilities properly. Including a short list of your strongest skills related to the position, or any unusual duties you performed for a position is helpful. However, hiring managers and recruiters are more interested in what you were accountable for in past employment, rather than your specific duties. Job duties are fairly standard between organizations, so most employers and recruiters know what tasks you likely performed at your last job. What you achieved by undertaking specific tasks and duties shows more about your work ethic and skill level.

An accountability-driven resume will give hiring managers the purpose and value of your past roles. This tells them how you contributed to an organization, what kind of initiative you took and how your performance of delegated tasks made an impact. Showing who you are as a professional says more than a list of responsibilities.

Creating a resume that focuses on accountability will set you apart from other candidates. To do this, you want to ask yourself: ‘What did this role contribute to the company?’ and come up with a few of the main achievements you made. Detailing what you were asked to achieve will show hiring managers and recruiters what level of work you are capable of. 

Turning responsibilities into accountabilities

Here are the steps to take a responsibility and transform it into an accountability:

1. First, state your action

Explain what your achieved action was.

Example: ‘Implemented a new social media strategy…’

2. Second, state how you perform the action

Explain how you accomplished this achievement.

Example: ‘Based on the research of new subsets in the target market…’

3. Third, give the tangible results, impact or value of your action

Explain how your actions impacted the company.

Example: ‘…which increased the company’s revenue by 20%.’

Examples of turning responsibilities into accountabilities

Here are some examples of turning a responsibility into an achievement to show accountability in your resume:

Example 1

Job responsibility: Planned company events

Resume achievement to show accountability: Organized two sold-out charity events for over 250 people and raised $300,000 in total

Example 2

Job responsibility: Create monthly email campaigns

Resume achievement to show accountability: Produced 60-70 email campaigns for the year, generating over 20 million customer emails per month with an average open rate of 25%

Example 3

Job responsibility: Trained new employees

Resume achievement to show accountability: Conducted job compliance training for 40 employees over 4 locations, reducing new employee turnover by 75%

Tips for putting accountabilities in your resume

To attractively explain accountabilities in your resume to potential employers consider the following tips:

Quantify whenever possible

Provide more than dollar amounts of other raw numerical data. Numbers should be put into context to show their significance. Any increases you made in sales, decreases in costs or other important changes to performance indicators are best expressed in fractions or percentages.

Use comparisons

When detailing any changes in key performance indicators, make comparisons to previous numbers to provide further meaning. This helps the reader understand the extent of the improvement. For example, if you increased customer satisfaction from 85% to 95% you should state this comparison, Instead of just stating you improved customer satisfaction to 95%.

Provide meaning without numbers

If there are no numbers to provide meaning, you can still show the value of an achievement. Follow the steps of turning a responsibility into an accountability by stating the action, how you performed it and what impact it had on the company.

Share challenging circumstances

Showing your ability to overcome obstacles is a trait employees seek. If an achievement required working through adverse circumstances, briefly mention them and how you succeeded. An example could be how you increased or maintained housing sales during an economic downturn.