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Accountable or Responsible?

I was recently asked,  "From an ITIL standpoint, what’s the difference between Accountability and Responsibility?"   That's a great Question!

There is a big difference between Accountability and Responsibility.  The ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) book provides the following definitions:
  • Accountable: Ownership of a process, and/or activity. The person who is held accountable and ensures that the goals and objectives of a process are being followed.
  • Responsible: Performer of a task. The person responsible for getting the task/activity done. This person gets the work done and does not necessarily have the authority to ensure that others are getting their tasks completed.
Accountable roles oversee or "own" the process or task; responsible roles execute or perform one or more aspects of the process or task.

For example: A CIO is accountable for the quality of all IT services, including the results produced by the IT staff and suppliers.  However, the CIO  does not personally manage or perform all of the tasks required to deliver those services.  He or she delegates that responsibility to others in the IT or supplier organization. 

Line managers are similarly accountable for the results of their teams but delegate the responsibilities of daily tasks to individual members or suppliers.   So, could one role be both accountable and responsible? Absolutely!  It is important, however, to understand that there is a very different focus between "accountability for results" and "responsibility for doing the work".

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