Authority, Responsibility and Accountability

What is Authority, Responsibility and Accountability?

In general terms, authority is all about power. Responsibility is the commitment to fulfil work. Accountability refers to the responsibility to answer for duty. These terms hold deep meaning and are equally vital in management. These terms showcase the basic etiquette of management. Without authority, a manager cannot assign work to the staff and oblige them to do the work. This will lead to a mismanaged work structure with zero output. Without holding anyone accountable, an organization cannot function entirely. An individual requires to be answerable for any work. This piece is all about authority, responsibility, and accountability and how authority differs from accountability and responsibility.

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Definition of Authority in Business,

Authority is all about rights or powers with the managers which the organization empowers them for achieving a common organizational goal. Thus, it involves the power of assigning duties to workers and asking them to accept and pursue the assigned work. An organization can never stand without ethical assignment and detailing authority. 

According to Henry Fayol, authority is the power to give orders and garner obedience. Authority streams downwards as the board of directors provides it to executives and managers at various management levels. 


According to McFarland, responsibility is the duties or responsibilities allocated to a position or executive. Responsibility is the obligation that comes with a job. It simply means the person needs to commit to the job and complete it. It is their responsibility to finish the task in a given time-frame. Also, it shows that the authority was well implemented and the task is completed accordingly. 

Beneath this, an individual is qualified to delegate the task to associates but not to definitive accountability.  This means that even if the person has the power to transit the work still he/she will be held responsible for the task. Responsibility flows from bottom to top and is in the form of constant obligation. 


McFarland defines accountability as, "the obligation of a person to register formally to their senior executives about the task to discharge the responsibility." Accountability definition in management goes, "It is all about the liability created to handover the authority". Accountability makes an individual answerable about the task or job he/she has done. 

Hence, it makes an employee answerable for the performance of the assigned work. An individual who has accepted authority, he/she deems to approve accountability and responsibility at that time itself.  

Authority, Responsibility and Accountability: Disparities

Authority, responsibility, and accountability are important parts of management and have distinct characteristics. However, there is a relation between these three terms but differs from each other in business terms.

Authority is the power delegated by senior executives to assign duties to all employees for better functioning. Responsibility is the commitment to fulfil a task given by an executive. Accountability makes a person answerable for his or her work based on their position, strength, and skills.

Responsibility is task-specific, every individual in a team can be responsible for an assigned task to complete a project. Accountability arises after an incident has happened regarding the work. It is the way to establish ownership of the results

Solved Examples

Q. What are the Key Differences Between Accountability and Responsibility?

Ans: Despite having many similarities, accountability and responsibility differ in management. Their distinct characteristics separate both in the business world.  Responsibility can be shared by many, you can work with a team to divide responsibilities. Whereas accountability is specific to an employee or person based on their position, skill-set, and strength.

Even in bad times, true leaders stand by the results and own the whole incident. 

Fun Facts

  • Authority is delegated from senior executives to subordinates.

  • Authority flows from top to bottom.

  • Responsibility streams from bottom to top.

  • Responsibility is swift whereas authority is long-lasting.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. What are the Five Types of Authority Given to Managers?

Ans: Authority is the clout, the right, the power to influence employees and get them to do what and how managers want them to complete a task. In an active leadership, the definition of authority is delineated, here are five types of authorities that can be leveraged by the managers.

  • Legal- The ability to influence workers is based on position and official authority.

  • Expert- The ability to influence people is based on the awareness and understandings of several topics.

  • Reverent- The ability to influence people is based on the way of approach, behaviour and manner.

  • Reward- The ability to influence people by offering rewards or incentives.

  • Punitive- The ability to influence employees by imposing a fine or penalty for a fault, guidelines violation or offence.

Q2. What is the Relationship Between Accountability, Authority and Responsibility?

Ans: Authority, accountability, and responsibility work together in the management. The creation of authority leads to the creation of the other two at some point. These three elements cannot work in isolation and require the support of each other to achieve common organizational goals. This is the reason why the top management thinks so much before agreeing on the flow of authority. 

Proper use of authority can be witnessed in the individual who is responsible for completing the task and the person who is held accountable for the results. Accountability occurs when an event takes place and needs a person to own the results.