Explain the difference between Responsibility, Accountability and Power

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Responsibility can be described as the obligation to do something. It is the duty that a person is required to perform in organizational tasks, assignments or functions. At this point, it needs to be noted that authority and responsibility go side by side. Therefore when authority is delegated to a person, some responsibility is also fixed for getting the assigned task completed. At the same time, it is also worth mentioning that while authority can be delegated, responsibility cannot be delegated. There are certain features of responsibility.

o Responsibility arises in case of a superior-subordinate relationship;
o Responsibility always flows upwards, from juniors to seniors;
o Responsibility arises due to the duty assigned;
o Responsibility cannot be delegated;
o Responsibility is the obligation to complete the job according to instructions.

Authority and Responsibility: Authority and responsibility should match each other. In this way, appropriate authority should be present for getting things done. For instance, when responsibility has been given to a supervisor to ensure the production of particular quantity, the supervisor should also have the authority to hire the personnel required for completing the task and also to take disciplinary action if these persons do not perform as required. At the same time, yet there is an imbalance between authority and responsibility, it can prove to be dangerous. If more authority is given than responsibility, it can prove to be dangerous as in such a case the authority can be misused. On the other hand, inadequate authority may also result in creating difficulties in getting the task completed.


There is a difference present between authority and responsibility. The first difference is between the meaning of the two. While authority is the right of the superior, responsibility is the obligation of the subordinate. Generally, authority arises as a result of legal provisions or formal contract. On the other hand, responsibility arises due to the subordinate-superior relationship. While authority can be delegated by a superior to a subordinate, responsibility cannot be delegated. The authority may continue for a long time but responsibility is over as soon as the task assigned to the person is completed.

Accountability can be described as the obligation of an individual to formally report to his superior regarding the work that has been done by the individual for discharging his responsibility. When the subordinate reports to his or her superior, regarding his performance, success or failure, the person discharges his accountability. In this way, accountability is related with the task assigned to a person and also reporting of its performance. Accountability can be described as the obligation of person to carry out the responsibility and to exercise authority regarding the performance standards established.
Nature of Accountability: There are certain characteristics of accountability:-

Accountability cannot be delegated. Therefore, a person cannot delegate accountability even if the work has been performed by a subordinate. Even in such a case, the person is still accountable to his superiors for the work that has been assigned to him.

Accountability always flows upwards. Therefore while authority always goes downwards, accountability goes upwards. A subordinate will always remain accountable to the superior about him.

Accountability is always unitary. A subordinate should be accountable only towards one superior. If the subordinate is made accountable towards more than one superior, it will result in confusion and friction. At the same time, different superiors may give different orders and they may also expect different levels of performance. Therefore it is important that a subordinate is accountable only towards one superior.

The responsibility and accountability needs to be exactly fixed in order to see if the assigned task has been completed or not. Similarly, specific standards should be present to evaluate accountability.

Power can be described as the best influence the behavior of other persons. But it also needs to be mentioned that it is not necessary that power is the corollary of authority. Therefore, it is possible that a person may not have power but still such a person may have the power. It can be said that while authority is the right to command, power can be described as the capacity to command. A rich person may have power as a result of his financial resources. A person, who has power, also has the ability to change the attitude of the other persons. Therefore the power enjoyed by the manager in an organization can be considered as the ability of the manager to cause the subordinates to do to do what the manager wants them to do. In this context, the power of the manager can be measured in terms of the ability of the manager to give rewards, promised rewards, threatened to withdraw the current rewards, withdraw the current rewards, and threaten to give punishment or to punish the employees. In this sense, power can be exercised not only for providing benefits to a person who is behaving in a particular manner but it can also be exercised for withdrawing the benefits that have been provided to the person if the person is not following the orders.


Sources of power:
The sources of power can be described as follows:
Legitimate power: This power corresponds with authority. Therefore when the law allows a person to exercise power over the other person, it is known as the legitimate power of the person. In this case, the person exercising their power has the authority to have an impact on the behavior of the other person.

Reward power: When power has been conferred on a person to provide rewards to the other persons for believing in a particular manner or for doing what the person wants them to do, it is known as the reward power. As the people can be benefited by conforming to the power of the person, they will abide by the orders of such a person.

Coercive power: The non-physical punishments come under the purview of coercive power. In this case, the person having the power can punish a subordinate if particular requirements are not fulfilled or the orders are not carried out by the other person.

Expert power: This power arises when a person has expert knowledge regarding a particular thing or if the person is considered as an expert or specialist regarding a particular issue, then in such a case it can be said that the person has the power to influence the behavior of other persons. For example, a doctor enjoys expert power on his patients. In the same way, production manager can have an impact on the behavior of his subordinates because of his was experience and expertise in a particular manufacturing field.

Difference between Power and Authority
There are certain differences that are present between power and authority. However the terms power and authority are sometimes used interchangeably as in both the cases, the objective is to influence the behavior of the person on whom they are exercised. But as mentioned above, both these terms are different. Therefore the differences that are present between power and authority can be described as follows:-

Command: Authority can be described as the right to command while power can be described as the capacity to command.

Exercise: Authority is exercised by a person as a result of the fact that the person is in a particular position in the organization but power is exercised on the basis of certain characteristics of the person.

Legitimate: legitimacy is conferred on authority due to the particular position held by a person. On the other end, power is not institutional but it is personal. Therefore, there are several different ways in which power can be acquired and then it can be exercised on other persons.

Hierarchy: There is no relationship between power and hierarchy. Hence, power can also be exercise that a lower level in the organization. But this is not the case with authority. Therefore authority increases as a person goes up in hierarchy in the organization. Therefore the higher level of hierarchy of person is, the more authority such person has but it does not mean that the person will also have more power. Therefore it is possible that a person may have more power even if the person is at a low level of hierarchy while the other person may be at a high level of hierarchy but have less power.

This article has been written by KJ Singh a MBA Graduate from a prestigious Business School In India
Article Published:March 13, 2017
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