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Responsibilities Versus Authorities

By yashodhan_kanade on Sat, 19 October 2013 at 20:15 IST
Responsibilities Versus Authorities

We must have come across a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody, as below. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done. Does it remind us of similar situation in our organization? If yes we must find reasons and solutions.

Why this happens?

Various possibilities that come to our mind are –
1. Lack of allocating clear cut responsibilities and authorities to concerned people.
2. Lack of communicating responsibilities and authorities to the concerned people.
3. Lack of understanding of responsibilities and authorities by the concerned people.
4. Shirking of responsibilities and non execution of authorities by concerned people.

An organization

An organization is defined as a group of people and facilities with an arrangement of roles, responsibilities, authorities and relationships.
Organization has a structure, a purpose, a culture and indeed a personality.
If any element from the definition of organization is missing, it cannot be called as an organization. For example -
In a cinema hall, there is a group of people, coming together for a purpose of watching movie. Can we call such a group an organization?
Alternatively, think of a group of people having defined purpose and responsibilities and authorities but without facilities to carry out work.
Or we may have a group of people without relationship with each other like. For example, at railway platform there is a group of people for a purpose of bidding good bye to their relatives or welcoming their relatives. Can we call it an organization?

Organized music

In an orchestra, every musician has to play his instrument in a planned way - a designated piece of music, at designated time, at a designated pitch, for a designated period, simultaneously - resulting in a symphony or organized music. Otherwise it will be a sound pollution.
To facilitate work, an organization must be “organized” and that happens when people are informed about their roles, responsibilities and authorities, who would report to whom together with facilities to carry out their designated work.
Responsibilities and authorities are two different things. They go in hand in hand but they are not substitutes for each other.
Many a times, authorities are granted without responsibilities and vice versa. This is because, we get confused with authority and responsibility and as a result conflict and tension occurs in day to day working.
It is therefore necessary to understand the difference between authority and responsibility in conjunction with the definition of an organization, so that the organization can function smoothly.


  • Responsibility implies relationship.
  • A person is always responsible for something to someone.
  • It involves communicating and being aware of your relationships with others.
  • A person is responsible to ensure that something happens in the expected manner.
  • Responsibility involves being accountable for, or having obligations or duties and acting reasonably.

Responsibility is the ability or duty to decide or act upon one’s own or somebody else’s decisions without supervision.Responsibility is another word for answerability. Whether the consequences are good or bad, the accountability is taken by the person who is responsible. It means getting the credit, or taking the blame. It means making the effort to reduce harm if something goes wrong.


  • Authority connotes a function or a designation.
  • A person is authorized to take decisions about cost, schedule and other questions that arise throughout the course of the execution of activities.
  • Authority involves having the power to enforce obedience or compliance with the requirements that are documented.
  • It can also involve a sense of having the right to control others.
  • Authority is the power to command, judge, enforce laws and expect obedience.

When we say that someone has an authority, we mean that a person has the ability to make things happen. Or that the person has the ability to compel other people to do things. Authority can come out of the strength of their own personality, or out of their special skills, greater knowledge and vast experience. Sometimes authority comes perhaps due to age and the type of education or position a person has achieved during his lifetime.

Authorized persons have power

Empowerment involves giving power or authority to someone else to manage work independently and be responsible for success or failure.
We are familiar with the term – Authorized signatory.

This means that a person has authority as well as power to sign a cheque and withdraw funds, sign an appointment or termination letter, sign a purchase or work order, sign agreements or MOU with other party, decide cost and other terms with the customer and so on.

Any of the above documents signed by unauthorized persons are null and void.

Power is the ability to get things done by others. The principle of power is to punish and reward.

Authority is the power to enforce law and take command, and to expect obedience from those without authority.

Responsibility versus authority

Authority is power and privilege,
Responsibility is the answerability.

Authority cannot be delegated. It can be transferred
Responsibility can be delegated. It cannot be transferred

If authority is given, a person may avoid taking decisions.
If authority is taken, person may use it effectively

Four combinations of authority and responsibility

1. A person can have responsibility as well as authority for the activities.
For example, a project manager has responsibility and authority to complete a project without time and money overrun.
When a company is doing well, the CEO is appreciated for his efforts as he in authority to take decisions as well as to reward or punish when somebody is not working in the interest of organization.
No matter, who makes the mistake, the junior or senior, the senior most person is answerable for the results.

2. A person may have only responsibility but no authority.
For example, a nurse has responsibility to take care of a patient by timely giving him medicines prescribed by the doctor, but has no authority to change the medicine or stop it on her own.

An accountant has responsibility to prepare a list of payables. He may prepare the cheques but has no signing authority.

A fielder on cricket ground has responsibility to save runs and take catches, but has no authority to decide where to stand

3. A person may have only authority but no responsibility.
For example, a minister without portfolio has certain authority but no responsibility.
A vice captain has responsibility to do his designated work, but no authority to lead the team, unless the captain hands over authority to him.

4. A person may have no authority and no responsibility

For example, twelfth man in a cricket team or people sitting on bench in an IT company has no authority and no responsibility.

This situation is applicable to lowest category of employees like – casual workers

All the above possibilities exist within an organization at different levels.

Responsibilities and authorities at different level within an organization

  • For topmost post – Authorities as well as Responsibilities are there in totality. They have the ownership of the failure or success.
  • For bottom most people - the responsibility and authority is negligible, as they are casuals
  • Employees from top to bottom, between these two categories, have responsibilities as well as authorities in decreasing order.
  • Hence in order to avoid chaos and ego problems, responsibilities and authorities of such people must be decided by the top management
  • It is also necessary to communicate responsibilities & authorities to concerned people, as 70% problems arise due to miscommunication
  • The concept of ownership at different levels e.g. Stake owners (instead of share holders), Process owners (instead of HOD), Shift owners (instead of shift supervisors) and machine owners (instead of operators) helps to work with responsibility and authority.

Shirking of responsibility & authority

Sometimes a person is just given an authority, even if they don't deserve it.

Authority and responsibility might go hand in hand, but people who have authority might choose to transfer responsibility to others for lot of things.

People in authority have power. By virtue of this they also get away by shirking the responsibilities.

A person with authority might sometimes make blunders and still get away from it.

A person with authority can decide to start a war. A person with responsibility will take the blame if the war is lost.

When authorities are confused with responsibilities, conflict and tension occurs. Whether people are marriage partners, parents or children, neighbours or in business, a lack of understanding about the nature of the relationship between responsibility and authority can create hard feelings and alienate people from each other.

An employee should understand that organizational power given to him is to satisfy the needs of the organization and customers and not only to make him feel important in the organization.

Yashodhan Kanade
Lean manufacturing consultant
[email protected]

Yashodhan Kanade is a Lean Manufacturing consultant. (M) +919822470912

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