If your team isn’t quite performing how you’d like, have you considered if lack of accountability could be an issue? If people aren’t taking ownership of decisions and results, things probably aren’t getting done.

As a leader, that’s frustrating. But as you know, the buck always stops with you, and creating a culture of accountability in the workplace won’t happen without you.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a culture of accountability looks like at work, why it’s so critical to success, and ideas on how you can embed accountability into your workplace culture.

Accountability at work – what is it?

Definition of accountability in the workplace: Being accountable at work means taking responsibility for actions, decisions, tasks, and deadlines, and owning the results, whether good or bad.

Accountability is central to high-performing teams, but it’s a complex phenomenon. When there’s a culture of accountability in a workplace:

  • people at every level are personally committed to achieving their goals
  • all team members assume responsibility for their actions
  • staff work together to solve problems creatively
  • people own their mistakes and learn from them.

Why is accountability important in the workplace?

Workplace accountability boosts productivity, creativity, trust, morale, and overall team performance.

A lack of accountability at work can breed poor performance through:

  • unclear expectations and priorities
  • low morale, low trust, and high turnover
  • not taking responsibility and blaming others for mistakes
  • missed deadlines and unmet goals.

Benefits of accountability

Creating a culture of accountability in the workplace can have many upsides:

  • Productivity: people work better when they understand what’s required of them. They’ll be more engaged and committed to meeting their deadlines and goals.
  • Creativity: Being accountable encourages team members to work together to solve problems. They’ll have the confidence to try new things and find innovative solutions.
  • Trust: Instilling an accountable culture involves plenty of communication. Everyone relies on each other, and nobody shifts the blame for mistakes. Trust grows in the team and with management.
  • Morale: Employees are accountable to themselves, each other, management, and the business. They know what’s expected of them, communication is plentiful, and they’re rewarded for a job well done.


How to build a culture of accountability

As a leader in your workplace, culture building is a responsibility that falls directly in your lap. Changing workplace culture takes time and effort, but if you’re looking to cultivate accountability, here are nine ideas to get you started:

1. Lead by example

To encourage a culture of accountability, you’ll need to hold yourself accountable first. As a leader, you very much set the tone for performance and culture. If you’re always late for meetings, miss deadlines and avoid responsibility for your mistakes, others will follow your lead. If these aren’t behaviours you want in your team, you’ll need to change your own behaviour first by demonstrating exemplary leadership qualities:

2. Set workplace expectations

To enable employee success, you need to explain the rules of the game. Having clearly defined standards lets employees know what’s expected of them. You can do this by defining and communicating the:

  • organisation’s mission, vision, and values
  • job roles and responsibilities
  • expected standards for behaviour
  • importance of their commitment to the expectations
  • consequences of not meeting expectations (without fear of punishment)
  • rewards and benefits of meeting and exceeding expectations.

“It is critical to share an understanding and commitment to agreed roles and responsibilities, whether this is in a project environment or part of business as usual activities. When hierarchy is set aside and the focus is shifted to defining the most appropriate person accountable for specific work, efficiencies are enabled which also helps to support a culture of empowerment and shared ownership of final outcomes.”

Sophia Herdina, Project Manager, People & Culture for Sydney Catholic Schools


3. Establish clear goals

To perform to their fullest potential, people need to understand what’s expected of them and the big picture goal they’re working towards. Clear goals inspire people to work towards achieving them and make them want to stick around. Here are two of the more popular goal-setting methods you could use:

  • SMART goal setting encourages accountability with goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely. You can extend this to set SMARTER goals that incorporate Evaluation and Revision of goals.
  • The OKR framework (Objective and Key Results) is good because it’s a collaborative approach to goal-setting encourages ownership at all levels of the organisation.

4. Use an accountability framework

Accountability frameworks like RACI ensure that everyone involved in a project understands their role. People are designated as Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, or Informed and it clarifies exactly who is doing what, ultimately leading to better performance.

5. Monitor progress

Once your goals are set and the team understands their role, you’ll need to monitor progress carefully. Embedding regular team meetings, daily stand-ups or one-on-ones creates strong habits around accountability. Using project management technology like AsanaMonday, or Click-up keeps track of commitments and can be useful for monitoring progress and continually reinforcing your culture of accountability.

6. Give (and receive) feedback

Giving and getting honest feedback can be a real challenge, but it’s an area you can work on. Many leadership courses include excellent training to boost feedback skills. Here are some feedback tips to consider:

  • Give feedback often, and look for opportunities to congratulate your team.
  • Be very specific and use examples, including explaining the impact of their action, whether good or bad.
  • Build trust with each member of your team, and be sure to deliver any negative feedback in private.
  • Always frame negative feedback with positive intent and make it clear you genuinely want them to improve and grow.
  • Create a culture of two-way feedback and provide safe opportunities to speak up about peer and management performance.

7. Take responsibility for mistakes

As a leader in your organisation, you need to demonstrate desired behaviours. Part of a culture of accountability is owning your mistakes and learning from them. When people see it’s okay to make mistakes, they’re more inclined to push boundaries and innovate. If mistakes happen, it’s good practice to:

  • admit the mistake and never try to shift the blame
  • create a plan to resolve any fallout from the error
  • communicate any lessons learned along the way to prevent future occurrences.

8. Hire the right people

When recruiting, prioritise cultural fit over skills. You can teach skills more easily than shifting deeply held values. Look out for the following traits:

  • Do they want to learn and grow?
  • Do they care about doing great work?
  • Ask how they’ve overcome obstacles, solved problems, and asked for help in the past.
  • Listen out for blaming mistakes or failures on others.
  • Ask their referees if they are responsive to feedback.

Examples of accountability in the workplace

There are many ways people uphold a culture of accountability in their workplaces. Here are a few examples:

  • owning responsibilities
  • proactively solving problems
  • helping colleagues meet their goals
  • embracing learning opportunities
  • accepting constructive feedback
  • sharing knowledge with others
  • being punctual.

Project Spotlight: Directors at Secom Technical Services successfully built a culture of accountability through implementing an intensive employee engagement program.

Accountability in project management

Accountability is important in every job, but it’s particularly central to the project profession. Holding yourself and your team accountable for the project outcome is core to the role.

And even more so in certain industries, where the stakes are exceptionally high. Projects in sectors like defence, government, construction, and health can have life or death impacts, and a culture of accountability can help prevent mistakes that could have dire consequences.

Want to learn how to shape your organisation’s culture?

Cultivating a culture of accountability in the workplace improves morale and performance and will help your team thrive. The Australian Institute of Project Management offers a range of professional development workshops. Take a look at the course outlines to find out how you can build skills and knowledge to help you shape a high-performance culture and confidently lead your organisation to success.