Tech & Work

Assign responsibility and authority

Giving employees greater responsibilities without the authority to meet them is a recipe for managerial disaster. We'll show you how to strike the right balance of responsibility and authority.


Responsibility comes with every job. It gives developers a feeling of usefulness and pride in their work. But when employees lack the authority to back up their responsibilities, they may feel unable to meet them. This creates stress and dissatisfaction. You can avoid this by giving them responsibility with authority.

The need for fulfillment
It's your goal as manager to run a healthy department—a healthy balance of budget, productivity, stability, and consistency. These interrelated objectives have one thing in common: the willingness of your employees to follow your lead and perform their job well.

If your employees aren't satisfied with their jobs, no amount of money will make them happy and cooperative. If you want the kind of staff that stays late to make a deadline because they're dedicated and not because you made them, you need to speak to the one thing every employee desires—the ability to make a difference.

A demanding but unfulfilling job will literally suck the life out of your employees. Responsibility will be seen as a burden, not a privilege. You might even drive your team away if they think you’re asking them to do your job.

Don't have one without the other
Picture this: You’ve promoted your best developer to the lead position. Besides writing code, he's now responsible for working with the project manager to incorporate change orders. He's also expected to report to you about his and the team's performance. Unfortunately, you haven’t given your lead developer the authority he needs to meet all his new responsibilities.

Now suppose a change order comes in from the project manager. It's been approved and accepted everywhere down the line, until your lead developer discovers a fatal flaw. Large portions of code require modification, which will take ten times longer than projected to complete. But your lead developer lacks the authority to reject or even push back the changes. When he tries, his efforts are thwarted, and feathers are ruffled. It gets back to you, and now you’ve got a mess to deal with.

Even if you side with your lead developer, the same thing will happen the next day—and every day thereafter, until you do something about it. You've put your best developer in a position where he has no authority over the things he's held responsible for. He's frustrated because he has to seek out the authority to back his decisions or risk a turf conflict. Without the power to do his job, your lead developer feels humiliated. His new job is both a constant challenge and a waste of his time.

Responsibility is a good thing
Responsibility is the anchor of any satisfying job. Being held accountable for work performed gives the employee a sense of trust and reward. Without it, a job is merely a list of duties with no bearing on the real business. When accountability is recognized, the employee becomes a part of the company, rather than just a cog in the machine.

Creating accountability for work performed is the easy part, but there's a fine line between accountability and arbitrary responsibility. That line makes all the difference in the world. If employees aren't given the tools to fulfill their responsibilities, they have, in effect, become the tools, and they'll be acutely aware of it.

People don’t like to be used, whether they consciously realize it or not. If lack of authority is the primary challenge in completing responsibilities, the resulting work will be unfulfilling. Fighting merely to do what is expected is not rewarding, but overcoming a challenge while fulfilling expectations can be.

Authority is required
To prevent this obviously undesirable situation, you must give your employees the authority to meet their responsibilities. This means doing two simple things. First, talk to the person you've assigned authority to, and let them know what their boundaries are. Then tell the rest of the team and anyone else affected what this person is now required to do—and has the authority for. By doing these two things, you've enabled your employee to succeed.

Balance of expectations
There's one thing to be wary of. Too much authority with too little responsibility is a dangerous thing and can lead to unintentionally (or even intentionally) abusive behavior. To avoid this, think of a change in operations as awarding power. Then create a means for holding employees accountable for that power. This is where their true responsibilities will become clear.

For example, instead of saying “John will be giving me weekly reports on the status of his team,” say “John will now be scheduling the work of his team.” Then create accountability: “He'll give me weekly updates.”

A job well done
When you give your employees the responsibility to perform tasks and the authority to carry them out, they feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Too much responsibility without the power to fulfill it will create stress and a sense of frustration and purposelessness. A manager must find the correct balance between responsibility and authority to have a healthy, happy, and productive staff.

Other approaches?
Has responsibility without authority affected your team? What other approaches do you use to address this issue? Let us know by posting in the discussion below, or sending us an e-mail.

 

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