People management

How to improve manager accountability in the workplace

In the same way, feedback and accountability are important for your team, it's essential for leaders. Learn how to become more accountable.

No matter the person, when someone asks if they can give you feedback, you feel your stomach tighten. 

The same feeling goes for all types of leaders, for example, team managers. At the end of the day, there are normal humans who are trying to do the best they can. 

However, in the same way, feedback and accountability improve the overall performance of a team, managers will significantly benefit from it as well. 

Unfortunately, though, 84% of employees say the way leaders behave is the single most important factor influencing accountability in their organizations, yet only 15% of leaders have successfully defined and broadly communicated their own results.


What is accountability in the workplace? 


To start off, you need to first understand what accountability is. In Webster's dictionary, they define it as "the obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one's actions." 

This can be applied in any context, however, in this case, we’ll be focusing on accountability within the workplace. In a work environment, we focus on how each stakeholder takes responsibility for their tasks or what is expected from them. 

It’s an important skill that needs to be developed and strengthened to allow teams to count on and rely on each other. A great example of accountability is a team member owning up to a mistake and reflecting on how it could have affected both them and the rest of their team.

What's the difference with manager accountability?

We normally hear about how to make teams more accountable but hardly do we hear about it in regards to management. Like everyone else in a company, managers and other leaders have responsibilities and commitments that they have to constantly be on top of. 

When dealing with leaders, as you can imagine, there are several forms of accountability. It’s not only about the tasks they have to complete to improve business performance. Leaders should also be accountable for company culture and the workforce as well. 

Some responsibilities managers need to be accountable for are: 

  • Setting clear expectations for the team
  • Provide useful and clear feedback 
  • Establishing clear roles and responsibilities
  • Providing guidance and fostering growth 


How to improve manager accountability 

Clearly communicate goals and objectives 


We might be stating the obvious, but the first step to improving accountability, in general, is by communicating what is expected from the team. As a manager, you need to articulate what each team member’s roles are, including your own. Also, how each responsibility will not only meet the teams’ goals and objectives but also the overall company's. 

By clearly sharing the defined set of expectations, your team will have a purpose and a measurable path to meet their goals. This will then also encourage overall accountability as individuals know exactly what they are responsible for. (63)


For example, when you assign a project and expect the highest standards as soon as possible, you’re not being specific about what you expect from them. What is the definition of “highest standards” or “soon as possible”? People would have different answers in regards to your request. Which will cause confusion, conflict and tamper with the success of the project.

Providing unclear expectations and a lack of specificity will cause gaps in developing your accountability skills. From a study from Gallup, only 2 out of 10 employees think their leaders know where their organization is headed.

How can you or your team own up to actions and situations if concrete specificities aren’t discussed? Nor would you be able to justify the confusion as you didn’t initially provide benchmarks on how the project should be completed. 

Practice and promote accountability 


To perfect any skill you need to first practice and the same goes with accountability. The best way to improve this skill as a leader is by actually making a habit out of it. This means addressing not only your team's wins and failures but also your own. 

 Whenever there is something worth highlighting, like a specific achievement or a negative situation like lack of progress on a project, mention it to the team. Remember, there is a fine line between promoting accountability and creating accusations. 

Ask team members neutral questions to help them take responsibility for what was assigned to them. Ask questions about what has been achieved, what bottles necks are stopping them from moving forward and so forth. (64)


In the same way, you should encourage your team to ask you these questions. Were they expecting something from you that you couldn’t complete in time? If so, acknowledge it. Just because you’re their leader doesn’t mean you won’t be making mistakes as well. 

By creating a safe space where you lead by example you can foster and promote accountability. Your team will follow and feel comfortable enough to be accountable for their achievements and mishaps.  Around 70% of employees work harder when they feel more appreciated. By documenting your expectations and sharing them with the group, you provide a point of reference that can help realign things should they fall off track.

Evaluate progress and give feedback 


An accountable manager is one that can provide constructive performance feedback consistently. They are leaders who help at identifying any problem areas and will work with individuals to find solutions for them. It’s not only about providing the goals and objectives but helping your team pave their way to success. 

The feedback provided by any leader is crucial when team members are trying to not only improve their performance but also develop new skills.  An accountable leader is someone who is on top of what each person is doing. Not only, but can also reflect on the progress they have done, from their improvements to areas that need more attention. (65)


It’s important that you’re conscious of how you share feedback. Are you talking to them in a neutral way, where they don’t feel undermined or embarrassed? Have you let them know what you like about their work and what they’re good at? The whole point is to give your team a direction so that their individual success impacts the teams' collective goals.

You may want to consider creating a review process that both you and your team members fill out. Then, you can discuss the important points on your 1 on 1s, like what bootle necks do each one have, how can you remove them and what else can be done to improve their work. 


  Ask for feedback about your performance   


One of the most important ways a manager can become more accountable is by creating the habit of asking for feedback. Not only from those they report to but from anyone else they work closely with, other managers, their team, projects leads and so forth. 

According to a study, the best leaders are those who ask for feedback frequently. From the 50,000 executives, it was found that  "Leaders who ranked at the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated, on average, at the 86th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness." (66)

However, most team members won’t want to voluntarily speak up about how their supervisor can be better. For many, it even seems like a risky move as they feel the manager might be in control of their future in the organization.

This is why a good leader encourages their team members to build the habit of sharing feedback without having to feel like there would be consequences for doing so. Make sure to discuss how you can provide assistance or make their work lives easier after important meetings. 

Remember, when asking for feedback you have to lead by example and accept criticism and any other opinions that might not make you feel the best. However, as you would like your team to be respectful of your views, you should be too. 


Build  your emotional intelligence 


Emotional Intelligence measures your ability to understand, use and manage your emotions to receive positive results like relieving stress, communicating effectively and empathizing with others. Emotional intelligence accounted for up to 60% of the job performance of supervisors through CEOs. By developing this skill, as a leader, you’ll manage to have better control over how you feel as well as have a good perception of your team's emotions. 

To start with, working on your emotional intelligence means that you’ll be more aware of your emotional impact on your team. Good leaders are those who are aware that their state of mind can affect how a team performs. This means that you can become more accountable for how your presence affects the overall mood. (67)

If you find yourself in a situation where your negative emotions are spilling onto your team, take a break and recognize it. Sharing with your team what you’re feeling and why allows them to not take the situation so personally. Such as thinking that maybe you’re upset at them, or they were not performing to expectations. 

Another way emotional intelligence helps managers become more accountable is by recognizing how others are feeling. Leaders who are highly attuned to the states of others should be able to recognize both the cognitive and emotional components. So, not only do they connect with what someone is going through but also the emotions they have while going through it. By reflecting on this, you can have a stronger awareness of your impact on the team. Did you notice that the mood changed after a meeting? Why? Could you have done something different to prevent this? 

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