The importance of accountability in career progression

Ever wondered why you weren't getting the promotions you wanted? Maybe this is the reason why...

With 25 years running an executive search firm, I have interviewed thousands of candidates over the years and worked with major institutions to recruit their teams via internal and external processes. I very clearly would see which people took accountability for their job and which just completed job responsibilities.

Those that saw their job responsibilities as just something they do each day to tick off a list, were less career motivated in the eyes of their employer. They were going through the motions to get their pay check at the end of the month. There was no passion or pride about what they did.

However, those who saw their job responsibilities as something they were accountable for would usually go over and above what was required. They wanted to progress in their career with the company and the more things they were accountable for the better. This attitude would get them noticed by management as someone who is on track for promotion and into leadership.

If you take accountability for a task, you will more than likely be focused on the quality of the task as it will be a direct reflection on you. You are taking responsibility for the results and owning the outcome. If there is a good result, then you will be commended. If there is a negative result, then how you accept accountability will also be judged by your manager. You will be assessed on your actions and how you accept mistakes and critique.

Most leaders will tell you that they have made many mistakes over their career for things they were accountable for. How you handled the mistake is what sets a leader apart from a follower. Leadership is a trait, not a level. You can be a leader at every stage of your career. The behaviour you exhibit after a mistake is made will tell your boss if you are someone who takes responsibility, is accountable for their actions (and their team that they manage), and they can trust that it will not happen again.

If you are someone that puts the blame on others, systems, lack of resources or any other excuse that will divert the mistake from you, then your boss will see you as someone who does not take accountability. This will likely go against you at review and promotion time. Often, I would hear managers making comments about internal applicants that blame others for their mistakes – and this would knock them out of the running for the promotion. If you are accountable for a task and make a mistake – own your mistake.

My top tips for accountability are:

  1. Know exactly what you are directly accountable for – the details of the task, the timeline for completion and what result is required.
  2. If you make a mistake, stand up and accept responsibility. Do not blame others and assure your boss it will never happen again.
  3. If the quality of the task you are accountable for is questioned. Accept the feedback as critique not criticism and thank the person for letting you know. Don’t be defensive and understand that people are usually trying to help when they give feedback.
  4. Write down what happened and put in place a process, so the mistake never happens again.
  5. Keep details for all tasks you are accountable for that would be considered an achievement. This will come in handy at your next performance review. Have you gone over and above what was required?

Taking accountability will show your company that you are capable of more. It will put you on the radar and separate you from the pack. From graduate role to management level, have a mindset that you are accountable for the responsibilities listed on your job description. Master those to a high standard and then ask for more. This is what will get you your next promotion.

Judith Beck is the author of No Sex at Work (Major Street Publishing), which shares the do’s and don’ts from her experience as founder of executive search firm, Financial Recruitment Group. Judith also founded Financial Executive Women (FEW) and is a speaker and media commentator. For more information visit