Accountability: what it is and why it’s important for a Project Manager


Accountability is important for a project manager, as following a project without accountability is like working without a safety net.

Yes, it is possible to get things done, but these can become disastrous if something or someone is at fault and no one knows or can prove who is responsible for what, and team cohesion falls apart.

Without accountability, a project manager can’t lead a project or be part of a team because failure is virtually assured.

But what does accountability mean?

This term addresses a critical problem in project management.

Accountability is often mistaken with “responsibility,” however its meaning is significantly different: Accountability is the ability to be accountable and responsible for an outcome, while responsibility is about the ability to perform and complete a given task.

An activity may have several managers performing it, but ideally, one accountable person is responsible for the outcome of the work performed.

The concept of accountability thus consists of:

  • Assigning responsibility.
  • Ensure there is a sharing regarding expectations: what needs to be delivered, how long it will take, and how much it will cost to provide a quality result.
  • Communicate on progress and completion status.
  • Be open about issues and risks.
  • Give and receive feedback.
  • Accept the blame or fame associated with the outcome.

Yet while the concept of accountability is clear and straightforward, this is not as easy to achieve as it might seem.

Often, members of a project team report to a different organizational leader, so direct authority may be nonexistent.

In addition, project activities are often considered a second priority to day-to-day responsibilities.

So, how can you ensure accountability in project management?

Some strategies for success include:

  1. Define expectations.
  2. Philosophy of Accountability.
  3. Highlight tasks interconnectedness.
  4. Follow-up on action items.

Let’s have a look at these points in more detail.

accountability for a pm

Setting expectations

It is a common mistake to assume that project expectations and goals are clear when they are vague.

There is often uncertainty in project expectations, which leads project managers to conflict with priorities.

Lack of well-written and clearly stated documents on tasks and responsibilities is the main problem that causes situations where the manager and the team fail to make the right decisions and lose focus on the project.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself in this case:

  • Will the project lose focus if a mini-crisis occurs, such as a potential late shipment or a problem with a piece of equipment?
  • If a team member’s direct manager needs a report or action completed, will the project lose focus?
  • If the project conflicts with the department’s priorities, will the project lose focus?

Most of the time, these problems delay or even fail projects.

A project manager should think through potential conflicts, determine priorities, and communicate clearly in advance.

In these cases, not only project successful, but other needs are usually met as well.

Accountability philosophy

A critical action that falls into the hands of management is to foster an environment of accountability among team members and project stakeholders in general.

The project manager must ensure what individual and team accountability mean, not only for themselves but also for all team members.

This means adopting a philosophy that success depends on more than just meeting deadlines and executing tasks.

Speaking of deadlines, a good Gantt in project management software becomes indispensable.

Project managers, team members, and stakeholders must feel a personal obligation to achieve goals and deliver the highest level of quality and commit to being personally responsible for the project’s success.

Highlight tasks interconnectedness

Projects almost always include interdependent activities, and some things must happen in sequence for the project to be successful.

As a project manager lays out the details of a project to the team, the project manager should intentionally highlight how activities intersect.

With the project manager showing team members how tasks relate to each other and how each person must do an excellent job for the benefit of other team members, the project manager incentivizes everyone to hold each other accountable.

Follow-up on action items

When team members make commitments, the entire team must be able to count on completing the task.

As tasks are assigned, the project manager should ensure that team members keep their word.

Once the first step, the accountability philosophy, has established an atmosphere of responsibility, there is no need for the project manager to reprimand someone for not following through. Group dynamics will take care of the situation.

The project manager may need to ask in-depth questions about why a commitment was not met from time to time. Still, usually, the accountable person will be willing to expose themselves to mistakes and recommit to completing the original action and possibly atoning for any shortcomings in performance.


Accountability and responsibility are therefore critical to the success of a project, and a strong accountability philosophy is the first step in ensuring the necessary accountability for projects.

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