Difference Between Accountable vs Responsible

Difference Between Accountable vs Responsible

Today we explore the difference between accountable and responsible in a bid to deepen your understanding of these often confused words that feature very subtle variations to set them apart.

By the time you get to the end of this post, you’re going to feel entirely confident using either word as part of written or spoken language. Let’s dive straight into it and break down their respective meanings.

Definition of Accountable

Accountable is: “An expectation or requirement for the justification of an action or a decision.”

It could admittedly be said that a person who is accountable is also responsible, too. But it’s the precise manner in which these two words can be applied that give away their unique composition and allow us to separate them.

Accountability can only occur before an action or situation has occurred. For instance, you could hold someone accountable for a task before it taking place as a means of ensuring that they were solely intended to be the person fulfilling it.

However, you couldn’t hold someone accountable after the task was fulfilled. To help simplify it, you could view accountability as another way of asking someone to do something, but they’d be the only person you were asking and no one else.

This thought process also helps us to separate accountable vs responsible quite easily due to the latter word being applicable to someone both before and after an action or task taking place in conjunction with it being possible to share responsibility between several people at once.

Definition of Responsible

Responsible is: “Having some control over or care for an action or person, or the obligation to do something as part of a wider job role.”

Though the above definition doesn’t necessarily help us a great deal when it comes to accurately drawing a definitive line between accountability vs responsibility, we can easily tell the two apart primarily based on the thought processes we discussed in the last section.

As you’re already aware, accountability can be given to someone before a task occurs only as a means of designating a specific action to them, but you can hold someone responsible for something both before and after the fulfilment of a task or action.

Two sentence examples would be:

“I made Jonathan personally accountable for painting the fence on time, and to a high standard.”


“Jonathan was responsible for the high standard of paint work on the fence as well as the swift completion time.”

As you can see, one sentence implies that the individual had been asked to do something and the other discusses his work after completion of the task. Though they’re both similar, one can only be used when assigning a task to someone and the other can be used at any time after or before.

Main Differences Between Accountable vs Responsible

We’ll now summarize the difference between responsibility and accountability in a quick reference table that you can come back to any time you find yourself lost over the variations between these two words.

Basis of ComparisonAccountableResponsible
When is it used?Before the completion of something.Before or after the completion of something.
How many people does it refer to?One person.Any number of people.
Frequent uses?To assign a task to a specific individual.To review performance and assign tasks to one or several people.
Role of person?An accountable person is responsible for the successful completion of a task.A responsible person is responsible to an accountable person, or themselves if they are the accountable person.
Examples“Mary was accountable for completing the paperwork on time.”“Lisa was responsible for helping Mary to complete the paperwork on time.”

Difference Between Accountable and Responsible: Conclusion

After reading through today’s post, we’re confident that you should now have all of the understanding you require to use these two words successfully as part of written or spoken language.

Though they can be confusing, just remember that accountability comes before responsibility. Come back to our quick reference table any time you get lost for instant clarification on their separate meanings and uses.