Responsibility and Authority

Much is made in business circles about responsibility.  Try applying for a job and one of the first things one will see is a list of the responsibilities for the position.  Of course this makes sense and is legitimate.  People are hired to carry responsibilities to do specific work.   Work equals responsibility.  But, are we missing something here?  Is there something more that needs to be said?

Try being a county sheriff with the responsibility of pulling over speeders.  The sheriff sits quietly in his well-hidden, souped-up K Car with his radar pointed at cars.  One is going 55 in a 35 and the sheriff speeds off with sirens blaring and pulls over the vehicle.  With citation in hand, the lawman asks for registration and proof of insurance.  But, we have a problem Houston.  The supposed sheriff has neither badge nor gun and, in fact, has no authority at all.  He simply cannot do his job.  He might be the sheriff with the responsibility to pull over speeders, but he has no teeth for the job.  He is a lame duck.

This happens in organizations, too.  People with inferior titles and authority are given superior responsibilities.  This is invariably a recipe for disaster.  The person who is tasked with responsibilities to write protocols and procedures is not empowered to enforce them.  This creates a myriad of reporting issues that result in inefficiency and outright hard feelings.  Who is at fault?  The fault lies in the organizational structure that promotes the inequity.  Appropriate levels of responsibility require appropriate levels of authority.  Don’t ask prospective lawmen to handle business without deputizing them.  Front line employees should not be asked to handle management responsibilities without the authority to do so.  Managers should not be asked to battle directors without being directors.  It is like handing a man a steak with a dull, butter knife.   One would rather have a hot dog.

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