How To Be An Accountable And Capable Leader

How to be an accountable and capable leader

April 27, 2023
Tom Moriarty says help your people achieve their goals, and fix bad systems before they beat your team.

Editor’s note: In January 2009, Tom Moriarty broke new ground for Plant Services by establishing a column dedicated to leadership techniques and best practices in our industry. With this final installment, he sums up the key elements of Human Capital. With deep gratitude, we thank you Tom for sharing your wisdom and insights with us and our readers.

When writing Human Capital, the three central themes I tried to stay true to are:

1. Help people to achieve their goals. If a person has the desire to be a leader, we should help those people to gain the knowledge and experience to be successful. The same goes for those not interested in leadership positions. A large percentage of people do not have the desire to be a leader. They may be proud tradespersons who have mastered, or desire to be masters of, their trade. Others may be engineers, contract specialists or inventory clerks who are experts in their respective fields. As leaders ourselves, we should help those folks with the knowledge and experience they need to be successful on their career path.

2. The two most important things that a leader needs to be successful are accountability and leadership capability.

Accountable persons want to solve problems and make decisions. Truly accountable people do not make excuses. They take the heat when things go wrong. They recognize issues and overtly work to solve the root causes of problems. Accountable leaders provide guidance; policies, plans, processes, procedures, and measures. Ambiguities, gaps and overlaps in guidance is where conflicts and silos are spawned.
Leaders must also be accountable to provide what people need to carry out guidance: familiarization and training, coaching and the resources or assets needed to carry out the guidance.

Two quotes I’ve used often:

  • If the team fails, it is because the leader didn’t put them in a position to succeed. Meaning, the leader’s job is to get the best performance from their team. If the team (or a team member) fails then the leader has failed, not the team or individual.
  • You can’t get blood from a stone. Meaning, if you don’t provide what’s needed to do the job the right way, you can’t expect it to be done the right way.

Leadership capability is much more than a set of leadership skills that get taught during a lunch-and-learn or half-day training session. Leaders must first want to be leaders, and want to be accountable, with a personal set of mission, vision, and values that align with being a leader. They also need to know leadership roles, attributes, and skills:

Roles are the objective of what a leader is doing when spending their time: expert/technician, administrator/manager, coach, systems thinker or visionary. 

  • Attributes are the way a leader interacts with others: being consistent, attentive, respectful, motivating and assertive (CARMA).
  • Skills are the important techniques: time management, communication, giving and receiving feedback, delegation/empowerment, and conflict resolution.
    Leaders must know what their sources of power are, know how to manage or improve their power bases, and know how to apply their power correctly. Finally, leaders must be able to set goals and help their team achieve them.

3. A bad system will beat good people every time. This is a quote attributed to W. Edwards Deming. It is as true in leadership as it is in any other endeavor.
If we view leadership as a system, the typical workplace is a bad system. I’ve read many studies and conducted two studies through Plant Services magazine that have asked about the amount of leadership training that people have received. About 25% of supervisors and managers have received no leadership training prior to assuming a leadership position. About 50% of managers and supervisors receive leadership training less than once every two to three years.

Organizations like these put people in leadership positions but don’t support the leaders with the training, tools, and structure they need to be successful. It’s no wonder it’s so hard to attract and retain people. People will go where they are treated best.

If you want to fix your leadership system, provide consistent leadership training to new leaders and current leaders. Make sure managers and supervisors are consistent, attentive, respectful, motivating, and assertive in holding themselves, their peers, and their subordinates accountable. Provide refresher training in leadership every year to one-half or one-third of your leaders and perspective leaders each year. Schedule it so everyone gets a refresher at least once every two or three years.

I hope my ramblings have helped you in some way. It has been my honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to pass on the wisdom I gained from my mentors.

Thanks to Russ Kratowicz for our random conversation on a shuttle bus at a conference in Las Vegas in 2009. That impromptu discussion led to him offering to have me write a column on leadership some fourteen years ago. Thank you to Tom Wilk and the wonderful staff at Putman Media, now Endeavor Business Media, past and present. Your friendship and professionalism were most appreciated.

And thanks to you for reading my thoughts on productive leadership and various related topics for the past 14 years. Your questions, requests to provide training, and speaking with your companies has been a high point in my professional career. As I begin to ease back on my pace of work, know that you can find my articles archived on the Plant Services website; or buy my book, The Productive Leadership System (ISBN: 978-08311-3642-0), so I can afford golf balls!

I’m always willing to take an email, text or phone call. As always, go forth and do great things.

About the Author

Tom Moriarty | P.E., CMRP, President of Alidade MER, Inc.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in asset management, reliability engineering, and leadership improvement. He is a member of SMRP (Florida Chapter Board Member and CED Director), a past Chair of ASME’s Canaveral Florida Section, and author of the book “The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability”. He has a BSME, an MBA (organizational development), is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in Florida, and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP). Contact him at [email protected], (321) 773-3356, or via LinkedIn at

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