Leaders can delegate responsibility, but not accountability

June 9, 2022
Tom Moriarty says good leaders should be accountable for all.

All too often I hear senior leaders complain that their directives don’t permeate down through the organization. In a plant I worked with recently, a storeroom manager completed an inventory of on-hand stores. He had identified and corrected differences between the physical inventory and the computerized maintenance management system inventory. Stores got to about 94% accuracy and were improving with each cycle count.

The storeroom manager also identified a lot of obsolete, damaged, and expired shelf-life items. There were also many assets that were not associated with plant systems or equipment. These items remained in inventory years after the discrepancies had been identified.

The maintenance manager objected to removing the discrepant items. The maintenance manager believed “used-but-good” parts, expired shelf-life items, and other on-hand items still had value and should be retained. Having more power than the storeroom manager, the maintenance manager got his way.

Holding excess, damaged, and expired parts and materials have some issues. Companies typically pay between 15% and 25% holding costs for the value of parts and materials in the storeroom. Those parts and materials take up space. Used, damaged, or expired parts do not support asset reliability. Putting defective parts into equipment will result in more unplanned downtime and loss in production.

The plant manager understood the issues but did not intervene. He was not being accountable.

As a leader you can delegate responsibility to others, but you cannot delegate accountability. The plant manager should gather input, then be accountable to make decisions aligned with policy. The senior most accountable person must define and implement policy guidance. They must be accountable to provide the assets and training needed to align everyone. People must know what the rules are before they can break the rules. Make sure people are empowered to identify and communicate problems that they see with policy guidance. But at the end of the day, the accountable person must make the decisions and communicate the decisions. Then, they must hold others responsible.  

About the Author: Tom Moriarty

Drive the implementation of policy guidance by being present and showing commitment. Policies fail to permeate because the accountable person does not personally ensure the right behaviors are being performed. Walk around. When observing behaviors, reviewing data, or evaluating performance measures, give direct reports positive feedback for everything that’s going according to the objectives. Expect they will do the same for their direct reports.

When there are discrepancies, be accountable to find out why. Take corrective action. Shore up your own accountabilities. Give corrective feedback to others who are deviating.

Accountable leaders cannot shy away from helping others to learn and apply their leadership craft. In this case, the maintenance manager needed some coaching on asset reliability policy. Provide consistent leadership training. Use the same models, methods, and terminology to establish a standard leadership language.

Be accountable by also being open about your own mistakes. Don’t only see faults in others and ignore your own. It is a lot easier to earn trust and respect when you’re honest and open about your mistakes.

Give credit to your team members for successes and take the blame for things that didn’t go right. No leader makes anything happen by themselves. When they perform well, the coach takes a back seat and ensures everyone knows they got it done. If the team comes up short, the accountable person should be introspective: accept accountability and acknowledge that they didn’t do enough to help the team perform at a higher level.

Whenever a policy doesn’t permeate through an organization it is most likely that accountable persons need to step up. Feel free to print this article out and show it someone who could benefit from it. Go forth and do great things!

This story originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

Human Capital

This article is part of our monthly Human Capital column. Read more from Tom Moriarty.

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 www.linkedin.com/in/alidade-mer.

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