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Roles and responsibilities

How important are they? Supremely important.

Several years ago I heard a speaker at professional development day talk about how you had to devote a lot of time to defining roles and responsibilities. It’s one of those few things remembered years after a conference. I wish I could remember more. Anyone still have notes you could share?

“Productive knowledge work is all about how we use each other’s time and attention as we try to get stuff done. Your worst competitor is day-to-day confusion—the time it takes everyone to figure out what to do and what not to do.”
--Bill Jensen, author of “Simplicity: the New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster”

Why is defining roles and responsibilities so hard today?
I suspect it’s a long list and much comes down to ‘change’.
Changing technology redefines what workers do, what machines do.
Downsizing eliminates jobs so others need to pick up more work.
Reorganization, mergers, leadership changes and changing and fluid reporting lines redefine the work group.
New goals such as recruiting students and economic development emerge.

And finally, in a rushed world, the changed and evolving roles and responsibilities are not communicated to those affected.

Tension and frustration build when workers lack clarity in roles and responsibilities.
Instead of working on results for the organization, workers are stuck with who is doing what, who answers to whom?

It takes time to define roles and responsibilities but without that definition there is lots of activity and we become enslaved by busy work. There is frustration all around. It’s easy for incivility to take over.

I think this is one reason I like project management so much. Roles and responsibilities are defined for a project. The work is divided and allocated. Several people are not unknowingly doing the same thing or competing to do the same thing. You have different responsibilities in different projects which is invigorating. You get to try something different, learn something new. It increases flexibility and enriches your work life, important elements of job satisfaction in this knowledge economy.

Defining roles and responsibilities gives workers authority.
It supports people working together because they can see what component is their responsibility, who is doing other work, how it all fits together.

I’ve been through a year of change. I’m energized by my new roles and responsibilities but I’m still asking the questions, working to define the responsibilities. I think the days of static responsibilities are gone so we have to work on defining them day after day.

It’s like an orchestra; not everyone can be first chair trumpet. It’s like a family; not everyone is responsible for paying the utility bills. If you don’t know your role and responsibilities, keep asking questions to define them.

Not terribly related:
I found this blog by a project manager in Sarasota, Florida through searching for ‘roles and responsibilities’. He frequently touches on civility, although he doesn’t name it civility.


Well done. I, too recall the speaker. But unfortunately as mentioned earlier today, I did not keep my notes. It all makes sense, doesn't it? That defining roles and responsibilities would eliminate so much frustration and help us feel comfortable that we are working on the things that are most valued / needed for the organization. I often feel others are working on things that I thought were my responsibility, and I imagine others have felt the same about some of the things I'm working on. The bottom line, of course, is that the critical work gets done. But it makes for a much more comfortable working environment when everyone is more aware / confident about their expected roles and responsibilities. This is a great topic. One I hope we can address perhaps during our evaluations? It sure came through loud and clear during our retreat that defining roles and responsibilities is a very high priorty among the group. I will be curious to see if others respond to this post.

Excellent article! In any job, roles and responsibilities to be defined is so very important. There are some jobs that require a lot of "self" responsibility - you, yourself are responsible to set your goals, get work done, create new ways of quickening the process to save time, organize your time, etc. etc. This can present a challenge to a worker, unless they know their role and assigned work load. As this article stated, if your job duties are not clear, keep asking and defining. Do we always know exactly who to ask for those definitions, without appearing dumb to others?