Successfully Manage Work Responsibility


To be or not to be … responsible? – That is the question!

In a work context I often hear people saying they want more responsibility. Their goal is to get more responsibility and be recognised for it. There are different reasons on an individual level as to why this is the chosen target. However, in most cases the motivation is just two-fold: get more money and be liked/ recognised. To get more money and recognition you need to get promoted, to go up the ladder you need to take more responsibility – that’s the well known formula. You get the responsibility before you are promoted in order to prove your capability to hold that responsibility in the first place and here something interesting happens…

The moment people get responsibility the clear cut definition of the concept suddenly becomes flaky and it turns out – many never really wanted it. There is a whole game around playing with responsibility too. To be or not to be … responsible?

There are unwritten rules about how to “properly take responsibility”. Work legends “passed from generation to generation” surround employees. The eager ones know as many as possible and live by them, making skilful manoeuvres like a predator everyone is in awe. Others have adopted a more existential stance. They don’t necessarily live by those same rules of how responsibility should be exploited which makes them move a bit slower and maybe (maybe not) more gracefully.

Regardless of the particular situation and circumstances one thing is in common among all responsibility takers. There are internal struggles which people start to battle with on a daily basis and which inevitable take their toll. So this needs to be managed! To be or not to be responsible? How do you comfortably combine the reality of work where often all comes down to perception with deeply rooted values which demand true responsibility?

1. Get 100% clear on WHY… you want or not want the responsibility you’ve been given or you’ve asked for

Knowing your true reasons as to why something is important or likewise not important to you makes all the difference. All of us do things because of what others are doing or because of the general expectations of what’s supposed to be next. That cannot be truer in the career sphere. There are general rules by which the train travels and it feels we need to be on that train…whether or not the stations fit our personal goals and purpose. Taking more responsibility, getting up the ladder, making more money are some of the stations. Where do you actually want to go and knowing why you want to get there could eliminate many unnecessary stops. Different routs can begin to emerge as possibilities. You can buy a fast train ticket instead. You will enjoy the stops much more if you know that this is the right train for you. What do you want to get out of taking/not taking more responsibility?

2. Write your reasons why you’ve taken or want to take responsibility and keep them somewhere visible

We forget our own wishes and desires. It is normal. On a daily basis life happens and there are multiple components of which we need to take care of. This makes it difficult to have time to concentrate your thoughts on what’s important and we lose sight of the end we are after. Write your reasons why once and keep them visible, so that this visual reminder does the work for you. The end in mind is important for the sole reason that otherwise it gets a lot tougher to feel good, motivated or enthusiastic when you are tired and it gets difficult.

3. Set boundaries for yourself

Responsibility, whether at work or outside is a broad, non tangible concept. Only one of its synonyms is “duty”. Our standards of what’s ‘responsible’ differ. If you have a tendency to be a ‘perfectionist’ or ‘very diligent’ you might often end up in situations where you voluntary take the responsibility for things outside of what’s important/ meaningful/ worthy to you or others. It is imperative that you define what responsibility means to you in the particular personal context that you are taking that responsibility. Set boundaries that you are happy with. List 5 key things that mean “I am responsible” to you and make them as concrete and realistic as possible. For example: instead of “I am responsible if I always deliver on agreed time-lines” state “I am responsible if I deliver on agreed time-lines consistently while maintaining healthy work-life balance”. “I am responsible when I delegate to my colleagues”; “I am responsible if 80% of the time I work towards what’s important and 20% I use to tackle other issues/ requirements”; “I am responsible even when I say ‘no’”; I am responsible even if I am not necessarily successful at everything”, etc.

4. Do not take the responsibility that you don’t want

The tricky bit here is this – when we take responsibility people often feel entitled to also demand recognition. What’s more, when we take responsibility we give recognition to ourselves which is even more important. We like ourselves that bit more. So, it is inevitably very tempting to take “responsibility” as we all seek those feelings. However, realise that this is a double edged sword. The moment you take responsibility for something that you don’t really want to chances are you will deeply dislike the experience, you will doubt your abilities and the feelings of recognition and self-fulfilment will take a back seat ultimately not achieving what you wanted.

5. Give yourself time to get used to being responsible

Finally, let’s be realistic - life and work for that matter doesn’t always give us the option to not take responsibility and sometimes we are the only person that has to be “the responsible one”. In those cases and when you feel uncomfortable, give yourself sufficient time to get used to the role given. Any new situation or change has the potential to not make us feel in our zone. Allow yourself to learn the skill in the this new context.

Responsibility can be a wonderful privilege and joy as well as a unbearable burden. In all cases and since it is a concept in our own internal world we do have the power over how to react to and manage those expectations called “responsibility”.


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