Authority Or Responsibility?


A few weeks ago during a question and answer session of a speaking engagement I was asked the following question: “What happens if I do not have the authority to make those decisions?”

I love this question, so I figured I would share my take on it with the broader audience.

People are often waiting to be given the “authority” or the power to make decisions. This is often used as an excuse, or a way of letting ourselves off the hook for not making a decision, making a change, or performing a task.

I do not have the authority, so I do not have to do anything about it.

Authority in many organizations resides at the top and cascades down. This structure allows for decisions to be made and for workers/people to be compliant to follow those decisions.

As long as we follow the decisions and directions, we keep our jobs.

Few of us will ever have the “authority” or be close enough to the top to make decisions in which people must comply with in order to be paid.

Forget about authority. Seek responsibility.

Responsibility is abundant. There is more than enough laying around for any of us to pick up and take.

Each of us has an opportunity on a daily basis to do something that requires us to be accountable, answerable, and responsible for doing something. It can be writing a letter, it can be guiding a patient to a waiting room, it can be answering a phone, it can be changing a workflow, it can be staying late to help transition care between shifts.

No one is asking us to do it. No one told us we must do it. It may not be written down in a job description, or a process improvement, or in a manual. It may not have been done before. It may not be something that we are paid to do. It may be risky. It may be weird. It may be odd.

It may also be the one thing that changes the perception for a patient. A family member. A physician.

Each of us has the ability to take responsibility. To do something.

If it succeeds, spread that acknowledgement around. Share it with others on your team. Commend others for the success. If it fails, stand up and take accountability for your decisions to act. Claim ownership for trying something different.

The more times we take responsibility the more people will realize that we are here to lead.

Leadership is not about a title , or the top of the organizational chart, or having authority.

Leadership is about taking responsibility.

I take responsibility at the N of 1.

As always you can feel free to email me at or follow me on Twitter @cancergeek



One response to “Authority Or Responsibility?

  1. At HIMSS there was a full-age ad for a Patient Engagement Table. I was so disappointed it had no ropes; just holding the doctor’s tablet computer while he talks to you. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s