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Part I: The Accountability Ladder

In the previous article, we found lack of accountability as a viable reason why we commonly experience project chaos and firefighting. To reach this conclusion, we explored three problem areas using a 5-Why analysis tool. One example showed a Project Manager’s problem of having to babysit his co-worker to get the work completed on time. Looking deeper into what seems irresponsible behavior from the co-worker’s part, we found she is always overbooked because she’s the only Developer with the desired skills, and thus can’t keep up with the workload. Management is made aware of this and is asked for a cross-training program. However, they shrug the problem away knowing (but not admitting) they are inexperienced in this area; and so the problem persists, causing undue stress on the Developer, Project Manager, and extended team.

Unfortunately, shrugging problems away because we don’t know something is quite common in the workplace and it seems we have had this problem even before this generation. In fact, I struck gold during my investigation when I found an old age management tool called ‘The Accountability Ladder’, where victim and accountable behaviors can be found, including the “I don’t know” behavior.


Spurgin, S. (n.d.). The Accountability Ladder.


Looking closer at the ladder, we can see the employees who hold themselves accountable live above the dotted line. Depending on where they stand, they might have just recognized something is wrong or they are at a point of owning a problem. Others might be at the step where they are finding solutions; or at the top making things happen, no matter the problem or their role.

Then there are those who live below the dotted line, never holding themselves accountable.  They are completely oblivious to a problem, constantly blaming others, giving excuses, or waiting and hoping for the best. When we exhibit any of these behaviors, it could be for multiple reasons. Some reasons may be of personal nature, because we’re irresponsible employees, because that is the way it’s always been done, or because we believe it is someone else’s responsibility to fix the problem.

It might be that on any given day we stand on different steps, above and below the line, creating a dependency between our behaviors and the situation/people involved. But this shouldn’t be the case. We are paid professionals and owe it to ourselves, the organization, our customers, and ultimately our teams to always live above the dotted line.

Organizations that strive for excellence must remain alert and nip lack of accountability in the bud. As such, experts are urging management to help their employees rise and stay at the top of the accountability ladder. However, the chaotic state our projects are in, provides clear evidence management is either not taking action or taking action but in dire need of help. (Duncan, 2018). As Project Managers and leaders in our role, we can no longer sit back and watch (or look the other way). It is our duty to help management and our teams work towards project success, without the unnecessary stress and firefighting that seems to be expected in Project Management.

Where do you stand as a Project Manager and leader in your role? Visit us next time when Project Managers are called to action.


Duncan, R. D. (2018). Avoid the Blame Game: Be Accountable for Accountability. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/rodgerdeanduncan/2018/05/04/avoid-the-blame-game-be-accountable-for-accountability/#5a804072b229

Spurgin, S. (n.d.). The Accountability Ladder. Retrieved from https://blue-sky.co.uk/blog/how-accountable-are-you/