How To Hold People Accountable with 10 Proven Practices


10 Ways to Enforce Accountability

“The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose.” —  John Mason Brown

Leaders hold people accountable to get better results.

My favorite definition of accountable is one word:


When people are accountable, and answer for their actions, it builds trust.  Less balls get dropped.  People like to work with people they can count on.

Accountability is a Skill You Can Learn

Holding people accountable is a skill you can learn.

In a world where you get results through teams and teamwork, enforcing accountability plays a key role to success.

Even if you’re just holding yourself accountable to some results you want in your life, it helps to know the ways to enforce accountability and why there can be a lack of accountability.

A lot of it comes down to clarifying the outcome, setting expectations, and then addressing motivation, skills, and feedback.

10 Proven Practices to Hold People Accountable

In the book, Project Management for Dummies, Stanley E. Portny shares 10 ways to hold people accountable:

  1. Involve people who really have authority
  2. Be specific regarding end results, time frames, and expected levels of effort
  3. Get a commitment!
  4. Put it in writing
  5. Emphasize the urgency and importance of the assignment
  6. Tell others about the person’s commitment
  7. Agree on a plan for monitoring the person’s work
  8. Monitor the person’s work
  9. Always acknowledge good performance
  10. Act as if you have the authority

Why Accountability Breaks Down

In my experience, that’s a pretty good list with great coverage.   To really appreciate these, you should also know why people fail to deliver based on what you expect:

  • You had unrealistic expectations.
  • They never really agreed to it.
  • They didn’t know when it was due.
  • They didn’t internalize the priority of it.
  • They didn’t know what good looks like – there weren’t any tests for success.
  • They have bad productivity practices and they simply lost track or got overwhelmed.

3 Questions to Help Accountability

I find a healthy way to stay accountable is to check yourself against the following questions:

  1. “Who does what by when?”
  2. “What are the tests for success?”
  3. “How will we follow up?”

I’m also a fan of having a shared plan in plain site so everybody can easily see what’s due when and who’s doing it.

What are the ways you hold yourself or others accountable when it counts?

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Photo by Alaskan Dude.


  1. The problem with DIY health care is that I am only accountable to myself and my future…some days I am too hard and unrealistic other days too permissive…and my physical being keeps messing with the due date – I was pretty clear…

    I think it all works better if there is someone to communicate with regularly….get feedback….I did make a list of successes today and that was helpful….but then hard on myself for how short it was…the stress is not relieved.

    I don’t think this is where you were going with this post, but I think it fits in with trying to be one’s own manager in isolation is tough all around and hard to accomplish.

  2. Thank you for this topic. I love the stuff you say at the end. In the end, accountability is about self-responsibility for me. I can’t HOLD anyone accountable or be held accountable. Be it at work or in relationships. Unless I (the other) are in an ‘explicit’ agreement/commitment – there’s no deal. Once that’s in place – the adult who’s accepted is accountable to deliver – what will I deliver? by when? how will you know? Are the compelling questions for me to make sure stuff gets done.

    Most of the ‘official’ language on this subject, like the Top 10 list, smell of co-dependence to me. In this age of primarily information workers – to monitors someones work is care taking. I need to be responsible for the outcome if I do not deliver after I’ve taken the steps above – accepted a commitment and what that would look like.

    Just this man’s 2 cents!

  3. @ Patricia — Don’t measure the size of the list — measure the value. I use 3 compelling stories or outcomes to drive my day. The Rule of 3 is a simple way to focus and prioritize and bubble up what matters most.

    @ Bobby — I like your point on co-dependence. I think the best managers create shared goals with their teams and get out of the way, and support where necessary. That’s why I think vision, purpose, and tests for success, along with effective feedback loops are so important. It’s lighting fires and fanning the flames but toward an end in mind.

  4. Hi JD.
    I definitely write things down. I’ve learned to be flexible with the list because I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew. Then I feel overwhelmed or set myself up for failure. I guess really being honest with what you want to get done is important, as well as being realistic with what ‘should’ be done. As you’ve said, “They never really agreed to it.” Those ‘shoulds’ can interfere if a person is not careful.

  5. @ Davina — Well put. I had a habit of always biting off way more than I could chew. I didn’t recognize the problem until I started leading teams , where everybody would be impacted if I signed up for too much. Now I pay way more attention to knowing what the real value is, what the minimum is, and what’s possible, given the time and resources.

  6. When I work with my coaching clients a lot of them know what their superpowers are. They don’t need help in the discovery process. They need help in staying accountable for their goals.

    I know that I need the same thing. I have friends who keep me accountable and it helps me stay focused on the important stuff.

  7. @ Karl — Sometimes just checking in can go a long way. I’ve noticed that a lot of effective methodologies for results have a feedback loop or some sort of show and tell.

  8. Hi JD .. being out of the work place .. the people I need to be accountable are at the Nursing Centre, my family and friends .. & I seem to not necessarily rely on them .. simply because I can’t – as it’s my mother and she needs that reliability – so I do it .. hitting a brick wall is just not on! It’s not perfect & all I can say is – thank goodness it’s not forever. So I usually have a back up plan or am prepared for things to change, not happen, or just accept that I have to do it. It makes my life easier – and that’s important.

    I’d have liked to have done more team work in my working life .. as I seemed to end up with independent jobs and preferred it that way .. but the one committee I worked with I loved – but it was social and I loved the sport (squash in South Africa).

    I hope over the years I’ve learnt something – but I know I have masses to learn on this subject .. if I say I’ll do something – then I’ll do it .. occasionally I’ll change my mind, but it’s rare – I’ve learnt to say no.

    Thanks JD – interesting thoughts – Hilary

  9. @ Hilary — I admire reliability. I think the key is reliability with skill, which means taking on what you can, while pushing back on what you can’t. I used to over-extend myself too much, but I’ve learned that rather than overflow my plate, treat it like a buffet — clear my plate, then go back for seconds. It reminds me of when my Mom would tell me to take two trips … it actually was faster than one. While one over-flowing trip bogged me down, two lighter trips would help me enjoy the journey and not become the camel afraid of one more straw.

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  11. Interesting article & website…I run a non-profit organisation (NPO) that is co-lead by professionals. Something strange happens though, these corporate workers throw aways their professional demeanor when it comes to this programme; for instance, skip meeting without apology before or after the meeting, don’t read minutes to prepare for the meeting. These people people behave totally differently in their profession; thus they know and understand the impact the behaviour has. They are very good people with admirable leadership skills, hence they are on this programme. How does one encourage commitment on NPO, since it’s purely voluntary work? How does one hold people accountable for assigned tasks on such an environment?

  12. @ Volunteer — Since it’s volunteer work, that might be a bit more challenging. You’re really dependent on inspired action, and any drivers or levers you can pull.

    It sounds like something you can put on the table and address with the group. By making it a problem solving session, it raises the visibility of the problem, and puts focus on the impact. By having people participate in solving it, you get skin in the game, as well as open the door to creative solutions. Maybe it means start meetings later, maybe it means don’t have pre-work, but have longer meetings to account for the it, etc.

    The solutions might play out to be things like social proof, enforcement, and penalties. For example, I know some teams that have a pentaly jar, where people that are late have without an excuse have to pay up.

  13. Hey, I just wanted to drop a quick note to say I like your blog a lot. It seems like you post about fun stuff…more than I can say for many of the boring blogs I see out there! Dug this post a lot, Thanks.

  14. Great blog JD!

    However, can you provide specific, practical examples of holding an ad or a creative agency responsible for work delays / inefficient management of assigned task / not achieving the desired results? I want to know how to practically apply those 10 ways in holding an agency responsible for their bad performance.

  15. @ Filippone — Thank you.

    @ Zayra — Thank you!

    The real key is to have the agreements and expectations in place up front — that sets the stage. From there, it’s mostly about progress, feedback, and consequences.

    Regularly sharing status is a simple way to expose the issues early and often.

    If you can find a way for them to win and save face, it’s the most effective. Ideally, you can stay out of the win-lose or lose-lose, and go for the win-win.

    If you have clarity on how they can make things right … what specifically can they do to make things right — and if you focus on that with them, then that should get things rolling in the right direction.

    Sometimes you just have to cut your losses, find the lesson, and move on.

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