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Top Executive Lacks Authority to Make Decisions Stick

Authority vs Responsibility: Recently, I had another interesting discussion that centered on the ability of the United States Postmaster General.

This is our second highest paid government official in our nation, but he doesn’t have the authority to implement a business decision that isn’t overturned by Congress. This topic caught my interest because I was thinking about situations where a manager takes on full responsibility, but somehow lacks the authority to ensure success.

My next thought: how demoralizing it must be when managers lack the authority to make the decisions they believe will help their teams improve, yet somehow they retain full responsibility for the team’s success or failure.

authority vs responsibility

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Authority vs Responsibility – Definitions

  • Definition of Authority: “the power to enforce rules or give orders, a privilege given to an individual in a management or supervisory position.”
  • Definition of Responsibility: “a duty or obligation where someone is held accountable.”

Having lived in foreign countries that use a 5-day schedule, including some that insert their operations inside the stores of private retail partners to cut costs, e.g., Canada Post, I wanted to understand more. You can gain insight into the authority vs responsibility contrasts by reading about the USPS ideas, which included a 5-day delivery (see the budget section) and discover for yourself why Congress nixed some of the proposed cost cutting measures. Here are:

As the head of this quasi-governmental agency, the United States Postmaster General runs the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world.  He also employs the third largest number of civilians in the United States, but he cannot make certain business decisions (like 5-day delivery) without Congressional interference.

Scratching my head, I found myself wondering why a very well paid government official lacks the authority to balance his budget. Politics aside, this situation caused me to think about businesses and managers who have been given the responsibility to run a program or an operation. I wondered:

  • Have they been given boundaries to operate within prior?
  • Have they been given the necessary authority to achieve success?

Assuming they have stayed within boundaries, have they had their decisions reversed?  Was it after they worked hard to come up with a solution? I can only imagine what impact this has on any manager.

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Tom Crea

Tom Crea is an author, leadership speaker, and leadership development coach who travels from Pittsburgh, PA.  Tom's passion is sharing lessons learned in how learning to delegate made his life easier.