How can you be more accountable at work?

A huge challenge we face as assistants is moving from a position of support staff, where we take on any task assigned to us, to a more proactive position where we source our own work, take on projects that we think will make a difference and make decisions based on the best interests of the business and our Executives.

This is a big leap for many Assistants, but we must take it to move the industry forward so let’s start by looking at how you can be more accountable at work.

This is a big question! What do I mean by being more accountable and why is it important for assistants? For me, being accountable means taking control of your own success, managing your workload, your career and your relationship with your Executive and your colleagues. It means making decisions and taking ownership of the results.

We need to be accountable for our work but, for some reason, this is something that we struggle with.

I think it harks back to the age-old problem that we see ourselves as ‘just the assistant’, that we don’t really have the authority to question things and make decisions. We are given work to complete rather than put forward our own suggestions. The term ‘support staff’ doesn’t really help either because it suggests that we are there to only offer support, do the things asked of us and not much more.

This, my friends, is a load of rubbish! The role is changing, there are more opportunities for assistants than ever before, and we must, must, must be accountable for our own success.

How can you be more accountable at work?

The benefits of accountability?

When you take control of your own workload, accept accountability for your actions and take real responsibility for what you are tasked with, well, the benefits are huge. Here are just a few differences you will find in your behaviour once you start to think about accountability within your role:

  • You will set yourself goals
  • You will recognise that you are the expert at what you do
  • You will recognise the power that you hold within your organisation

So, accountability – it’s a good thing, right?! Yup, I’m probably talking to the converted here. But, the question is. Where do you start? Let’s have a look at how assistants can specifically be more accountable within the role:

What tasks do you have control over?

This is the first step to being more accountable. Have a look at all of the day to day tasks that are assigned to you. I bet there are loads. These are the tasks that you should have complete control over. They may be minor things like picking up the post every morning, through to larger tasks like managing your Exec’s schedule. For every task you have complete control over, think to yourself: How can I make every task a complete success? What can I do to ensure the process attached to each task runs smoothly and is working well? Please make a list of these tasks and spend some time making them more efficient. You are accountable for these tasks and you should take responsibility for their success.

Be results-focused

When you are more accountable for your actions, it will lead to you being much more results-focused, making you more valuable to your organisation. With everything you do, think to yourself what are the goals here, what are my objectives, what do I want to achieve and what are the useful outcomes. This level of critical thinking is really beneficial to your business because you will constantly be looking for the return on investment in everything you do. If you find you spend ages on a task that is not business critical or adds value, because you are accountable for that task, you can adjust the process and make it more effective.

What areas can you influence?

Next up. What areas can you influence? You may not have direct responsibility for a whole load of tasks, but you do influence them. Again, if it helps, make a list. A task that springs to mind is working with suppliers. You are not the person who necessarily signs the contracts for new suppliers, but you probably use them more than most, so again, take some responsibility for this relationship. Let your Executive know if a supplier isn’t quite working. If they are great, let other people in your organisation know so they can benefit too.

Be honest about what you are doing and where you are with tasks

Being accountable for your work doesn’t just mean that you control the good stuff. It also means you are honest when things aren’t quite working. If you decide to take more ownership of your work, you’ll have to put your hand up when you might fall behind with deadlines or struggle with something. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you are working on projects that push and challenge you, there will be times you need to seek advice from your Executive (just like any other member of staff).

Remember, you have to be accountable for all of your work

I remember one time I was working on a really brilliant, company-wide project. I was super excited about it and spending a lot of time working on the details. One afternoon, my Executive called me into her office for a quick catch up. She told me that she was really proud that I was working on this big project but had noticed that I wasn’t quite up to speed with my day to day tasks, and I’d missed a few things that I had always done for her. She was totally right. Yup, I was having a great time working on this new task, but I had to take account of all of the other stuff I had to do. I let the ball drop, but being accountable meant I had to put my hands up, apologise and say it wouldn’t happen again. Being accountable for your mistake sucks, but it is as important as being accountable for your successes!

What training do you need to be in total control of your work?

Another aspect of being accountable and in control of your work is the realisation that you might need some help to make each task a success. This is why you must ask for training, and your organisation takes your request seriously. When you are accountable, you know that other people within your organisation depend on the results of your work, so without training, how can you perform to the best of your abilities?

Last but not least. Accountability has to begin with you. It is such an important competency for assistants, and it will only become more valued as our industry moves away from a support role into a business-critical role.

Putting these tips into practice

With every adjustment to your work style, you should speak to your Executive about implementing these changes. Accountability is a brilliant competency to have as part of your career development plan, and you could really flesh this out into specific SMART objectives.