According to M.E. Hurley, “Responsibility is the duty to which a person is bound by reason of his status or task. Such responsibility implies compliance with directives of the person making the initial delegation.”
In a more comprehensive sense responsibility may be defined as the obligation of an individual to perform the duty assigned to him. According to Koontz and O Donnell, “Responsibility may be defined as the obligation of a subordinate, to whom duty has been assigned.”
Responsibility is an obligation to perform certain functions and to achieve certain results. According to Davis, “Responsibility is the obligation of an individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability under the direction of his executive leader.”
The main characteristics of responsibility are as follows:
(1) Responsibility can be assigned to human beings only. Non-living things such as a machine cannot be assigned responsibility.
(2) Responsibility may be a continuing obligation or confined to the performance of a single function. For example, a sales person has continuing obligation to the sales manager. On the other hand, the responsibility of a management consultant to a company comes to an end as soon as the consultancy assignment is completed.
(3) Responsibility may be defined in terms of functions or targets or goals. For example, the responsibility of labour officer is in terms of a function. On the contrary, the responsibility of a worker, who is assigned the job of producing 50 units daily, is in terms of targets.
As far as possible responsibility should be expressed in terms of targets. This will enable the subordinates to know by what standards their performance will be evaluated.
(4) Responsibility arises from a superior subordinate relationship. By virtue of his superior position, a manager has the authority to get the required work done from his subordinates. Therefore; he assigns duties to subordinates who are bound by the service contract to perform the assigned duties.
(5) The essence of responsibility is obligation of a subordinate to perform the duty assigned to him.
(6) Responsibility flows upward. Always a subordinate is responsible to his superior.
(7) Responsibility is a derivative of authority. When a subordinate is delegated authority he becomes responsible to his superior for the performance of assigned task and for proper use of delegated authority. Therefore, responsibility should commensurate with authority.
(8) The person who accepts responsibility is accountable for his performance. Accountability arises out of responsibility and the two go together.
(9) Responsibility is absolute and cannot be delegated. A subordinate may himself perform the duty assigned to him or he may get it done from his own subordinate. But he remains responsible to his own superior in both, the cases.
According to R.C. Davis, “Responsibility operates somewhat like the magic pitcher in which the water level-always remains the same, no matter how much water is poured out.”