The concept of responsibility is not easy to define. Responsibility comes into being when a person has a superior who has given him certain duties to perform. These duties consist of the delegation of the task of achieving a portion of the objectives which the superior is charged with attaining.
By this action the subordinate comes to have certain defined and limited objectives to achieve. The Subordinate has accepted the task of achieving his assigned objectives. This becomes an obligation in his part. He must answer to his superior for his performance, and he tacitly agrees that he will be rewarded or penalized in keeping with the quality of his performance.
Because people accept a general obligation to perform their duties when they join an organization, they expect to be field liable for their actions. In other words, there is a general expectation that one will give up a certain amount of freedom in return for position and rewards for proper behaviour. In organizations there is a chain of assignments of responsibility that runs through the entire hierarchy, paralleling the assignments of authority.
Everyone in an organisation has some work to do, and getting it done is the goal each person is charged with achieving. It follows that everyone in an organization has some responsibilities. These individual responsibilities are small for people at low levels.
They become increasingly heavier at higher levels in the hierarchy and at the very top someone, typically the president, literally has the full responsibility for everything that is done by the organisation.
As Morris Hurley has defined, “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”.
However, in a more comprehensive view, the term responsibility can be defined as the obligation of an individual to perform activities or duties which are assigned to him.
“Responsibility may be defined as the obligation of an individual to carry out assigned activities to the best of one’s ability”.
Responsibility comes into existence when a person with authority accepts the obligation to perform the work to achieve goals. The use of authority gives rise to the acceptance of the obligations for this goal achievement and it is these obligations that give rise to responsibility. In this way, responsibility is something more than mere duty or activity.