The Buck Stops Here! – Responsibility, Accountability and Deliverables

by on Oct 22, 2015 12:00 PM

Former President, Harry Truman put this sign on his desk in October, 1945.  President Truman was well aware of his responsibilities and accountability.  He knew that responsibility could be shared before, during and/or after a task, while accountability could not.

Accountability is being ultimately answerable for your actions only after the task is done or not done. Truman accepted both responsibility and accountability for his actions.

Truman’s presidency was defined by accountability and integrity, accepting full responsibility for the success and failure of his decisions including his decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II. In 1953, his farewell address to the American people, Truman noted that ‘The President…whoever he is…has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody.  No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.”


How many times have you had to make a tough decision and then stand by that decision as you endured the consequences and the stress associated with it?

As I work  with organizations, I observe the traditional goal setting discussions and agreements done at the beginning of a new year, followed by the mid year progress review and the final performance discussion and appraisal. It’s not a bad process.  However, it can be improved to achieve better results though upfront clarity in these areas for each goal setting person:

  1. Knowledge of the targeted business goal he/she is contributing to and who will bear the ultimate accountability.
  2. Clear definition of each goal setter’s deliverables to defined stakeholders along with…
  3. …The needed relationship to support those deliverables…whether that relationship exists today or not.

I have coached individuals and teams to develop ‘Stakeholder Maps’.  Stakeholder Maps are a template for discussion that clarify responsibility and accountability around given tasks for each individual who is a stakeholder.  The ‘map’ consists of deliverables and needed relationships to and from each defined stakeholder from their point of view.

I ask them to put ‘DRAFT’ on their map and then go talk with each mapped stakeholder to affirm and/or recalibrate the map information they originally crafted. The map serves as an upfront discussion and ongoing result monitoring tool as well as continual clarification of a needed business partnership to stay on track to responsibly support the ultimate accountability.  Discussions occur frequently in the beginning and then as needed. This business process keeps the parties aligned, keeps the end point target focused and recognizes the importance of the accountable person.

If you want to know more about this process and start creating your own Stakeholder Map, please email Trilogy Partners at

In case you were wondering: ‘The Buck Stops Here’ comes from the slang expression ‘pass the buck’ which means passing the responsibility onto someone else. It had its origin in frontier days by using a knife with a buckhorn handle in poker games to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal, he could pass the responsibility by passing the ‘buck’, as the counter came to be called, to the next player.