Businesses rely on the skills and professionalism of the people who work for them. Employers want to know the people they hire can be trusted to fulfil their roles to the best of their ability. They also want to know that their staff will reflect well on the business, and represent it publicly in the best possible way. Employers are looking for staff who show responsibility. But what does that mean in the workplace, and how can you develop this behaviour?
What is responsibility?
A responsible employee is someone that an employer can trust to do their job well. It’s someone who has the best interests of the company and its people in mind. Doing this means acting professionally at all times. It also means acting appropriately with colleagues, or when representing the company in public – for example when driving a company vehicle.
There’s more to responsibility, however. It means taking ownership of your job and doing it to the best of your abilities. It may mean being honest about your limitations. For example, flagging up if you need support, rather than taking on more than you can deliver.
Most job descriptions list some of the tasks that you’ll be responsible for in the role. Take this example from a recent job ad for a Catering & Hospitality Apprentice at HPC:
- Support, operate and provide service in areas including but not limited to: Serveries, Retail, Hospitality, Functions, Coffee Shops
- To ensure all food is handled in accordance with the standards specified in the Food Safety & Quality Management System (FSQMS)
- To carry out and record any checks specified by the Supervisor, Chef Manager or Unit Manager
- To ensure all waste is removed promptly and placed in the correct waste containers in accordance with site waste management plan
- To carry out tasks in the most efficient manner, considering any production or allergen constraints, to meet customer orders
- To ensure all work is carried out in accordance to the relevant Health and Safety legislation and codes of practice
Responsibility is extremely important to employers who work in high-risk industries like construction. It’s an important quality in staff who operate expensive machinery, or who perform safety-critical roles. More generally it’s fundamental to an effective health and safety culture. On a major nuclear power site like Hinkley Point C (HPC), employees have a collective responsibility for public safety. And it’s why everyone who works here has to follow strict guidelines.
What’s Zero Harm?
At EDF, our ambition is to achieve Zero Harm. We want our workplaces to be safe and healthy for everyone: our employees and anyone working on our behalf. Zero Harm is now part of our culture. We take a rigorous approach to risk and have introduced innovative programmes. For example, we start every meeting by discussing our Daily Safety Message. This keeps Occupational Health & Safety at the forefront of all our minds, all day, every day.
Being responsible can sit alongside – or provide the motivation for - other behaviours such as willingness to learn, commitment and adaptability. Being responsible often means developing and demonstrating multiple skills too, such as time management, problem solving or team working.
Examples of responsibility in action
People who can show or take responsibility make a big difference to how well a business performs. Here are some examples.
Aidan has an off-site meeting. He ensures that his team is briefed and prepared to continue with their work in his absence. But when he returns, he discovers that work has stalled without his direct supervision.
Collectively, Aidan’s team has failed to show responsibility for their work. And individually, nobody took responsibility for sorting out the situation. For example, by dividing up roles or contacting Aidan or another manager for support.
Macie’s been selected for a project which requires her to carry out some surveying work – skills she hasn’t practised since college. She does a STAR check (Stop, Think, Act, Review) to make sure she knows what’s required and realises that she’s become confused by some of the details of the task. Although she doesn’t want to risk looking stupid, she raises the issue with her manager, and asks if she can have refresher training first.
Macie’s manager recognises that she’s acted responsibly and taken ownership of the issue before it becomes a bigger problem. She arranges to work alongside Macie for the first day to get her back up to speed.
Logan is driving a long vehicle. Rather than taking the set route, he follows his sat nav down a narrow road. Ultimately he gets stuck, causing disruption and delaying his delivery. Worse still, the company vehicle is photographed and shared widely on social media and the news.
Logan has failed in his responsibility to do his job safely and effectively. He’s also embarrassed his employer in a very public way. What he should have done is stick to the set route. There are reasons why it had been designated as a set route and it would have saved him, and his company, a lot of embarrassment if he’d followed agreed procedures.
Why is responsibility important in the workplace?
As these examples show, responsibility is an essential behaviour in the workplace. Businesses need to be able to trust staff to work effectively and professionally. It’s also important for employers to demonstrate responsibility: they are legally responsible for the health and safety of their workforce.
Responsibility is particularly important in the nuclear industry. UK nuclear power projects like HPC are regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which sets extremely stringent standards. Like all employers, HPC and its contractors are bound by health and safety laws too. In such a complex and potentially dangerous environment, everyone has a responsibility to ensure high standards and work extremely safely.
Demonstrating responsibility will also help your career develop. As staff progress into supervisory or managerial roles, they become responsible for the safety of others and the quality of everyone’s work. Employers are more likely to promote people who show strong responsibility in what they do.
How might you have demonstrated responsibility at school or college?
Completing any course or examination shows a degree of responsibility, as it requires you to take ownership of your study, revision or practical work. You may have stepped up to lead an element of a group study project. Or taken responsibility as part of a team in any regional or national competitions.
Outside of school or college, you may have shown responsibility in a team sport – particularly if you were a captain. You may have helped run a club. Shown responsibility by working unsupervised, perhaps even running a shop while the owner stepped out. If you’ve ever been a babysitter, or worked in childcare, you’ve shown a great deal of responsibility by looking after younger ones.
You’ve probably demonstrated responsibility at home too. Perhaps you have responsibility for set cleaning tasks every week. Or looking after younger or older members of the household. If you’re in a shared house and your name’s on any of the bills, you’re taking responsibility for them. And don’t forget that successfully managing your own finances demands responsibility too – particularly if you’re saving for a future goal, like travelling.
How can you develop responsibility?
The best way to develop responsibility is to focus on being responsible! Think about what’s expected of you at home, school or college and make sure you live up to it. Awareness of other people’s feelings – and how your behaviour affects them – is also important.
Being responsible also brings its own rewards. Show people that you’re a safe pair of hands and they’ll trust you with more responsibility. It feels good to know that you’re valued in this way by others.
You can seek out opportunities to be responsible. For example, consider offering to cook one day a week at home. Or volunteering to help run a local club or team. Any role where you look after property or people is a chance to develop this behaviour. So jump on any opportunities that come your way.
Responsibility is something you develop with experience. But there are things you can do in day-to-day life to build this behaviour:
How can you demonstrate responsibility?
It’s important to make sure that your CV contains any courses, jobs or activities that show your ability to be responsible or willingness to develop this skill. Be sure you can talk about how you demonstrated or learnt responsibility – and why it was important in that role.
Your first opportunity to demonstrate responsibility at an interview or careers fair is to turn up in good time. Make sure you’re smartly dressed and well prepared. And be committed and focused on what your purpose is that day.
In the workplace, you can probably list numerous times when you’ve shown responsibility. Whether it’s been given responsibility for serving customers. Managing a stockroom. Or perhaps you’ve been trained to operate machinery – such as a forklift truck or even a computer system.
If you haven’t yet had a paid job, there may still be many times you’ve acted responsibly. Think particularly of those instances when you’ve been trusted to look after something valuable. Perhaps you were asked to paint the house? Left in charge to look after your siblings? Even if you’ve done something like pass your driving test, you’ve demonstrated responsibility by committing to learn and drive a vehicle safely on the roads.
Demonstrating responsibility during Covid-19
Covid-19 made it harder for many people to live up to their personal, academic and professional commitments. Even everyday activities – like working and shopping – became a challenge.
Yet adhering to strict lockdown measures shows you took responsibility for your safety, and that of the people around you. Additionally, you may have found ways to live up to other responsibilities. For example by supporting friends or family through video calls or socially-distanced exercise together. These examples also demonstrate responsibility.
You can read more about responsibility at work in the links below:
Responsibility is related to many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.
Responsible employees aren’t shy to speak up – whether that’s to admit that they can’t do something or if they see something unsafe at work. Read more about developing communication skills.
Being responsible means being responsible for your time. So time management is a skill that demonstrates responsibility. Read more about time management in our guide.
Responsible people are usually committed – whether that’s to getting the job done, following a training course or learning a new skill. Read more about commitment.
A skill such as emotional awareness will help you understand more subtle responsibilities, such as living up to the expectations of others. Read more about emotional awareness.
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