Autonomy v. Authority


My entire HR career has been spent working with models and matrices. My favorite one is the Responsibility Assignment Matrix — also known as the RACI model. Over the course of thirty-six months, we used it at Pfizer for everything. If you pooped, there was a RACI chart to tell you who was responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed for every task related to the bathroom experience.

So what is RACI?

  • Most people are responsible for tasks and projects. If you are responsible for something, you do the work. That’s pretty clear.
  • Some people are accountable. If you are accountable, you have final approval over whatever work is being done. Your ass is on the line — and FYI there can only be one ass per task.
  • Many people may need to be consulted and informed on tasks and projects but they may or may not be responsible or accountable.

It gets messy to figure this out. Tables and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets are involved.

The responsibility matrix often gets confused with a decision-making matrix. People who ‘do the work’ get caught up in drama and actually think they are making decisions. It’s cute. Sorta. Then it becomes unfortunate and awkward. I’ve often had to say to my clients — just because you are responsible and accountable for getting shit done doesn’t mean you have any authority to make decisions.

Ouch. I know. But it’s so true.

Unfortunately, working from home or  in a satellite office can make life complicated. The feeling of autonomy can be confused with authority. Personally, I never see my boss. Sometimes I think that I’m in charge because I am bossy and I tell people what to do.  But when it gets down to brass tacks, I don’t really approve anything. I have influence and I might be asked to consult on a strategic decision and make a recommendation; however, I am mostly informed.

And so are you, most likely.

Don’t confuse autonomy with authority. The only people who have true authority in an organization are officers and owners. Those people know what’s what…

…even if you don’t.

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