“Personal Responsibleness”: The All-important Active Ingredient In Personal Responsibility

29 Feb


Part Two: Personal Responsibleness vs. Personal Responsibility

If you have been watching the news at night, as I have, you may have heard from some reporters and politicians, alike, the argument that our citizenry needs to take more responsibility and rely less on handouts from the government. Similarly, a few of my clients have complained to me about how their employees need to take more initiative. While the sources are very different, what they have to say has a lot in common. When you combine the need for initiative with that of responsibility you come up with personal responsibleness. Perhaps, personal responsibleness, which is in the dictionary, hasn’t typically been in use because it’s quite a mouthful. However, after repeating it several times, it begins to roll off your tongue.

What is personal responsibleness and how does it differ from responsibility?

Personal responsibility is something that we take, or is given to us. In contrast, personal responsibleness is a state of being. It describes a characteristic that engenders an inherent competence and trustworthiness dedicated to the maximum fulfillment of responsibilities.

Perhaps a simple example will help to illustrate the difference. A manager asks an employee to send an e-mail to notify a client of a meeting cancellation and to offer some new dates. The manager after several days hears nothing. The manager asks the employee for an update and the employee responds, “I sent them the e-mail, as you requested.” That’s an example of taking on a responsibility. Someone with Personal Responsibleness would have kept track of the e-mail request. If the client hasn’t received any word, the employee would take it upon themself to call the client to make sure the e-mail was received. Perhaps it went into the Trash folder or was blocked. After all, what’s important is not sending the e-mail but making sure the client receives the information and that a new date is established. That’s making sure the end result is achieved and a valuable difference is realized.


Through law and ritual, society can impose responsibilities on its citizens, but ultimately it’s those citizens who must discipline themselves and adopt personal responsibleness if laws are expected to be followed. Fulfilling responsibilities entails just doing specific things for others. With personal responsibleness, when individuals are given or assume a task, they look not only at how they can fulfill the responsibility but also, how they can use their energies and personal expertise to ensure the result and make a valuable difference.

Personal responibleness is a characteristic that defines one’s being. Hence, taking initiative, where one accepts the power or right to do something, falls right in line with the person who operates with personal responibleness. The reason is because the motto for those who operate with personal responsibleness is, “it’s up to me to make things happen … unless that is made impossible by circumstance beyond my control.”

If you are reading this blog while spell check is on, you may have noticed that spell check wants to delete the word “responsibleness” and regards it as non-existent. Well, as a manager or supervisor or someone with responsibilities, you must make it not only exist, you must make personal responsibleness a key part of your working vocabulary. So, in today’s times, in addition to giving people responsibilities, what’s needed if we want the best results is personal responsibleness. It’s time for this word to enter into our dialog because we want people to take initiative and we want people to look not only to themselves, but to family, community and place of work to strive to add value.

For a more in-depth look at Personal Responsibleness see Chapter Three of my book On the Edge and In Control.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

2 Responses to ““Personal Responsibleness”: The All-important Active Ingredient In Personal Responsibility”

  1. Cheryl Kelmar March 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    From my book Women In Power: Myths & Truths

    Recently while at a party, a conservative woman began to discuss social issues and her concept of ‘personal responsibility.

    The conservative argument was ‘why should we pay for social program, because of personal responsibility? This conservative woman asserted that inequality leads to success.

    Personal responsibility is a concept conservative like to apply only to the poor and middle class, while wealthy individuals and corporations rally toward eliminating corporate regulations, taxes and responsibility for the wealthy.

    The concept of personal responsibility is complex. But, the answer is obvious.

    Inequality alone only leads to anger, crime, teen pregnancy, teen gangs, etc. when social programs that help people help themselves are eliminated.

    Inequality only drives a poor person to succeed when generous social programs exist to help them help themselves, because poor people generally work harder when given the opportunity to lift themselves from the social class from which they were born.

    I am an example. Like many minority kids, I was raised in subsidized housing in Detroit by a single mother who did not even discuss the idea of college with her kids, because she knew she could not afford it.

    But, when I learned about the student loan program, I completed an engineering curriculum and was able to lift myself out of the class for which I was born.

    In other words, when a youth from a poor background is provided with the vehicle to channel their energy in a positive direction, then, inequality can empower a youth with the passion to succeed.

    But, to justify run away greed with the unfounded argument that inequality alone leads to people being successful is unconscionable at best, at a time when

    1.We allow CEOs to walk away with millions every year, while their company benefits from a tax code allow them to take profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share
    2.CEOs make 400 times what their workers make, and
    3.The tax code for the wealthy has so many loop holes that results in the American paying an excessively higher amount of their taxes than the rich.

    • drdebbright April 19, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

      Please excuse the delay in my response.
      I would like to thank you for your insights. They provide another perspective on the failure of talking about, “personal responsibility” rather than “personal responsibleness.” What you did in your life is a wonderful illustration of what I was referring to when describing “personal responsibleness!”

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