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By Thomas Gordon, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

Section 5.3 of ISO 9001:2015 is about the Holy Trinity of ‘Organizational Roles, Responsibilities and Authorities”.  When contemplating the underlying meaning of these words I am reminded of a common ‘trick’ question utilized by British Army instructors to sort out ‘leaders’ from ‘followers’ in a batch of young officer candidates:

Question: “Lieutenant, how would you construct a trench?” [Role, and responsibility]

Passing grade answer: “Sergeant, get that trench constructed”. [Role, authority and responsibility].

The moral of this story is that you cannot have responsibility without authority, whatever your role might be.

Often, I see in organizations that the ‘authority’ is missing from this trinity.  To hold people responsible for something over which they have no control is plainly unfair and immoral.

An article in the July/August HBR, Erin Meyer analyzed the four categories of leadership cultures around the business world. [HBR Reprint R1704D – well worth getting] The model compares attitudes towards decision making and towards authority; it was found attitudes towards decision making can range from strongly top-down to strongly consensual, towards authority from extremely egalitarian to extremely hierarchical.

As you would expect, the United States was middling top down and egalitarian.  To succeed in this environment requires a certain behavior style – “Speak up before the decision is made, once the decision is made align yourself with the boss, remain flexible and do your job”.

In my opinion, missing from this model is “authority”, unless you class ‘self-discipline’ as authority.  Like most married men I am occasionally held responsible for events over which I have no control – WWII, Korean War, Battle of Hastings and the rupture of the mains water feed.

It is very usual to identify a scapegoat; the blame-culture in most organizations can be debilitating.  A better approach is to give associates tasks, the resources to perform and then let them get on with it – “Construct that trench, Sergeant”!