Teams, Org Design, Org Strategy

A Deep Dive into Roles and Responsibilities

Expert author: Functionly Staff

Can you look at every position in your company’s organizational chart and describe what the person assigned to that role does? If you can’t, that’s a problem. If roles are not clearly defined, your team members may not understand what is expected of them — and what they can expect from their coworkers. 

By clearly defining roles and responsibilities, and writing great job description templates, you can increase productivity, efficiency, and employee morale.

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What Are Roles and Responsibilities?

A role is a function that a person performs as part of an organization. Responsibilities are the outcomes that a person in a specific role is accountable for. Every person in an organization will have an assigned role. Ideally, they will have clear responsibilities to execute within that role.

The Differences Between Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities are intertwined but are not synonymous. It’s helpful to view responsibilities as an attribute of roles. 

There are two approaches to establishing roles and responsibilities: You can define a role first, then assign the responsibilities you see as a good fit. Alternatively, you can group together similar responsibilities and create a role around those.

Duties vs. Skills vs. Responsibilities

When defining roles and responsibilities, the topic of duties and skills will come up. These four elements intersect with each other. Consider the following example:

  • Role: Custodian
  • Responsibility: Ensuring floors are clean and attractive
  • Duty: Polish marble floors in the executive suite
  • Skill: Operate marble polishing machines

Responsibility is the outcome that an employee in a certain role is held accountable for. Duties are the tasks they must perform to fulfill their responsibilities. Skills are the capabilities they must have to execute those duties properly. These are often captured in a position description document.

Why Organizations Should Define Roles and Responsibilities

It is beneficial to create clear definitions of the roles and responsibilities in your organization. This practice can improve your recruiting and hiring processes while increasing overall efficiency.

Make Recruiting and Hiring Work Better

To recruit the best internal and external candidates, you must be able to communicate what is expected for the roles you are trying to fill. When these details are documented, your recruiting and hiring team will be able to reach the best candidates. New hires will be much more likely to have the necessary skills to become productive quickly.

Additionally, candidates will have a more accurate picture of the roles they are pursuing and are more likely to know how to achieve success. Their colleagues will also understand what new employees have been hired to do. This can reduce the suspicion and fears that sometimes surround new hires

When you define roles and their related responsibilities, you also create transparency. Everybody knows what their job is and how their success in that role will be determined.

Save Time and Money

When roles and responsibilities aren’t well defined, it’s difficult to find and eliminate redundancies. Additionally, a lack of clearly defined job responsibilities can lead to friction between individuals and departments. 

If your organization employs remote workers, it’s even more important for workers to know exactly what they are responsible for. 

Beyond defining roles and responsibilities, it’s also vital to define how reporting and accountability flow through the organization. A straightforward chain of command makes HR departments more efficient and streamlines employee communication. The result is that more time and effort can be spent on improving operational efficiency.

Unfortunately, you will likely run into an unpleasant problem when defining roles and responsibilities: identifying when a role is redundant or simply doesn’t contribute enough toward organizational objectives to ensure it is worth keeping. 

Clarify the Decision-Making Process

Well-defined roles and responsibilities don’t just clarify who does certain tasks or creates certain outcomes. They also clarify who makes decisions and is accountable for those outcomes. This clarity can significantly enhance productivity and progress toward goals.

When to Define Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities should be defined well before the recruiting and hiring process — even when filling internal positions. Otherwise, it’s impossible to be certain you have found the right person for the role. Job seekers also need clearly defined roles and responsibilities to know that an opportunity is right for them.

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How to Define Roles and Responsibilities

By creating a clear definition of each role, you ensure that you aren’t spending money and resources on positions that aren’t contributing to your operational success. 

Although it is best to define roles and responsibilities before hiring an employee, it’s never too late to start. Find out more below about setting expectations for both existing and new roles in your organization.

Defining Roles for Existing Positions

Begin the process of defining roles and responsibilities with positions that you have already filled. It’s important to clearly define these to create a better understanding of expectations, identify duplicated efforts, and discover responsibility gaps.

Start by Reviewing What Each Person Does and Which Goals They Align With

In an organizational structure, a role is a part of a larger unit — the team. Even if an employee doesn’t officially report to a team, they are responsible for outcomes that contribute to a team’s function. 

For existing roles, begin by looking into that employee’s duties. What work do they regularly perform that contributes to the organization achieving its goals? For example, an accountant may spend their days on the following tasks:

  • Reviewing and paying invoices
  • Reading financial reports
  • Ensuring that quarterly tax payments are made
  • Checking bank statements
  • Reconciling accounts

From there, you can determine that the accountant is responsible for ensuring that incoming and outcoming money is documented, that bills are paid, and that the company is compliant with tax law. These responsibilities contribute to the goal of keeping the organization financially healthy.

You now have a pretty clear description of the role of the accountant. How does that role fit into the organization? Who does the accountant report to? When you answer these questions, you will have a current definition of one of the roles in your organization and the responsibilities that define it. 

Another element of defining a role is designating whether that role has a leadership component. As you define roles, check your organizational chart. Is the employee placed within the proper chain of command? How do their responsibilities interact with the duties of those above and below them?

When all of these elements are spelled out, the accountant knows what is expected of them. In addition, the accountant’s supervisor understands the outputs they should expect. Other employees understand the role of the accountant and how it impacts their own roles. This structure facilitates better accountability and communication.


Screenshot of the roles and responsibilities feature within Functionly.

Refining Role Definitions

After you have defined a role and the responsibilities that go with it, take a second look at it with the goals of the organization in mind:

  • Review roles to ensure that duties and responsibilities aren’t duplicated
  • Ensure that duties and responsibilities assigned to roles make sense
  • Determine which roles have too many or too few responsibilities

Based on this information, decide whether certain responsibilities and duties may need to be shifted from one role to another. You can also see whether you need to create a duplicate role (e.g., another accountant) or a new role (e.g., an accounting supervisor).

Defining New Roles and Responsibilities

Organizations often need to create entirely new roles. This need may be triggered by the following factors:

  • Growth and expansion
  • Adopting new technology
  • Changes in the market
  • Offering new products or services
  • Shifting organizational goals
  • The need to maintain a healthy and productive work environment

For example, you may uncover that the duties of handling invoices and payments have grown significantly. Your accountant is struggling to manage that duty along with their other tasks. 

In addition, invoicing is also the least value-added task that your accountant performs. They are a CPA and earn a sizeable salary, but they spend several hours a day on a task that a lower-level employee could do.

So you decide to create a new role: invoice clerk. Once you do that, you must identify the responsibilities assigned to that role. Follow this by defining the duties and skills and, finally, the reporting for that position.

Roles and Responsibilities and Recruiting

Once you have defined roles and responsibilities, you have made the recruiting process much easier. You can pull job descriptions from these definitions to include in recruiting ads. Applicants will know what to expect and whether they will be a good fit. 

Defining roles and responsibilities is so important to successful recruiting efforts that it can impact your ability to find and retain talent. If you are struggling with recruiting, it may be a good idea to revisit this part of your organizational structure.

Roles and Responsibilities in Organizational Planning

Roles and responsibilities can be added to organizational charts to help facilitate organizational planning and decision-making. When these are in place, it becomes much easier to determine where roles must be added, modified, or removed to accommodate changing goals and needs.

Functionly is your partner in organizational planning. The Functionly platform isn’t just a tool for entering information about roles and responsibilities; it also offers advanced functionality that includes scenario building, job description export, and accountabilities mapping. Try it free today.


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