The Buck Stops Here: Management Taking Responsibility

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that read The Buck Stops Here.

Taking responsibility is paramount for our leaders, whether they are the President of the United States, or Agency CEO / Partner / VP of the Marketing Department.

As a project manager, or more so, as a director of a department managing project managers, I had to know everything that was going on. It was ultimately my responsibility to ensure everything got done – on time, on budget, and left the agency without error.

It was my responsibility to follow up with my team to know project status, have tools to jump in if someone was too busy or [lucky enough to be] on vacation. I kept an open door, attended all daily stand-ups and got clarity on and prepared mitigation plans for projects that had the slightest chance of going off the rails.

It was also my responsibility to push any issue that was beyond my control, which would jeopardize any one of those criteria, up to my boss and get a speedy, effective resolution.

She had a right to know what was going on that could affect the health of the agency.

She had a responsibility [and authority] to make judgment calls on matters that affected the client, the agency’s relationship with the client, the agency’s reputation, profits – and even matters that directly affected the effectiveness and morale of the employees involved – affecting culture.

This is where management sets the course of an agency or marketing department.

Recently, in the highest-ranks of our country, we hear leaders claim “they didn’t know.”

I call bullshit on that statement to everyone from a department manager to the President.

The recent events at the VA, Benghazi, IRS, traffic patterns, state healthcare websites, faulty ignition switches and other ‘scandals’ have brought to light how detatched leaders can be from the reality of the organization they supposedly run.

Even our President – according to his press secretary – didn’t know about these events until he heard / read about it on the news.

That bothers me. That concerns the hell out of me.

The Buck Stops Here.

So in a piece in NY Magazine about responsibility for Benghazi, they write,

“So the president's decisions are his alone to make. That's very different than the idea that the president must take responsibility for decisions he didn't even make in the first place.”

The article goes on to say,

“And as Clinton acknowledged, micromanaging the security plans for the nation's 275 worldwide diplomatic posts isn't part of the president's workload.”

But there’s something else that is far more important.

Command Responsibility

Command Responsibility, in very general terms means that you are responsible for your subordinates and liable if you fail to have the proper channels in place to know what’s going on. Granted, the definition stems from the military and war crimes, but it has made its way to laws that define how we manage our staff.

It is the “known or should have known” standard I wrote about back in April. 

Especially for those who served in the military, the code of responsibility is clear and absolute.

You cannot claim ignorance of an issue.

“I didn’t know” just doesn’t cut it.

So it is deplorable when anyone – your manager or the leader of your company or the country – didn’t know that something was wrong.

They had their head in the sand. They were delusional. They intentionally stayed out of the office, or out of contact with staff.

They have no excuse.

I wholly believe that we are all responsible for success. And for failure.

I choose success.

Be informed. Keep your manager informed.