• Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Steven Kelly
  • 7th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Chief
Webster defines accountability as "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions." In the Air Force, we use this term quite often, and, although it may mean many different things to many different individuals, we typically associate being held accountable with some form of disciplinary action. 

Accountability can be enforced through a variety of regular procedures, including elections, systems of promotion and discipline, fiscal accounting, recall, and general management practices. However, it can and should also be looked at as a positive action. 

Accountability and responsibility are interchangeable and can be used synonymously. Without accountability, you do not have responsibility. We are all accountable to something or someone. When you were issued a drivers license and drove your first car, you became responsible for your actions while you were behind the wheel. If you followed the rules, the automobile you were driving was very important to you because it became a great way to get where you were going. If you did not follow the rules, either by speeding or breaking any moving violations, you may have been held accountable either by getting a ticket for a moving violation or because your irresponsible actions may have caused a collision with another motorist or an object. We all learned about accountability many years ago. Some learned quickly and prospered by their education, while others learned more slowly and contributed heavily to the local police department or insurance company. 

In the Air Force, one of the greatest opportunities we have is the ability for upward mobility. Our system of promotion is a fair and equitable process that allows those who desire a position of greater responsibility to work hard and reach their desired goals. Our evaluation system clearly articulates an individual's ability to be promoted to the next grade. Through promotion, the Air Force recognizes an individual's potential for greater responsibility and rewards Airmen with certain benefits to match this increased responsibility such as: an increase in pay or perhaps a greater level of involvement with the direction of their particular flight, squadron, or group. I suggest we all would like a larger paycheck and many of us would also like to have a voice when it comes to the overall direction of our unit. To take on accountability through a promotion, you are essentially saying, "I accept this promotion and the expectations that come with it." 

Responsibility and accountability increase in proportion to our grade. As Air Force members progress through their careers, accountability increases progressively. One is not only held accountable for their performance but also for the performance of their subordinates. An example of this was the recent resignations of the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force. This is probably the clearest example of our most senior leaders stepping up to their responsibility and being held personally accountable for the actions of others. Although they did not directly have anything to do with the incident that occurred, because it happened on their watch and because the incident was so egregious, they gave up their long and successful careers as a display of good order and discipline. 

In essence, accountability is agreeing to take charge of the processes that fall within your duties and responsibilities. Welcome the accolades that come with success when everything is going well. Take full responsibility when things go wrong. Most importantly, be willing to make a decision and stay true to your inner guide. You may not always be right, but at least you had the willingness to make a decision, accept the responsibility, and be held accountable for your actions.