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Roles vs. Responsibilities: What’s The Difference?

Small agency owners often require employees to be flexible and wear many different hats during the day. Most are quick to acknowledge that they take on various roles and responsibilities, many of which are quite different from their job description. 

Yet, it’s vitally important to have clearly defined roles. Employees with clearly defined roles are also more satisfied. 

According to one study, employees with greater role clarity are 83% more productive than those whose roles are more ambiguous. The same study also confirms that overall work performance increases by up to 25% due to role clarity. 

In this post, we are going to look at the differences between roles and responsibilities, and why it’s so important to draw a line between the two. 

What are Job Roles? 

Every individual within an organization takes on a role, usually forming part of a team. Some common examples of roles include product managers, designers, and developers. 

During the early stages of a company, most people usually perform several roles. For instance, a product manager might also be involved in the development, which means they have two roles. 

What are Job Responsibilities?

Each role comes with a set of duties and responsibilities that must be filled. Responsibilities are the tasks that employees have to perform to fulfill their roles effectively. 

For instance, the responsibilities of a product designer might be as follows:

  • Review project requirements
  • Create wireframes and product mockups
  • Gather feedback from stakeholders
  • Revise the designs

Every person within an organization plays a role in keeping things running smoothly, from the interns to the chief executives. And to do this effectively, they must fulfill their responsibilities and deliver on what’s expected of them.

The Many Benefits of Clearly Defining Job Roles and Responsibilities

Maintaining a clear distinction between job roles and responsibilities offers a variety of benefits to businesses. Here are just some of the biggest advantages.  

Attract and Retain Top Talent

When you interview a potential candidate for a role, they will generally expect some clarity on the work they’re required to do. It doesn’t paint a good impression if you’re unable to explicitly define their responsibilities and the role they’re supposed to perform. 

Defining responsibilities clearly for each role is also a good way to be transparent with your expectations from new hires. It provides potential candidates with a clear understanding of how they can contribute to achieving the company’s overarching goals. 

This also helps retain your top performers. Employees are generally more willing to stay when they have clear expectations about their role and have a clearly defined growth path. 

Managing Employee Transitions

Clearly defining roles and responsibilities also makes it easier to manage employee transitions. When staff moves to other roles within the organization, or when you hire new employees, it’s always easier to get them up to speed and explain the demands of a new role if you have everything documented.

Reduce Cost Inefficiencies

Cost inefficiencies are quite common in organizations with ambiguous roles and responsibilities. It often leads to conflict, especially if two individuals believe that they have similar responsibilities. 

The organization ends up spending a significant amount of both time and money in eliminating redundancies and attempting to reduce the drain on their human resources. 

By having clearly defined roles and responsibilities, each member will know what they have to do, or who might be responsible for specific tasks. 

This also helps improve productivity by a significant margin, as team members don’t have to worry about guessing their daily responsibilities. They know their tasks for the day and will remain accountable for their work.

Define Your Company’s Objective

The tasks performed by your employees on a daily basis help the company get one step closer to achieving its goals. 

When setting individual targets for each role, you’ll know just how they contribute to achieving the company’s objectives. For example, if your target is to drive more traffic to your site, you can set individual KPIs for each member of the marketing team. 

Each employee will then work towards achieving those objectives, from creating new content to running paid ads. The sum of all their effort will eventually help the company achieve its objectives. 

You will then have a greater understanding of whether each role in the organization is firmly aligned with the long-term vision of the company.

roles vs responsibilities office

Create Meaningful Relationships at Work

When everyone knows about each other’s tasks and responsibilities, it’s much easier for them to approach one another.

This also ensures that people don’t have to sit around guessing who has to complete certain tasks, which can undoubtedly lead to friction between team members.

In most cases, this leads to a serious decrease in productivity and team performance. It also impacts the overall atmosphere in the company. 

But, when roles are clearly defined and each member knows who to approach, everything works like a well-oiled machine.

Employees know who to approach for certain tasks, who is responsible for certain things, and more importantly, how to play to each other’s strengths. 

Team roles are generally flexible, so if one member feels that they can do a particular task better, they can easily swap it out with another member. All of this translates into better performance and improved quality of work. 

The Importance of Employee Feedback

An excellent way to develop more meaningful relationships and encourage communication in the workplace is to regularly ask for feedback from your employees about their roles and responsibilities.

This is a great way to get ahead of any potential issues that might arise, such as bottlenecks, their desire to grow, or perhaps quit the organization. It’ll put you in a good position to take steps and improve the work experience for your employees. 

How to Define Roles and Responsibilities

There are several roles within an organization. Each of these contributes to the smooth operations and the success of the business. 

However, you can’t just create a role out of thin air. Well, you can, but you’d have to provide a comprehensive definition for it. Here’s how to define roles within your organization, and the responsibilities for each.

Identify the Core Function

The first step is to identify the core function of that role. This is important as it’ll help you define how that role fits within the larger organizational structure. 

To do this, take a look at the tasks you expect the individual to perform in that role. For instance, the core function of a developer is to write code and develop the layout of a website. 

Similarly, for a paid marketing specialist, the core function will be to run ads on different platforms, track their performance, and identify ways to increase visibility and improve ROI.

Define How Roles Fit in Your Organizational Structure 

Once you have identified the core functions for each role that you want to introduce, the next step is to determine how they fit into the chain of command

For instance, who does the developer report to? Modern teams no longer follow the hierarchical structure with its standard top-down approach.

Instead, departmental boundaries are often removed altogether. Most modern organizations rely on a team-based structure, with employees working in different groups to achieve broader objectives.

For instance, a developer may report to a team lead or a senior architect, who might be playing the role of a project manager too. 

Explain the Skills Required and the Tasks for Each Role

Now that you have the roles down, it’s time to define the responsibilities. You need to be very clear about the skills required for each role, and the tasks they’ll have to perform. 

Some roles also come with requirements, such as proficiency in a specific language or software. Ideally, when defining the skills required for a specific role, you’ll want to create a mix between both soft and hard skills. 

Soft skills are general skills that come naturally to people, such as leadership, effective communication, or time management. These are transferable skills and can help people in any profession. 

Hard skills, on the other hand, are skills that you require to complete a specific job. For instance, a developer may require hard skills such as proficiency in a programming language to be able to create websites. Both soft and hard skills complement each other, and it’s important that the job description reflects that. 

Once you have that down, you can list the day-to-day responsibilities and tasks that each role is required to perform. This is important, as potential applicants will know exactly what’s expected of them. 

Defining Clear Roles and Responsibilities Improves Job Satisfaction

As an entrepreneur, one of your primary responsibilities is to ensure that employees are satisfied. In growing organizations, this can be difficult, since employees often go above and beyond their core duties. 

However, defining their roles and responsibilities gives them a clear purpose, and makes it easy for them to draw the line, especially as the organization grows. It also improves communication, since employees don’t have to sit around and guess who’s responsible for certain tasks. To learn more about this, you may want to read Predictors of Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment in Human Service Organizations by Charles Glisson and Mark Durick. It’s a fascinating research paper that outlines several variables that contribute to job satisfaction.

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