Roles and responsibilities: Why defining them is important

December 15, 2021 - 25 min read

women-in-a-meeting-roles-and-responsibilities

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What are roles and responsibilities?

The benefits of defining roles and responsibilities at your organization

How do I start defining roles and responsibilities at my organization?

What is a role, and how do you define them in your organization?

How to assign a role for your organization, team, or next project

How to define a role’s responsibilities

How to write an effective job description

The essential components of a job description and free job description template

The job description template: an example

Defining roles and responsibilities doesn’t just help you find the right person for the job. It also improves employee experience and supports the efficiency of your organization.

Let’s take a look at why it’s so important for employees to understand their roles and responsibilities.

What are job roles and responsibilities?

Every role has key responsibilities that fit with that position. It’s important to understand the meaning of the terms when considering the importance of roles and responsibilities. This will ensure that everyone can perform their job efficiently.

The individual roles that make up a team vary depending on the organization or business. Let’s take the role of a customer service representative as an example.

The duties and responsibilities of a customer service representative are to:

  • communicate with customers via phone, email, and social media
  • respond promptly to customers’ complaints and questions
  • give customers information about products and services
  • process orders, forms, applications, and requests
  • maintain a positive and professional attitude toward customers

two-customer-service-reps-roles-and-responsibilities

From a customer service representative to the CEO, each person at an organization plays a role.

The running of any business depends on everyone understanding their roles and responsibilities. By understanding their duties, they can perform their assigned tasks efficiently.

All members of the team should fulfill their responsibilities to the best of their abilities for teamwork to be effective. This is true for both in-person and virtual teams.

To summarize, your role is your job title, and your responsibilities are your job description.

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The benefits of defining roles and responsibilities at your organization

Clearly defining roles and responsibilities can help your organization in more ways than one. From boosting operational efficiency to improving your hiring process, let's look at some benefits.

Improve your hiring process and empower staff

It's important that both internal and external candidates understand a role's responsibilities. This way, you can give your entire team and hiring process a boost.

colleagues-in-a-studio-working-together-roles-and-responsibilities

Candidates will have more precise expectations of the role and what success looks like in it. At the same time, your broader team will understand why new hires are on board, reducing friction

Defining roles and responsibilities also boosts transparency. It gives team members in a new role a clearly defined path from day one.

Waste less of your organization’s time and money

With well-defined responsibilities, the organization spends less of its resources ironing out redundancies. It also lessens the likelihood of interpersonal conflict

It can also help combat the challenges of working from home because remote employees will clearly understand what they are supposed to do.

It's just as important for supervisory and reporting chains to be well-defined. This way, the organization will experience less drain on its human resource management. In turn, this makes operational efficiency less of a lift and more of a natural output for all.

Roles and responsibilities should be defined before hiring or looking internally to fill a role. How can you find the right person for the job? And how can talent find the right opportunity if you can’t say what the purpose of the role is? 

How do I start defining roles and responsibilities at my organization?

Begin by asking the question: What issue has this position been created to address?

Do you have a product or service? Do you have waiting customers? Do you need to be able to serve your customers efficiently and effectively

Maybe you need to get more customers and different types of customers. Or maybe you need different types of products.

If yours is a longstanding organization, you may be looking to ensure that you are running a tight ship. It’s tempting to just cut and paste existing roles. But it’s worthwhile to reconsider whether the issues and needs of the organization have changed.

However, your company might be a new venture. In this case, the initial definition of roles and their key responsibilities within a clear chain of command is an opportunity. 

You should invest time upfront to get better clarity on what issues are most important to address. This will help you decide what type of person is most needed.

Naturally, the issues may change every six months. But the effort to define responsibilities will help set expectations. It will also improve the likelihood of success.

The first step is to determine what tasks are necessary to put your product or service into a customer’s hands. Also, consider how those tasks are most logically grouped for individual employees’ undertakings. 

This is the process of deriving and defining roles from responsibilities.

What is a role, and how do you define them in your organization?

There are several different business roles within an organization. And each role is critical to the overall success and operations of the company. Remember that there are no great one-person organizational roles: everyone plays a part.

But before you can assign roles, you need to define them. Here’s how to specify your organization’s roles:

Understand what work needs to get done

An organizational role is defined by its function within a larger team. This is true whether they are officially part of a team or not. The team is defined by its function within the larger organization. 

But to define any role in your organization, first start by analyzing the employee’s tasks. These are the tasks that any single employee is responsible for to achieve the organization’s end goal. This goal is the service of customers. This is true on both a profit-driven or non-profit basis.

customer-service-representative-on-a-call-roles-and-responsibilities

For example, the Acme Widget Company may require the completion of the following tasks to service a customer effectively:

  • Phone answering 
  • Order processing
  • Customer relations
  • Product and delivery complaint response 

All of these tasks can logically be provided by a single person undertaking the role of a customer service representative.

Understand how each role fits into your broader team(s)

The list of tasks in the previous section is an example of a set of tasks defining a specific role. Once those tasks are assigned to that organizational role, they then constitute the responsibilities of the role. 

Let's consider a member of a customer service team reporting to a customer service manager. In this case, the role of customer service representative exists only within its team structure.

The point of the role is to facilitate communications between the customer and the organization. They also help with inter-departmental communication within the organization itself. 

A customer service representative cannot stand alone on a stage and get anything done.

How to assign a role for your organization, team, or next project

Once the role is defined, the challenge lies in properly assigning it to an individual employee or prospect. This is an area where responsibilities drive the decision-making process. 

Once the role is defined, the first consideration is what are the personal characteristics required to fulfill it. 

Let's return to the customer service representative example above. Some characteristics needed for this role are: 

team-members-in-a-meeting-roles-and-responsibilities

These soft skills are essential for a customer service role. For example, the skill of placating an irate customer shouting over the phone is vital for your customer retention.

Plus, the ability to remain calm and analytical, to refuse to be shaken from problem-solving mode, is useful. This is true whether the employee is dealing with an irate customer or a challenging colleague. This means these skills are also crucial for integrating within the team.

Beyond that, the next point of consideration is the candidate’s past experience and resume. 

Has the candidate done this sort of job before? 

Does the role require an essential hard skill, such as Python 2.7 programming? 

Does the candidate have a particular past success that might demonstrate that he or she is a great fit for the role? But maybe past job titles don’t seem to indicate a perfect match? 

This is often “first screen” material. Hiring managers will want to take it a step further in the interview process. This can be through an external or internal review. 

For example, what are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? This is a stock interview question. But it can be used for more substantive purposes than it often is. 

The key point to draw from a candidate is whether there is some aspect to their personality or work habits that is at odds with the overarching professional goal of the position. 

For example, a customer service representative shouldn’t be: 

  • Thin-skinned 
  • Quick to anger
  • Defensive 

They should be able to regulate their emotions well.

Consider whether the candidate will simply be a good addition to the team. Will they make the team better? This isn’t about “fit” so much as whether the person will find challenge and satisfaction working with the team. They should also bring complementary in-demand skills and perspectives the team needs. 

For internal candidates, is there a history of unproductive friction with other colleagues? Friction and dissent can be good things. But it depends on the individual’s maturity in handling the inevitable disagreements or tensions around alternative perspectives or approaches. 

Ask the candidate directly about a time when a teammate proposed an idea or plan that contradicted their own. Listen to their language to draw out whether: 

  • They felt anger or resentment — my idea has to win.
  • They saw it as an opportunity to work together — what does he see that I don’t

Look for chemistry with existing team members but don’t over-index on “fit.” This can lead to homogenous teams that underperform. 

More generally, does the candidate bring something to the table that the existing team lacks? 

Does the candidate fill a gap? Or is there an issue of redundancy of skill-set? 

Is the candidate going to be able to persuade other team members they have a solution to a problem as the new kid on the block? 

In other words, a candidate’s weaknesses and strengths should be drawn out through historical example questioning. This will reveal the answers to some or all of these questions. 

A stock question that candidates often ask in interviews is, “What issue has my position been created to address?”

This is a question the organization should already have asked of itself. It should again ask the candidate: “What have you done in the past to address this issue that we have?” 

It is also worth noting that roles need not be permanent. A one-time or intermittent project may involve roles assumed by multiple people. Or it might involve multiple roles assumed by a single person. 

The analysis remains the same. 

It is often useful to utilize a RACI matrix to match tasks with roles and to assign responsibilities.

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How to define a role’s responsibilities

Before defining responsibilities, you first need a thorough understanding of your organization's needs. You should also have a clear understanding of the characteristics needed by the right candidate.

The next step in this process is to break down the role's discrete tasks, or responsibilities. This will help you form the role's description.

businesswoman-in-a-meeting-roles-and-responsibilities

Job or role descriptions should be specific. They should include the task itself. But they should also include the required parameters of the task and the best way of accomplishing it.

By being explicit, you give candidates a sense of their work scope and how you’ll measure performance.

Explain skills and tasks required to fulfill the role successfully 

For example, an architectural firm might require interior as well as exterior or structural design. The responsibility section for an “interior design” role might read: 

  • In-house and on-site communications and meetings with clients. Meetings can take place during regular and weekend business hours.
  • Using AutoCAD, BIM/Revit software. Software is to be used for the design and development of interior finishes, concepts, and themes.
  • Preparation of construction documents for interiors and architectural components. Prepare presentations for client review and sales. 
  • Development of solutions to technical, design, and fixture delivery problems following established standards and codes. 

The tasks outlined above are discrete and exhibit the combination of soft and hard skills required. It gives candidates a clear understanding of their expected day-to-day responsibilities.

A few words on time-framing

Deadlines and time-frames are always important considerations in any responsibility definition as well. 

Ensure that the employee taking on the role has a clear understanding of the time considerations involved. They must understand the need to communicate deadline issues to their reporting manager.

Example: 

  • Ensure that all projects are delivered on time, within scope, and within budget.
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills. Professional confidence to effectively engage and interact with senior and executive management.

Make sure to include reporting structure, if applicable 

For internal candidates, it’s important to note any reporting requirements. Also include any supervisory responsibilities that may be relevant.

Communicating reporting requirements helps to minimize confusion and friction over chain-of-command issues. It ensures team members are all on the same page from the beginning. 

If not assigning the role to an existing employee, the next step is to take all the above information and craft it into a job description.

How to write an effective job description

Here are some best practices that will help you compose effective job descriptions. 

1. Format for easy reading

Format job descriptions for easy reading and scanning, and use bullet points whenever possible. Break down responsibilities and qualifications into single lines. This way, candidates can easily scan when the description is posted online.

2. Be specific about required skills or knowledge

Call out any specific software or other required skills for the role. Also, include the specific educational and certificate credentials required. Make sure to mention the necessary experience needed for a candidate to perform this role successfully.

3. Be realistic about potential candidates 

It may be tempting to require that all candidates have a Ph.D. in a related discipline. Or that they must have director-level managerial experience at a Fortune 500 company

But be sure not to “over-qualify” the position. If you do, you run the risk of good candidates not applying for the job due to an over-ambitious job description.

The essential components of a job description and free job description template

To help you craft the perfect job description, we’ve compiled every essential element you’ll need to include. We've also included a definition and example for each element to help you get started. 

Once you understand all the necessary components, use the free template below as a starting point for your descriptions.

Job title

This may speak for itself, as in the customer service representative or the interior design examples above. 

However, you may be adapting an internal position for an external, public posting. In this case, be sure not to provide a job title that is pure jargon or overly “fluffy” or vague. Make sure that the job title conveys the nature of the job to outside candidates.

Example: Sales Team Project Manager

Description 

The description is a one or two-sentence “thesis” of the position. It should capture the essential purpose and function of the role. This is especially useful if the job title itself is on the vague side.

Example: The Sales Team Project Manager will be responsible for the planning, procurement, and end-to-end execution of all projects for our Sales Department.

If the job title is something like “customer service representative,” a description may be less necessary. That is unless there is something specifically unique about this job.

sales-team-project-manager-roles-and-responsibilities

Responsibilities

The list of responsibilities is the meat of the job description and should already be drafted. Refine it and bullet it to make it easier to read. Break apart multi-step responsibility descriptions into separate line items that are scannable. 

Example: 

  • Assist in the definition of project scope and objectives. Involve all relevant stakeholders and ensure technical feasibility
  • Ensure resource availability and allocation
  • Develop a detailed project plan to monitor and track progress

Qualifications required

The qualifications required may not be something that has been considered until this point. What has been committed to paper thus far is what needs to be done and how many people are required to do it.

Example:

  • BA/BS degree or equivalent work experience
  • Minimum of five years of related industry experience in highly complex operating environments. Experience must include managing moderately-sized projects from start to finish
  • You have a proven track record of on-time and high-quality project delivery

Reporting structure (for internal postings)

This section is not relevant to external job postings. However, for a position posted to internal candidates, a lot of trouble further down the line can be avoided. For example, it gives an interested internal employee the advanced opportunity to say, “No way am I going to work for Dave!” 

It also ensures applicants have a clear understanding of who they will report to and who will report to them. They can better understand how the role is essential to the broader team’s success.

Example: Role reports to the Director of Sales

Location, salary, benefits

Many job postings don’t include this information. This is especially true if the position is within an industry in which market rates are well-known. Or if it’s an executive position for which compensation will be a point of serious negotiation.

But for external candidates, in particular, salary information can be crucial. Your position may provide excellent employee benefits that other similar positions don’t. This way, you can attract better candidates.

For non-executive job-seekers, a posting with no salary or benefit information is easily glossed over and ignored.

The job description template: an example

Job title: Senior Technical Writer

Job description: ACME Documentation Services is a specialist in military documentation publication. We are seeking a creative but analytical problem-solver. They must simply and effectively communicate complex design, manufacturing, and equipment operational workflows.

Responsibilities:

  • Interview SMEs for manufacturing and operational knowledge-gathering 
  • Function within a project team. Provide services in support of technical manual and courseware development
  • Create documentation and technical illustrations. Use CAD, Adobe Illustrator, Arbor Text Pro, XML editors, and web-based development applications 
  • Communicate with SMEs, team members, and client representatives. Determine revision requirements and publication approval

Qualifications:

  • Software proficiency described above
  • Familiarity with Military Documentation Standards (MIL-STD-40051 and MIL_HDBK-1222C) 
  • Familiarity with TRADOC Regulation 350-70 for training development
  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience 5+ years of Technical Writing
  • US Citizenship, ability to pass a background check 

Location/salary/benefits: This position is located in our Sterling Heights, MI office. We offer a generous vacation and health benefits package. We also offer a retirement matching program, life insurance, and paid holidays. Salary commensurate with experience.

How to use the job description template

A completed job description template such as this is tailored for external positing. If your position is internal, you can include more specific supervisory information. You can also insert more specific salary or grade information.

job-description-template

A copy should be inserted into the personnel file of the employee hired for the role for future appraisal purposes. This is in the case that the question of responsibility allocation arises within the team at a later date. 

Put your roles and responsibilities knowledge into practice

Remember, a role is less of a label. It is instead descriptive of what someone does within an organization or project. It defines their relationship with other employees or customers. 

A responsibility is a specific task that someone in a job or project role is accountable for. It is what they do on a day-to-day basis. 

Organizations that clearly define roles and responsibilities can simplify their hiring processes. It can empower their people to do better and be more focused at work. It also helps boost operational efficiency by reducing confusion and redundancies.

Need help defining the roles and responsibilities at your organization? At BetterUp, we transform performance and growth for people, teams, and organizations where it matters most. Request a demo to find out more.

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Published December 15, 2021

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