Why Creating Accountability is the Key to Communication Success

And how to cement accountability to drive powerful communication.

Part #5 of the Communicating with Purpose Series.

This is the fifth of a 5-part series where I guide you through the different elements to more effective project communication. If you haven’t yet, check out the series intro article, Communicating with Purpose: The 5 elements of successful communication

Communication makes up a huge part of the success of any project.

It’s so huge, that I’ve had to write five articles about it!

That’s because I truly believe that getting communication right means delivering powerful projects that create lasting, positive change for the project stakeholders.

And the final part of the communication puzzle is accountability.

You can have all the information and conversation in the world, but if nobody takes ownership, then you risk devaluing the communication you’ve taken time to engage in.

Let’s look at the reasons that accountability is so important in driving powerful communication and how you can actively create communication accountability within your projects.

All actions must have an owner 

In the Communicating with Purpose Series, we’ve already looked at what information you should be capturing, how to collect it, who to collect it from and how to keep track of it all.

The next (and arguably most important thing) is to make sure that someone is responsible for each piece of information you’ve put effort into collecting.

Accountability is key on a project. It helps to give both the project team and stakeholders the confidence that commitments will be followed through on and that progress will happen.

For progress to take place however, a dedicated person or people from the project must commit to taking action and following things through until the desired outcome is achieved.

When it comes to task ownership, a common mistake I see on projects is that people are nominated as being the owner of a task without checking with them first that they are the right person to be nominated as the owner.

Another issue I see when nominating someone as a task owner without talking to them first, is that you run the risk of them not fully understanding their obligations and missing the mark. This has a lot to do with assumptions and I wrote an entire article on these. If you haven’t read it already (or you’d like a refresher), you can find the first article in this series about communication clarity here. 

Once you know you’ve got the right person to be the owner of the task, you need to make sure they actually take ownership.

How to get owners to acknowledge their responsibility 

When discussing ownership of tasks with the nominated person it is critical that they understand their obligations and can commit to deliver on them.

The clearest way to do this is to work together to outline:

  • The purpose of the communication requirement 
  • What outcomes they need to provide
  • How to handle any risks or issues 
  • Who they need to report the information back to and in what format 
  • And if updates are required – who will need to know, in what method, and how frequently

Tracking and managing progress and obstacles

When it comes to capturing information – what you need to know and conversations you need to plan for – you need a simple tool which can be easily adopted by your entire project team. 

This is your Communications Plan.

I use an Excel spreadheet template that I have evolved over several years of project consulting. It keeps all my communication information in the one place and helps everyone be consistent in their approach to communication.

Just like mine, your Communications Plan template should be setup to capture:

  • All the key information you need both to gather and communicate at different phases of the project, and to which audience (otherwise known as communication milestones)
  • The methods of communication needed 
  • The key decision makers 
  • Accountability around who is responsible for driving success across each communication milestone
  • Any obstacles you face. These should be highlighted in your Communications Plan and also tracked within the RAID (Risk Assumption Issues Dependency) Register.

Your Communications Plan is a living document

Wherever you record your communications plan, it’s important to remember that it’s a living document. This means that unless you regularly review, update, and make progress by taking action on the items inside, otherwise all you’re creating is a pretty spreadsheet.

The only way to measure progress and success of your communications goals is to check in to your goals and task list frequently. And you should do this as a project team.

Try and plan out weekly activities at the beginning of the week and review progress at the end. At the very least, you should be meeting once a week to review and plan.

Sharing the big and small things 

So much goes on behind the scenes to ensure the success of projects.

What projects don’t often do well is bring the extended stakeholder group along on this journey.

Sharing regular updates with relevant stakeholders helps to maintain visibility and confidence. It also helps to keep the channels of communication open so that the project team can stay informed of things that will impact the project.

Project teams often wait for a ‘big’ milestone to happen before they share the news with their stakeholders. While sharing milestone is absolutely recommended, it typically leaves stakeholders not hearing from the team for extended periods of time.

This extended silence can compromise the impact of the ‘big’ announcements you share. You might also find you don’t have a captive audience when you do decide to share your project wins.

People in general appreciate the work a lot more when they have an insight into what goes on behind the scenes. That’s not to say you need to notify your stakeholder of every little thing that happens. But regular contact is essential in improving relationships, confidence and trust.

Planning Communication for Project Milestones 

When you’re planning for the communication of Project Milestones, it’s important to remember that milestones are not just connected to technical outcomes.

Milestones are key items that the stakeholders AND project team require to achieve the overall success on delivery. 

Project Milestones are things like: 

  • The purpose of the communication requirement 
  • What outcomes they need to provide
  • How to handle any risks or issues 
  • Who they need to report the information back to and in what format 
  • And if updates are required – who will need to know, in what method, and how frequently

When planning out communication needs for each project milestone, you should be clear on who needs to be informed and what they need in order to achieve a successful outcome.

Once the team is clear on the outcomes needed to achieve success, they can work backwards to find out what they need to do to deliver. Then, just like planning out other project activities, the team should break out the communication tasks and identify the right team members to own and complete each task.

Planning Communication for the Small Stuff

Small project communication needs include things like progress check-ins, reviewing possible and current obstacles, reviewing completed work, testing, and prioritising workflow.

They might seem boring and incidental. But each of these interactions are an opportunity to remain aligned to and develop a deeper understanding of the stakeholder needs. When you take the opportunity to communicate in this way, you’ll also be able to identify new areas of concern, develop trust and support for the project team and stakeholders, and provide insights into delivering a more powerful project.

The best way to engage with your stakeholders on the small things is to carve out a set time between the stakeholders and project team and work to agenda. In addition to discussing progress, this is an opportunity to share obstacles the team has overcome and what this means for the project.

When you share what you’re capable of, you raise the credibility of your project team. You’ll develop a closer relationship with your stakeholders because they will feel as though they are in the trenches with you.

It also helps everyone to remember that we are human and can work together to make things better for everyone involved.

Key things to remember 

We’ve covered so much communication ground together throughout the Communicating with Purpose series.

I hope that you’ve taken away some valuable insights and actionable tips so you can improve the communication within your projects.

When it comes to communicating with purpose, always remember:

  • Communication Clarity: don’t make assumptions and be clear on what you’re trying to say.
  • Communication Structure: be practical and clear on the goals to deliver success on your project so you can maintain clarity and visibility.
  • Get the Right Information: Work out what you need to know and what you need to say in order to meet your goals.
  • Engage Your Audience: find and engage the right stakeholders.
  • Create Accountability: every communication needs to be owned by someone and tracked somewhere to drive success.


And finally, always remember, that every communication is an opportunity to take people on the journey with you.

Because when you do that, you’ll truly start to deliver powerful projects.

Ready for more?

Want to work with me to improve the communication skills of your team? I deliver customised team training programs that cover communication and all the other skills your team needs to deliver powerful projects with people at their core. 

You can find out more about training with me here.

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