Principles, proverbs and shibboleths of administration
by Robert E. Allinson, A.L. Minkes
International Journal of Technology Management (IJTM), Vol. 5, No. 2, 1990

Abstract: This paper examines problems in the use of such terms as 'responsibility' and 'accountability', with special reference to managerial decision making. It raises questions of ultimate responsibility in the event of disaster. The paper distinguishes between principles, proverbs and shibboleths: proverbs are not universally valid, but if interpreted as containing important truths they can be of practical help. This can be seen in the context of responsibility for the kind of disasters which occurred with the US Space Shuttle Challenger and the British ferry disaster off Belgium. 'The buck stops here' is typically used to locate responsibility at the top – the Oval Office, the chairman of the company, etc. If, however, decision-making is envisaged, not as a 'one-off' by the Captain on the bridge, but as a process which involves members of an organization at various levels, the buck can be seen to stop 'everyplace else' too. Responsibility exists at more than one level, and disasters, since they are in one sense inevitable but in another preventable, can be looked at as problems in 'what if' or contingency management.

Online publication date: Mon, 25-May-2009

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