Taking responsibility is an essential element of strong leadership. However, leaders can also inadvertently become overly responsible, taking ownership of others’ tasks, emotions, mistakes, and problems.

Consider the following: Do you often pay attention to the needs of others but neglect your own? Do you frequently remind others what needs to be done and get annoyed by how irresponsible they seem? Or say “yes” to most things you’re asked to do but then feel resentful? If something goes wrong, do you feel the entire weight of that outcome? If so, these could be signs that you have an overactive sense of responsibility.

Chances are that, over time, out of an eagerness to prove yourself, you’ve taken on a number of responsibilities that fall well outside the realm of your core role. While there’s nothing wrong with taking on additional responsibilities, if you’re not careful to draw the line somewhere, it can become a problem. When you have too much on your plate, not only can the quality of your work start to suffer, but your relationships and commitments outside of work may take a blow as well.

Doing too much can impact your performance and productivity, ultimately resulting in:

  • Poor overall well-being
  • Hampered communication
  • Burnout
  • Poor habits

Over-responsibility can be a hard habit to break. Helping others makes us feel good: We feel competent, reduce our stress, and avoid conflict. This habit also gets reinforced by those around you, who learn to depend on you. But don’t wait until you feel burned out and resentful. Instead, use the following strategies to find a more appropriate balance of responsibility.

  • Examine your assumptions. To start overturning your over-responsibility habit, examine the beliefs and fears that keep it alive. Are they really true?
  • Give responsibilities back. Whether you willingly assumed a given responsibility or it was imposed on you, it’s time to return it to its rightful owner.
  • Define what you’re truly responsible for. If it’s an assignment that will detract from your core responsibilities, overwhelm you, and compromise your ability to consistently deliver a high quality of work—all without any significant upside—it’s best to decline and focus on what’s already on your plate.
  • Accept help. Practice accepting offers of help. If someone asks if they can take something off your plate or offers to do something for you, say “yes.” If you’re worried about burdening them, understand that your acceptance of their offer allows them to enjoy the same positive feelings you enjoy from helping others.
  • Empathize – without taking on others’ distress. Ask questions to understand better how someone thinks and feels about their situation, rather than emotionally placing yourself in their shoes.
  • Be self-compassionate. Be patient and self-compassionate as you shift into a new pattern of balanced responsibility with those around you. Setbacks are a natural part of the change process.

Knowing where your limits are and identifying signs of poor productivity due to overworking is important for keeping both you and your work environment efficient and high-powered. Setting boundaries and sticking to them doesn’t show your lack drive or ambition—it shows that you’re an employee of high value who prioritizes doing the job at hand.


Harvard Business Review (2022, July 20) Dina Smith: Are You Too Responsible?
DDIY blog, Stefan Schulz: The Impact of Doing Too Much
The Muse (2021, August 19) Melody J. Wilding: When to Say No (or Yes) to Additional Responsibilities at Work