Ask an expert: How to protect your professional reputation

Small behaviours like showing up on time and keeping promises and can greatly improve your accountability in the workplace.

Business consultants Julie Miller and Brian Bedford contend that most of us are guilty of small behaviours that damage our accountability and hurt us, both personally and professionally, far more than we realize. "Often, we're critical of these behaviours when we see them displayed by other people, but we give ourselves a pass when we're the ones engaging in them," says Bedford. Here are some of their suggestions for improving your accountability.

Show up on time: There are legitimate reasons why even the most responsible person might be running late: a fender-bender, a sick child, an unfortunate coffee spill. But if it happens again and again, you've got a problem. "If tardiness is a habit — if others expect it from you rather than being surprised by it — you're not being accountable," says Miller. "In effect, what you're saying is, 'I don't value your time. I believe I'm more important than you. It's not important to me to honour the agreement we made.'"

Do what you say you will do: If an unforeseen accident or crisis derails your best intentions, most folks are likely to understand. But if you fail to meet your commitments more than once or twice, you lack accountability. "If you find yourself constantly making excuses and asking for more time, it's time to make a change," says Bedford. "Either start pushing yourself harder or stop making promises you can't keep."

Don't blame others: The blame game is one in which nobody wins. Even if the fault lies with someone else, part of being an accountable person means doing your best to offer solutions. And if the blame does lie with you, it's dishonest to shift it to someone else.

Be willing to take and give feedback: When you won't take feedback, you communicate that you aren't interested in improving your performance. But there are also accountability implications associated with being unwilling to give feedback: it shows that you're concerned with only your piece of the puzzle instead of the big picture.