We’ve all had that experience: we see someone, perhaps even our own age, and think, “Wow, that person really is responsible!” I’ve often had this feeling as I’ve watched the mature adult my college roommate has become.
Over the past four years, as we’ve entered our late twenties, I’ve consistently been impressed by how responsible she is in every area of her life.
But what is it that makes a person responsible? In this article, I explore nine things that set some people apart as responsible adults.
1. They refuse to make excuses.
A person may seem especially irresponsible if they’re always making excuses for their actions. I read a story once about a woman who worked in an office job where one of her coworkers frequently called off from work.
While there are situations where it’s right to call in sick, this man frequently did so after a long night of partying (which was shared on his social media).
One day, several of the ladies were complaining of cramps, as it was their time of the month. The following morning, this man called in and said he thought he had whatever bug the ladies had gotten! Since it was non-contagious and an affliction that strictly impacted ladies, his excuses were exposed for what they were.
Responsible people don’t make excuses for their actions or as a way to get out of their obligations. Instead, they apologize when they have failed to live up to the expectations placed on them. With grace, they accept the consequences of their mistakes.
Part of refusing to make excuses means that responsible people don’t commit to doing too much. Instead, they know when to say “no” to things in order to keep their schedule manageable.
“Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.”
– John Wooden
2. They are organized.
There are lots of ways a person can be organized. Responsible people organize their lives so that none of the chaos they experience is because of their lack of preparation. Although life events can cause stress, their disorganization does not further complicate their lives.
A huge part of this is keeping a calendar. If a person organizes their schedule well, they’ll never be double-booked for something, forcing them to cancel plans.
A few years back, I discovered that a print calendar made it too easy for me and my husband to accidentally book things when we were otherwise committed. After transitioning to the Google family calendar on our phones, we’ve been able to keep better track of our commitments.
Responsible people are organized in other ways, too. When we were in school, my college roommate was always very organized with her school assignments. If something was due at the end of the week, she almost always had it done several days in advance. This organization allowed her to excel.
“Organizing is a journey, not a destination.”
3. They are punctual.
One of the most irresponsible things you can do is to show up late for something. I had a professor who used to tell us that the eleventh commandment (and addition to the biblical “Ten Commandments”) was, “Thou shalt not be late.” He despised lateness and often penalized late students.
People can be put off by your behavior if you’re habitually late. While things will sometimes happen to make you late, such as an emergency, responsible people make an effort to build in extra time to handle hiccups (like traffic). People who are often late, demonstrate poor time management and poor manners toward those who are forced to wait on them.
Being on time can leave a positive first impression. This is especially true if you’re doing business or showing up for a job interview. Showing up on time shows the other person that you’re capable of taking responsibility for how you manage your time.
This is a skill that many people don’t have.
“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”
– Evelyn Waugh
4. They control their emotions.
There’s been an increased interest in emotional intelligence and the emotional quotient (EQ) as a way of measuring a person’s handling of their own emotions and behaviors. A person who is responsible will have great command over how their emotions are expressed around others.
While how you feel about a situation can’t always be controlled, how you react in response to stressors needs to be managed. Responsible people control their emotions. They don’t lose their tempers, lash out at others, or fail to deliver when they run into challenges.
“What we feel is a choice.”
– Piyush Shrivastav
5. They don’t complain excessively.
Refraining from complaining is an easy way to appear more responsible. While we all complain, responsible people don’t complain excessively. When a person complains too much, they often appear immature or irresponsible.
I had a boss once who didn’t tolerate hearing others complain. I learned quickly that if I was frustrated by something, I should only mention it to him if I was looking for his feedback on how to handle a situation.
Learning to limit my complaints helped me to grow up a lot in those years. I found that the less I complained, the more seriously my complaints were taken when I made them.
Sometimes, complaining can keep you from properly dealing with a situation. Sure, there are times when it can be appropriate and even helpful to vent about the things that are bothering you.
But if you continuously complain about every little inconvenience, others may start to view you as petty, negative, and irresponsible.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
– Maya Angelou
6. They are consistent.
Responsible people aren’t people who show up and do a great job once. They are people who consistently show up and perform well.
In the workplace, a responsible employee is one who consistently does a good job at whatever task is in front of them. People like working with responsible individuals because they know what to expect from them.
Inconsistent people can be unpredictable, making them poor employees. When a person consistently does good work, they become great candidates for promotion and responsibility. After all, you wouldn’t want an inconsistent worker to be placed in a position of responsibility!
“It’s very easy to make a viral video, but longevity and consistency, that’s hard.”
– Michelle Phan
7. They know how to manage their finances.
You can probably think of someone who is financially irresponsible. The person might spend money before they’ve earned it, spend excessively, or neglect bills until they’re in collections.
Growing up, my dad would often fail to pay bills. He had the money, but he hated taking the time to pay bills. Because of this, our utilities would often be terminated. Only then would he make the effort to pay the bill.
Learning how to manage your finances by creating and sticking to a budget is a huge part of being a responsible person. When you manage your finances right, you won’t need to be bailed out by others (except in cases of extreme emergencies).
By building up good credit, you prove to banks that you’re responsible enough to handle a car or home loan.
“Never spend your money before you have it.”
– Thomas Jefferson
8. They don’t procrastinate.
Procrastination is one of the biggest signs of irresponsibility. While you may be able to occasionally get away with procrastinating, chronic procrastination can get you into a lot of trouble.
Eventually, you’ll run into a situation where you won’t be able to do something at the last minute because something else comes up.
I had a professor once who did not take late work, except in the case of extreme emergencies. He believed that managing your time and getting work done ahead of time was an essential part of being a good student.
Because of his strict rules, students (myself included) were forced to get out of the procrastination habit. You can better navigate distractions and emergencies when you refuse to procrastinate on the work in front of you.
A person who doesn’t procrastinate is an exceptionally responsible person. They take responsibility for their time and work, making sure to get things done in a timely manner.
“Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”
– Charles Dickens
9. They know how to manage their time.
Productivity and time management are important parts of building responsibility. When you know how to get things done, you’ll be seen as more responsible. As you build your time management and productivity skills, you’ll be able to take on more responsibilities at work.
The value of time management is most obvious when you’re around people who don’t know how to manage their time. Anyone who has children can attest to the fact that they don’t know how to manage their time.
Because of their immaturity, they need someone to track their every movement and keep them on task. Adults who require similar levels of monitoring are irresponsible. Employees who fail to get work done because of poor time management will not be viewed as responsible or worthy of promotion.
By learning how to manage your time, you put yourself in a position to accept more responsibility.
“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”
– Jim Rohn
There are lots of things that make a person responsible. How a person behaves and manages the details of their life tells you a lot about their maturity. Those who successfully exhibit responsible behavior set themselves up for advancement at work and in life.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen at least one thing on this list that you can work on. Even responsible people (like my college roommate I mentioned in the opening paragraphs) can identify one of the areas in this list that could use some work. Because we always have room for improvement, we can always push ourselves to become more responsible.