Who ought to be Blamed? The Effect of Organizational Roles on Blame and Credit Attributions

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Attributing blame for performance failure and credit for success is ubiquitous in organizations. These responsibility attributions can play an important role in aligning individual and organizational performance expectations, but may also exacerbate conflict in groups and organizations. Theory suggests that an actor's organizational role will affect blame and credit attributions, yet empirical work on this prediction is lacking. This article tests an organizational role approach by assessing the effect of the responsible actor's hierarchical position and whether he or she acted as an individual or as part of a group on blame and credit attributions. The study finds that in response to organizational failures and successes leadership roles attract more blame than other positions, but in contrast to previous predictions, these roles do not attract more credit than lower level roles. In addition, upper level positions tend to be assigned greater blame than credit, while lower level positions show a reversed pattern: they attract more credit than blame. Groups are less likely to be assigned blame and more likely to be credited than are individuals, and occupants in flat organizational structures are assigned higher levels of blame and credit than are occupants in taller organizational structures.


Copyright 2003 Emerald

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Publication Title

International Journal of Conflict Management

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Gibson, D. E. & Schroeder, S. 2003. “Who ought to be Blamed? The Effect of Organizational Roles on Blame and Credit Attributions” International Journal of Conflict Management. Vol. 14(2), pp. 95-117. doi: 10.1108/eb022893.



Peer Reviewed