Duties, Responsibilities and Authority explained
A duty is something you must do by virtue of your position and is a legal or moral obligation. For example, it is the supply sergeant’s duty to issue equipment and keep records of the unit’s supplies. It is the first sergeant’s duty to hold formations, instruct platoon sergeants and assist the commander in supervising unit operations. It is the duty of the squad/section/team leader to account for his soldiers and ensure that they receive necessary instructions and are properly trained to perform their jobs.
A noncommissioned officer’s duties are numerous and must be taken seriously. An NCO’s duty includes taking care of soldiers, which is your priority. Corporals and sergeants do this by developing a genuine concern for their soldiers’ well-being. Leaders must know and understand their soldiers well enough to train them as individuals and teams to operate proficiently. This will give them confidence in their ability to perform well under the difficult and demanding conditions of battle. Individual training is the principle duty and responsibility of NCOs. No one in the Army has more to do with training soldiers than NCOs. Well trained soldiers will likely succeed and survive on the battlefield. Well trained soldiers properly do the tasks their NCOs give them. A good leader executes the boss’s decisions with energy and enthusiasm; looking at their leader, soldiers will believe the leader thinks it’s absolutely the best possible solution.
There may be situations you must think carefully about what you’re told to do. For example, duty requires that you refuse to obey illegal orders. This is not a privilege you can claim, but a duty you must perform. You have no choice but to do what’s ethically and legally correct. Making the right choice and acting on it when faced with an ethical question can be difficult. Sometimes, it means standing your ground and telling your supervisor you think their wrong. If you think an order is illegal, first be sure that you understand both the details of the order and its original intent. Seek clarification from the person who gave the order. This takes moral courage, but the question will be straightforward: Did you really mean for me to… steal the part… submit a false report… shoot the prisoners?
If the question is complex and time permits, seek advice from legal assistance. However, if you must decide immediately, as in the heat of combat, make the best judgment possible based on the Army values and attributes, your experience and your previous study and reflection. You take a risk when you disobey what you perceive to be an illegal order. Talk to your superiors, particularly those who have done what you aspire to do or what you think you’ll be called on to do; providing counsel of this sort is an important part of leadership. Obviously, you need to make time to do this before you’re faced with a tough call. This could possibly be the most difficult decision you’ll ever make, but that’s what leaders do.
Noncommissioned officers have three types of duties: specified duties, directed duties and implied duties.
Specified duties are those related to jobs and positions. Directives such as Army regulations, Department of the Army (DA) general orders, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), soldier’s manuals, Army Training and Evaluation Program (ARTEP) publications and MOS job descriptions specify the duties. For example, AR 600-20 says that NCOs must ensure that their soldiers get proper individual training and maintain personal appearance and cleanliness.
Directed duties are not specified as part of a job position or MOS or other directive. A superior gives them orally or in writing. Directed duties include being in charge of quarters (CQ) or serving as sergeant of the guard, staff duty officer, company training NCO and NBC NCO, where these duties are not found in the unit’s organization charts.
Implied duties often support specified duties, but in some cases they may not be related to the MOS job position. These duties may not be written but implied in the instructions. They’re duties that improve the quality of the job and help keep the unit functioning at an optimum level. In most cases, these duties depend on individual initiative. They improve the work environment and motivate soldiers to perform because they want to, not because they have to. For example, while not specifically directed to do so, you hold in-ranks inspections daily to ensure your soldiers’ appearance and equipment are up to standards.
Responsibility is being accountable for what you do or fail to do. NCOs are responsible to fulfill not only their individual duties, but also to ensuretheir teams and units are successful. Any duty, because of the position you hold in the unit, includes a responsibility to execute that duty. As an NCO, you are accountable for your personal conduct and that of your soldiers. Also, each soldier is individually responsible for his own personal conduct and that responsibility cannot be delegated. A soldier is accountable for his actions to fellow soldiers, leaders, unit and the US Army.
As a leader you must ensure that your soldiers clearly understand their responsibilities as members of the team and as representative of the Army. Commanders set overall policies and standards, but all leaders must provide the guidance, resources, assistance and supervision necessary for soldiers to perform their duties. Mission accomplishment demands that officers and NCOs work together to advise, assist and learn from each other. Responsibilities fall into two categories: command and individual.
Command responsibility refers to collective or organizational accountability and includes how well the unit performs their missions. For example, a company commander is responsible for all the tasks and missions assigned to the company; his superiors hold him accountable for completing them. Commanders give military leaders the responsibility for what their sections, units, or organizations do or fail to do. NCOs are therefore responsible to fulfill not only their individual duties, but also to ensure that their team and unit are successful. The amount of responsibility delegated to you depends on your mission, the position you hold and your own willingness to accept responsibility.
One point you need to get straight is that although a list of duties can be drawn up describing what is expected of you, it will not tell you how to do your job. For example, one of an NCO’s duties is to enforce standards of military appearance. This means you are responsible for correcting soldiers who wear the uniform improperly and for teaching them the correct standards of appearance. It also means that you should inspect for proper and serviceability, clothing and equipment of your soldiers. Remember that you must set the example first and your soldiers will follow in your footsteps.
Individual responsibility as a noncommissioned officer means you are accountable for your personal conduct. Soldiers in the Army have their own responsibilities. For example, if you write a check at the commissary, it is your responsibility to have sufficient funds in the bank account to cover the check. Individual responsibility cannot be delegated; it belongs to the soldier that wrote the check. Soldiers are accountable for their actions, to their fellow soldiers, to their leaders, to their unit and to the United States Army. As a leader you must ensure that your soldiers understand clearly their responsibilities as members of the team and as representatives of the Army.
As a noncommissioned officer, you must know what authority you have and where it comes from. You are also expected to use good judgment when exercising your authority.
Authority is defined as the right to direct soldiers to do certain things. Authority is the legitimate power of leaders to direct soldiers or to take action within the scope of their position. Military authority begins with the Constitution, which divides it between Congress and the President. The President, as commander in chief, commands the armed forces, including the Army. The authority from the Commander-in-Chief extends through the chain of command, with the assistance of the NCO support channel, to the squad, section or team leader who then directs and supervises the actions of individual soldiers. When you say, “PFC Lee, you and PFC Johnson start filling sandbags; SPC Garcia and SPC Smith will provide security from that hill,” you are turning into action the orders of the entire chain of command.
In the Army there are two basic types of authority: command authority and general military authority.
Command authority is the authority leaders have over soldiers by virtue of rank or assignment. Command authority originates with the President and may be supplemented by law or regulation. Even though it is called “command” authority, it is not limited to officers – you have command authority inherent in your leadership position as a tank commander or team leader, for example. Noncommissioned officers’ command authority is inherent with the job by virtue of position to direct or control soldiers.
Leading soldiers includes the authority to organize, direct and control your assigned soldiers so that they accomplish assigned missions. It also includes authority to use assigned equipment and resources to accomplish your missions. Remember that this only applies to soldiers and facilities in your unit. For example, if the platoon sergeant of first platoon goes on leave and a squad leader is put in charge, that squad leader has command authority over only first platoon, until he is relieved from the responsibility. The soldiers in first platoon will obey the squad leader’s orders due to his position. However, the squad leader does not have command authority over another platoon.
General military authority is authority extended to all soldiers to take action and act in the absence of a unit leader or other designated authority. It originates in oaths of office, law, rank structure, traditions and regulations. This broad-based authority also allows leaders to take appropriate corrective actions whenever a member of any armed service, anywhere, commits an act involving a breach of good order or discipline. For example, if you see soldiers in a brawl, you have the general military authority (and the obligation) to stop the fight. This authority applies even if none of the soldiers are in your unit.
General military authority exists whether you are on duty or not, in uniform or in civilian attire and regardless of location. For example, you are off duty, in civilian clothes and in the PX and you see a soldier in uniform with his headgear raised up and trousers unbloused. You stop the soldier immediately, identify yourself and ensure the soldier understands and makes the necessary corrections. If he refuses, saying you don’t have the authority to tell him what to do because he’s not in your NCO support channel, the soldier is wrong.
You as an NCO have both general military authority and the duty to enforce standards as outlined in AR 670-1. Your authority to enforce those regulations is specified in AR 600-20 and if you neglect your duty, you can be held accountable. If the soldier refuses to obey you, what can you do? For starters, you can explain that you have authority regardless of your location, your unit, or whether you are in uniform or civilian attire. You may decide to settle for the soldier’s name and unit. If so, a phone call to his first sergeant should be more than enough to ensure that such an incident does not recur.
Delegation of authority. Just as Congress and the President cannot participate in every aspect of the armed forces operations, most leaders cannot handle every action directly. To meet the organization’s goals, officers delegate authority to NCOs in the NCO Support Channel who, in turn, may further delegate that authority. Unless restricted by law, regulation, or a superior, leaders may delegate any or all of their authority to their subordinate leaders. However, such delegation must fall within the leader’s scope of authority. Leaders cannot delegate authority they do not have and subordinate leaders may not assume authority that superiors do not have, cannot delegate, or have retained. The task or duty to be performed limits the authority of the leader to whom it is assigned.
Both command and general military authority originate in the Constitution and Congress has further defined them in law. More explicit sources are Army Regulations, the Manual for Courts Martial (MCM) and the chain of command/NCO support channel.
You don’t need to read or remember all Army Regulations (ARs) but study those that pertain to your job. If necessary, ask other NCOs to help you find out what regulations pertain to you, where they can be found and how to interpret them. Start with AR 600-20. It covers enlisted soldiers’ and noncommissioned officers’ authority and responsibilities.
The Manual for Courts Martial (MCM, 2002) describes legal aspects of the authority of the noncommissioned officer. It states in part that, “All commissioned officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers are authorized to stop quarrels, frays and disorders among persons subject to the code….” Severe penalties are imposed for violations such as disrespect, insubordination, or assault. No one expects you to be an expert on military law, but as a noncommissioned officer you should know the definition of these words and be able to explain them to your soldiers. Your legal clerk can be a good source of information.
Authority of the NCO is part of the equation in military discipline.
Your authority also stems from the combination of the chain of command and the NCO support channel. Orders and policies that pass through the chain of command or the NCO support channel automatically provide the authority necessary to get the job done. With such broad authority given to all commissioned officers and noncommissioned officers, the responsibility to use mature, sound judgment is critical. The chain of command backs up the NCO support channel by legally punishing those who challenge the NCO’s authority. But it does so only if the noncommissioned officer’s actions and orders are sound, intelligent and based on proper authority. To be a good leader, you should learn what types of authority you have and where it comes from. Whenever in doubt, ask. Once you’re confident that you know the extent of your authority, use sound judgment in applying it. Then you will be a leader respected by both your soldiers and superiors.