1. Role clarity

Content champion Mattias Skarin

Why it matters

Achieving role clarity by clarifying work objectives, performance expectations, for example, improves work satisfaction and reduces turnover rates.

Moreover, in order to lay the foundation for effective teamwork for a team-based organization, research shows that role clarity is essential for the effective functioning of workgroups (Bray and Brawley 2002).

How it works

If one would clarify a key aspect of managerial groundwork, it is creating role clarity, by no means a glamorous task. You would rarely notice role clarity when it’s there, but you would surely notice it when it’s not.

Clearly defining roles and expectations can have a positive impact on the company as a whole, particularly as it relates to team projects. Everyone knows what to do. When you clearly define roles and responsibilities, everyone knows what’s expected of them within the group.

Several studies have shown that role clarification is an important determinant of managerial effectiveness.

When employees are unaware of what is expected of them, they may hesitate to act, show a lack of self-determination, and feel unable to make a difference in achieving the organization’s goals (Rizzo, House, and Lirtzman 1970).

Killing a myth

A myth we can kill right off the bat is that role ambiguity is needed for, or enhances creativity.

While a certain level of role ambiguity is likely to exist in all jobs and may even be beneficial in terms of increasing employee creativity and learning, a high level of ambiguity regarding job goals and performance expectations creates stress and frustration among employees (Schaubroeck et al. 1993) and may even influence them to leave the organization (Jung 2011).

Experience impacts what level to act on

What we should pay attention to however is that experience impacts what level to act on as a leader in order to create role clarity. Experienced employees are likely to feel less uncertain about their work goals, may need only general directions, whereas inexperienced employees may require more elaborate clarity in mandate and boundaries.

The practices

There are a number of ways through which role clarity can be achieved:

  • Communicating clearly about performance expectations.
  • Providing training and guidance on how to accomplish work activities.
  • Keeping subordinates informed about changes in the organizational environment that may have an impact on their work and providing them with periodic feedback about their performance.


Role Efficacy, Role Clarity, and Role Performance Effectiveness, Bray, Steven R., and Lawrence R. Brawley. Small Group Research, 2002, 33(2), pp. 233–253

The Importance of Role Clarification in Workgroups: Effects on Perceived Role Clarity, Work Satisfaction, and Turnover Rates, Shahidul Hassan, Wiley, 2013

A Meta-Analysis of the Correlates of Role Conflict and Ambiguity, Fisher, Cynthia D., and Richard Gitelson, Journal of Applied Psychology, 1983, 68(2), pp. 320–333.

A Meta-Analysis and Conceptual Critique of Research on Role Ambiguity and Role Conflict in Work Settings, Jackson, Susan E., and Randall S. Schuler, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 1985, 36(1), pp. 16–78

Predicting Organizational Actual Turnover Rates in U.S. Federal Government, Jung, Chan S, International Public Management Journal, 2011.,13(3), pp. 297–317

Role Conflict and Ambiguity in Complex Organizations, Rizzo, John, Robert J. House, and Sidney I. Lirtzman, Administrative Science Quarterly, 1970, 15(2), pp. 150–63. A Field Experiment Testing Supervisor Role Clarification, Schaubroeck, John, Daniel Ganster, Wesley E. Sime, and David Ditman, Personnel Psychology, 1993, 46(1), pp 1–25.

Jackson and Schuler (1985) Revisited: A Meta-Analysis of the Relationships between Role Ambiguity, Role Conflict, and Job Performance, Tubre, Travis C., and Judith M. Collins, Journal of Management 2000, 26(1), pp.155–169.

Leadership in Organizations, 7th ed., Yukl, Gary, Prentice Hall, 2010