What is Role Ambiguity?

Definition: Role ambiguity is a confusing situation that emerges because of a vague job description where responsibilities and boundaries are not clearly defined. It is a circumstance where an individual doesn’t understand adequately what his job actually is.

What Does Role Ambiguity Mean?

This is a common situation in companies that haven’t defined a clear organizational structure. Since there are normally many tasks and activities to perform during working hours, a person might feel confused, even more if it is a recently hired individual, about how he fits within the corporate structure. Companies avoid this by designing clear job descriptions and educating the workforce about the company’s structure and chain of command.

Role ambiguity is a source of conflicts, low productivity and disengagement. Also, workers with unclear responsibilities will tend to underperform and to blame their lack of productivity on this apparent confusion. It is impossible to properly assess a person’s performance if the expected results are not established transparently since the individual starts working for the institution.

Managers should be careful to promptly deal with employees that manifest confusion about their responsibilities and place within the organizational structure. An effective team understand what is expected of them and how the workflow is designed to accomplish the company’s overall goals.


Clark is the Senior Manager of a meat packing facility. He oversees more than 300 workers that perform their duties in different assembly lines. Recently, he had an issue with a group of workers that were confused about their role in the process. The team was originally conceived to seal the boxes where the meat is transported.

Nevertheless, at the end of the daily work schedule, they are assigned to clean the meat packing machine, which is an equipment handled by a different team. These group of employees didn’t understood why they had to clean a machine that they didn’t used. To avoid this confusion, as it seems the ambiguity has been causing conflict between workers, he explained that this activity was assigned to them since the very beginning and they were informed about it when they were hired.

He kindly clarified that it was essential for them to do so or else it will be considered an unfulfilled duty. After this meeting, the workers started performing the cleaning task with no other argument about it.

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