Low Role Clarity

Lack of or low role clarity and role conflict are a key psychosocial hazards. They can lead to psychological injury through the stress caused by not understanding what needs to be done and exacerbate the risk of physical injury too. Remember, your employer has a duty to provide a safe workplace under section 21 of the OHS Act 2004 as well as the duty to provide adequate training and information for you to be able to perform your role safely. They also have the duty to monitor the conditions of the workplace to make sure they are safe under section 22 and the duty to consult on matters relating to health and safety under Section 35. The OHS Act empowers HSRs to take action on low role clarity. 

A wider variety of situations can create low role clarity or role confusion. These include a new supervisor or manager, a change in the priorities of an organisation, starting a new job or a department transfer. Low role clarity can lead to increased conflict between workers and management or even workers and each other. This can lead to the exacerbation of other psychosocial hazards such as bullying and poor workplace relationships.

Some examples of low role clarity and role conflict can be seen below:

Low Role Clarity  Role Conflict

Uncertainty about or frequent changes to tasks and work standards

A worker has to perform a task that conflicts with their values or expectations

Important task information that is not available to the employee

A worker is torn between two or more job demands that cannot be realistically achieved at the same time

Conflicting job roles, responsibilities or expectations, such as an employee is told one job is a priority but another manager disagrees or priorities are changed

Unclear reporting lines or competing demands

Poor explanation about an employee's performance objectives, accountabilities and others' expectations of their performance

Overlapping roles and responsibilities 

Poor communication or uncertainty around the inherent requirements of the role. 


Role drifts/duties over time



Identifying and managing the risk of low role clarity

A proactive employer is critical to managing the risk of and identifying low role clarity. As an HSR, make sure your employer is doing the follow:

1. Conducting role clarity assessments: These are regular assessments of roles and responsibilities which canidentify gaps in clarity and help ensure that they are up-to-date and relevant.

2. Developing Clear Job Descriptions: Clear job descriptions should be developed that outline key responsibilities, expectations, and reporting lines.

Controlling low role clarity

There are numerous control measures that your employer can put in place to control low role clarity. Remember they must do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure a safe workplace and that includes psychological safety. Some ways to control low role clarity include: 

  • Be aware of the scope and details of a role before hiring including any unpredictable elements that might be a part of it. Inform workers of these.
  • Ensure clear lines of communication and accountability.
  • Ensure up to date communication on the role's purpose and worker's duties.
  • Developing personal work plans that clearly define task objectives and expected performance and ensures the different requirements of various tasks are compatible.
  • Encouraging input and participation from workers around role clarity and the best ways to perform the role.
  • Providing an organisational chart that gives a clear view of the organisational structure and communication channels.
  • Good systems for new employees such as robust training and buddies to show new workers through the role.
  • Ensuring systems are in place for employees to raise concerns about conflicts they have in their role and responsibilities. Eg, have regular team meetings so employees can discuss potential role conflict
  • Assigning roles to employees that do not conflict with their personal values.
  • Position descriptions articulating the scope and characteristics of the role and indicative tasks.


This list is not exhaustive and only provides some suggestions. Remember that if your employer is implementing work systems changes to address low clarity they must consult with HSRs and workers.

For detailed information on how to address low role clarity, see: 

1. WorkSafe's topic page on low role clarity. Contains examples of what you can push your employer to implement as an HSR. 

2. Safe Work Australia's topic page on low role clarity.

3. NSW Government advice on supporting role clarity

4. Mind Your Head has an excellent database on psychosocial hazards. It breaks down hazards into their impacts and the risk assessment and control measures that can be used. Find it here.

Updated July 2023