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What Are the Responsibilities of Commanding Officers?

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The commanding officer is a military officer who has been given command of a military unit. While the size of military units varies based on the officer’s rank, the overall responsibilities of a commanding officer are similar. Each of these responsibilities represents part of the foundation of the officer position, instructing an officer about how to respond to various threats and make crucial decisions in the field.

Safety and Efficiency

The commanding officer is ultimately responsible for the safety and efficiency of everyone under her command. While a commanding officer retains the right to delegate responsibility, she still retains the ultimate responsibility for the safety and efficiency of everyone under her command. A commanding officer is also legally responsible for all orders and delegated responsibilities under her command. For instance, if a commanding officer delegates a security responsibility to a subordinate soldier, the commanding officer is still responsible for the safety and efficiency of the subordinate.

Depart From Orders

The military understands that the responsibilities of a commanding officer may require unique freedom during unconventional situations, such as the changing conditions of combat or when faced with an unpredicted challenge. A commanding officer has the right to depart from his official orders in these cases, but when he does, he takes full responsibility for the departure from orders. He must immediately report the change to his official responsibilities and report the reason for the departure. As an example, if a commanding officer has prior orders to remain in a specific position and discovers a threat in a nearby location, he can take the responsibility of ordering his troops into harm's way to confront the threat but he is responsible for explaining the reason for the change in orders.


A commanding officer is ultimately responsible for managing the financial responsibilities of the soldiers under her command. This includes ensuring that all of her subordinates show proper receipts for expenses that public funds pay for and ensuring that those under her command keep accurate accounting records. For instance, the commanding officer is ultimately responsible for accounting failures that lead to wasteful spending of public funds or the failure of subordinates to accurately report expenses.

Moral Leadership

A commanding officer is responsible for presenting himself as a positive, dominant, moral influence. Essentially, a commanding officer is responsible for setting the example to his subordinates for how a soldier should act, respond and carry out responsibilities. As an example, a commanding officer should make decisions that put the safety of his subordinates and the success of his responsibilities over his own benefit. He should act, always, in the best interest of his nation and his soldiers.


Kristyn Hammond has been teaching freshman college composition at the university level since 2010. She has experience teaching developmental writing, freshman composition, and freshman composition and research. She currently resides in Central Texas where she works for a small university in the Texas A&M system of schools.

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