What are Data Governance Roles, Accountabilities, and Responsibilities?

Roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities are the “who and how” that form your Data Governance Framework.

You know that you need people to be accountable and responsible for the critical data you identify, but what does that mean? It means codifying, improving, and adding data management activities, accountabilities, and responsibilities to the people involved in managing your critical data.

Figuring out what these roles, accountabilities and responsibilities look like and getting stakeholder agreement to take on these roles is the first activity your stakeholders perceive as ‘data governance’.

Ensuring this activity is correct increases support for and participation in data governance activities. It also helps you identify the right people to have these roles.

You also must include interactions with the Data Governance Centre of Excellence and other vital data roles (such as Enterprise Architecture and Data Protection Officer) that the firm already has.

An easy way to do this is to create a UPIG table for the stakeholders you encounter. A UPIG table defines the four types of typical stakeholders: Users, Producers/Providers, Influencers, and Governance.

Example UPIG Table

Getting Started

Most law firms already have the people, processes, skills, and knowledge to implement data governance. Unfortunately, these things are often found in pieces across different business services or operational teams. It can be challenging to know where to start, so here are the roles that are the foundations of a successful data governance framework.

Data Governance Sponsor (or Champion)

A data governance sponsor or champion plays a critical role in the success of your firm’s data governance adoption. The sponsor is usually the most senior person who started the data governance ball rolling. They may have been responsible for the business case that led to creating a data governance roadmap, or you might need to find a champion to support the firm’s adoption of data governance. This person needs to be in a credible position to fulfil the role of data governance sponsor, with enough gravitas to influence the most senior stakeholders. 

The sponsor (or champion) is expected to provide:

Active and visible sponsorship

They ensure that the data governance goals align with the firm’s strategy and overcome resistance by gathering support from other senior stakeholders. They provide direction throughout the creation and execution of the roadmap by supporting the data governance lead and championing changes across the firm.

Direct communication

Sponsors are also tasked with directly articulating the priority of the data governance roadmap (and required changes within it) to everyone impacted by it. People affected by a change often want to fully understand the rationale for it by hearing from the firm’s leaders.

Coalition building

As the senior stakeholder, the sponsor is also responsible for motivating the firm’s leadership to advocate for data governance and legitimise it. Since data governance crosses organisational boundaries, it is essential to understand and support this across the firm. 

Data Governance Lead

Data is neither owned by a single function nor an individual system owner but is an asset the firm holds. But to govern and manage data appropriately, the firm needs to identify and assign specific roles and responsibilities. A data governance lead is one of those roles.

Like the other roles within a data governance framework, this specific job title isn’t standard but will align with your firm’s similar positions. It could be labelled as a “Data Governance Lead”, or it could be known as a “Data Governance Manager”. The key is to remember that they provide oversight and support for all data governance to ensure awareness and participation across the firm. They also drive decisions on data standards, definitions, and best practices.

Data Governance Leads should become the driving force of data governance and coordinate the Data Governance Centre of Excellence. Look for someone that has a passion for data and excellent communication skills. They will be responsible for guiding, coaching, and supporting other stakeholders.

The person you choose needs to be a credible public speaker, display empathy, and produce great written materials. This means a Data Governance Lead could be found anywhere in the firm. Skills like project management, business analysis, or lineage mapping can be taught, but it is harder to teach enthusiasm for helping the firm to have good quality data. 

Data Owners and Data Stewards

 Many firms struggle to understand and define the roles that are accountable and responsible for data. This is challenging because both roles are needed for a successful data governance framework.

Data Owners and Data Stewards are two of the essential ‘people roles’ for you to define and implement since they will be involved in most of the data governance framework conversations.

The role terms ‘Data Owner’ and ‘Data Stewards’ are just standard data governance labels for these concepts; you can and should call them whatever works for your firm.

What is a data owner?

A data owner is a person who makes decisions about the data. These decisions include requests to change data usage, make data quality improvements, and who is involved in managing that data.

They also make decisions about solving issues that require resources (money, time, people).  

These are all accountabilities, and their decisions are tactical.

 When you design and implement your data governance framework, your stakeholders agree on data owners’ specific accountabilities. They might not even be called Data Owners in your firm. They could be called Data Governors, Data Managers, or whatever label best fits your firm’s language for the person accountable for data decisions.

What is a data steward? 

A data steward knows what their data is supposed to represent, what it means, and what business rules are associated with it. They are usually the first to hear about issues with their data and make recommendations to the data owner after investigating the problem and identifying a solution.

 These are all responsibilities, and their decisions are operational.

Defining the Data Owner and Data Steward roles

Most firms find that the roles of the Data Owner and Data Steward (or whatever they call these roles) change and evolve with the firm’s data maturity. 

Look at your data governance roadmap to help you define these roles. What goals and objectives does your firm need to meet to achieve its data governance vision? Once you know that, you can start to think about what your data owners need to be accountable for and what your data stewards need to be responsible for. Remember, Data Owners are tactical, and Data Stewards are operational.

 It’s easier to focus on defining the accountabilities of data owners first. Once that is in place, the data stewards’ responsibilities fall into place.

Where might you find data owners? 

A data owner is a senior representative of data-owning business functions and can make decisions about the firm’s data. 

Find people that are already doing it – to a greater or lesser extent.

Some people have this level of data accountability built into their job titles. You can often find data owners in organisational roles like “Head of x Operations”. Ask yourself, “will reviewing role profiles help identify possible candidates?”.

 Since the data stewards are the operational folks with day-to-day responsibility for the data, these people are functional experts on using the data in a specific business area or system. 

 Typically, due to their organisational role, these SMEs can reach out to other SMEs to gather information and make decisions. They also make recommendations on data issues for data owners to decide. These owners are often the stewards’ line managers, with delegated responsibility for some of the data owners’ accountabilities in their job descriptions.

 In my experience, you need these roles clearly defined and the right people appointed for your data governance initiative to succeed.

Data experts come in many forms

When building a data governance framework, your focus will naturally be on Data Owners and Data Stewards. Still, you must also find roles within the framework matrix for other critical stakeholders, such as Data Protection Officers, Information Governance Managers, Records Managers, Information Security Teams, and Enterprise Architects.

Their knowledge of the firm and their specialist data roles are invaluable to the success of the data governance framework and roadmap.

They may be appointed as advisors to one of the framework groups or have a supporting role within the data governance centre of excellence.

To make a success of their involvement and to separate their participation from their day job, and like any other framework member, their participation should be documented to avoid confusion about their role accountabilities and responsibilities.

Common Data Governance Questions 

In every firm I’ve worked with, common questions come up. However, there is no such thing as a standard answer! The answers are different for every firm because they have their own data governance objectives.

Business Processes

“Will they have accountability for business processes and critical data elements or not?”

Standards and Policies

“Drafters, Reviewers, Approvers, or Implementers? Or a combination of all four?” 

Breadth of Scope

“How far do you need their accountability to stretch? Single data element, single system, whole function’s data, data element cross-functionally, or something else?”


“What should their role be in defining, monitoring, or improving data quality? How involved in defining and monitoring data KPIs would you like them to be?”

Executive Ownership

“What will be their role in education and driving understanding across the firm?”

Master Data

“Does ownership include accountability for master data? Or for reference data?”

Change Champions

“Will they act as advocates and sponsors for data management change?”


“Is the owner to be solely accountable for definitions within their scope?” 


“What do you expect them to share with their peers, teams, and managers? Will they be accountable for post-communication actions and interventions?” 

Where Do Issues Get Fixed?

“Do you need the owners to be actively involved as tactical or strategic escalation points or provide leadership for data issue resolution?” 

Key takeaways

 That’s a lot to cover in a short article, so try to remember these three things:

  1.  Data Owners are tactical, make decisions about data, and utilise resources to solve data issues. 
  2. Data stewards are operational and focus on understanding data and business rules day-to-day, escalating to data owners where necessary.
  3. Don’t forget to include and involve the other key stakeholders

 You can get a checklist of things to consider when defining the data owner role for your law firm from the Resources page.

Ask us for Help

Innovative law firms have big goals for improving the client experience through data innovation. The problem is that many law firms struggle with a lack of data maturity and alignment between their strategic objectives and the siloed reality of their data.

We have developed a unique data governance road-mapping approach to help law firm leaders launch the proper foundation for data governance through our extensive law firm background.

We’ve used our five-step road mapping process to quickly help law firms deliver a complete framework and plan for assuring their data governance and quality so that Firms can realise their strategic goals.

Book a call to talk to us about your challenges with data governance.