Delegating authority at work is a management skill that requires understanding and practice in order to be successful for everyone involved.

An experienced manager understands effective delegation and uses it regularly as part of his repertoire of management skills. He recognizes that there are only certain tasks in his own job description that can be delegated. His bottom line accountability cannot be delegated; that’s what he gets paid to do. Job responsibilities have to be accepted or not by whoever is doing the job. All the manager can delegate is the authority to do certain work. This authority is defined as the ‘power to influence the behavior of others.’ This is what the employee needs if the manager is going to delegate for success.

Steps for Effective Delegation

When a manager decides he is going to delegate one of the tasks for which he is responsible and will be held accountable, he will want to do it as effectively as possible. The following guidelines will help the manager practice delegating successfully.

  • Choose the most appropriate staff for the work to be delegated. If this is to be a successful exercise, the employee must have the experience or obvious potential, and motivation to do the work. Delegation is not about the manager ‘getting rid of’ a tedious task. It is about the manager giving an opportunity to one of the staff to demonstrate his ability to work beyond his current responsibilities.
  • State clearly the objectives and expected results of the job being delegated. The task, for example, might be conducting an inventory of all computers and peripherals in the headquarters office and all branches in the city. The expected result is a spreadsheet listing the computers, printers, scanner, etc., categorized by location, size, brand, serial number, age of equipment, and primary user.
  • Ensure that the employee understands and accepts the nature and scope of the job and agrees to its objectives. For any job of significance, it is best to write down the scope of the plan and review it with the employee to ensure that he is actually willing to assume this responsibility. This is important as work that is delegated by a manager from his own workload is typically work that is not in the employee’s job description.
  • Identify the resources that are available to do the work. This might include support personnel, materials, and money. For example, there might be four staff available for three days to do this inventory. They will receive the usual per diem expenses for working outside their office and will have corporate laptops on which to record their findings.
  • Working with the employee, develop a work plan with timelines for benchmark results, regular updates, and whatever else is appropriate given the scope, duration, and importance of the job. For example, this entire project from the beginning with planning who is doing what to designing the spreadsheet, doing the inventory, collecting data and presenting it might be two weeks.
  • Allow the employee to work on his own, as far as possible. This should be an exercise in support and coaching, but not watching over the employee’s shoulder all the time. The manager should be accessible, as needed if there are unexpected problems.
  • Monitor progress to make sure it complies with the schedule and resources. For the inventory example, the manager might want to see the spreadsheet design, make sure the right people are in place, and review a draft document before the final submission.

Benefits of Delegating Effectively

Effective, appropriate delegation is a powerful learning opportunity for an employee who is eager to prove his abilities and value to the organization. The delegation has many benefits for the people involved.

  • This first-hand experience with a task that would not typically be part of his job description looks good on the employee’s resume.
  • This opportunity allows the employee to have a taste of management authority and responsibility to see if he likes it.
  • This experience might encourage the employee to decide to prepare himself to move into management.
  • Other employees see that the manager is willing to take the risk of having a subordinate lead a work group to accomplish a task for which the manager himself is accountable. That is a powerful message of staff support and nurturing in an often-competitive work environment.
  • There is no avoiding the benefit for the manager too. Yes, the manager does have ‘extra’ time available for him to focus on other responsibilities. However, it is not completely free time as effective delegation requires monitoring and support.

Delegation is an important, probably essential management skill. The effectiveness and success of his delegation is a measure of a manager’s competency and his overall approach to leadership.