How to Delegate Authority

In a collaborative workplace, being in a leadership position requires delegating effectively. Learn how to cede authority and accomplish more.

The old adage that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself doesn't belong in the modern workplace. Workers today can't afford to try tackling every task on their own if they hope to keep up with the pace of business. Under these circumstances, being a good delegator is not only helpful, but necessary.

"A lot of leaders can't get to this point because they either don't know how to or they're afraid of delegating. Maybe they think it will take too long to train someone effectively, or if they delegate too much, they'll have nothing left to do," BNET explains. "And often the more competent they are, the harder it is to delegate. They're afraid the work won't get done at all, or more likely, it won't be done according to their high standards."

It can be difficult to cede responsibility to someone else, but learning to do so is the first step toward effective delegation. It's important to remember that even when handing duties over to an employee, final authority for a given project rests with the manager.

"Delegation is not abdication. The manager still has the ultimate accountability for the assignment. That's why it is important for you to establish appropriate controls and checkpoints to monitor progress," small business guide Directory Journal notes. "Besides, managers should give delegatees the appropriate authority to act along with clear expectations including any boundaries or criteria. The manager, however, should try to avoid prescribing HOW the assignment should be completed."

Avoiding micromanagement is crucial when delegating appropriately. Hovering over an employee and trying to control their work through every step of the process is not an efficient use of time or energy, and may actually impede progress on the assignment. Instead, checking in after an agreed upon interval, such as at the mid-point of the project, can be a much more effective way of monitoring performance.

"If, at that point, you find the person or team way off base, you may be tempted to micromanage the remainder of the project or task," Bloomberg BusinessWeek says. "Don't. Instead, reassess whether you made a crystal clear request and whether your people are capable and motivated. If you need to clarify your task then do so. If your people are not capable and motivated, then reassign the task."

For those new to delegating or leaders who have trouble passing on responsibilities, delegating effectively can seem daunting. But it's a manageable process when broken down into a clear set of steps. Career development firm MindTools offers the following tips for delegating properly:

  • Clearly articulate goals and boundaries. Employees should know the desired outcome for the project and have the end goal in mind. They should also be told the constraints and limits in the project in terms of lines of authority and when to take initiative versus asking for guidance or permission.
  • Include people in the process. Whenever possible, it helps to empower employees to decide which tasks should be delegated to them and when it should happen.
  • Match responsibility with authority. A greater amount of delegated responsibility should come with a corresponding level of authority to make decisions. However, remember that the final accountability rests with the manager.
  • Delegate to the lowest possible level. The people closest to the work are best suited for handling it because they have intimate knowledge of the day-to-day requirements needed to accomplish the task.
  • Provide support. To improve the odds of success, maintain ongoing communication with team members, periodically monitor progress and be open to answering questions, as well as sharing credit for the work.
  • Focus on results. Pay closer attention to what is accomplished than how the work is done. Your way of doing things may not be the only way — or the best way — of reaching the goal.
  • Avoid reverse delegation. If a mistake is made, don't let an employee shift the blame back onto you. Instead, look for solutions from the people directly involved in the work.
  • Build commitment. Motivate workers by emphasizing how their project will affect the company's success or open up new opportunities for the future. Remember to provide recognition whenever it is due.
  • Maintain control. Don't forget about your involvement in the assignment. Discuss and establish clear deadlines, set a schedule for checking in, be sure to review all completed work and make adjustments to the plan when needed.

"Managers delegate work not to just relieve their workload, but to allow the employees they supervise to grow professionally. Effective delegation is a two-way discussion and understanding," Career Know-How explains. "Use effective delegation to benefit both yourself and the person to whom you delegate."


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