Skip to main content

What is the Difference between Delegation and Empowerment?

Delegation and Empowerment are both very useful management tools and techniques. Although both are used for the same purpose of employee management, they have some differences. Both techniques have their benefits if used effectively, however, they are most effective when used specifically for a particular situation and also dependent on the attitude that the manager and organisation decide to employ. The key difference between both techniques is that empowerment raises leaders, and delegation raises followers.

  • For example, a situation ideal for delegation would be a period of crisis, a busy office season or even when a new leadership role is being filled. Critical moments such as the ones above, require an authoritative decision-maker; one leader to make a final call.

Both of these techniques are adopted by managers when they are assigning workload within their team or department. Each approach requires a different mentality and expectation. However, no matter what approach has been adopted, the manager is still in control. The managerial role still stands – assigning tasks and choosing who to assign them to.

Delegation vs. Empowerment in Practice

Here is a description of the difference between these two techniques:

  1. When an employee is delegated to complete a task, normally the manager will state what he/she wants to be done, and how she/he wants it to be completed, they will also set time deadlines and will check up on the employee’s progress as well as provide feedback.
  2. On the other hand, if empowered to do so, the employee will be provided with a wider range of information regarding the company and the individual employee will be left to their own devices – making their own decisions along the way and taking ownership of the work.

Therefore, power and authority are only granted through empowerment. However, for it to be successful, as stated above, employees need to be provided with all possible information. Information including finance, personnel, resources, authority and to be held accountable for their work (whether good or bad). These components are crucial in order to give them true freedom to fail in their own efforts.

  • Having said this, resistance is normally greater with empowerment from a managerial position as it entails more than assigning a task; meaning that certain authority has to be given up. 
  • Some managers will prefer to delegate as they feel like empowering their team is essentially losing their power and significance to their role. 
  • All in all, complete control and accountability are retained by the manager/leader in both approaches. Also, empowerment is used more so as a motivational strategy in a business environment as it extremely increases team morale.

The Benefits of Empowerment

Empowerment is more beneficial and productive in the long run, even though it may seem time-consuming to begin with. 

  • An empowered team is more likely to work efficiently and employees will be willing to go the extra mile as tasks and projects become more personal to them. 
  • Empowerment acts as a confidence booster and this is what delegation can lack at times. Employees, if delegated to do something, are 100% dependent on their direct manager for each and every action they carry out. Empowering your employees allows them to take tasks, and make them their own, by using their particular style without their direct manager being accountable for everything they do.
  • Empowerment means enabling front-line employees to make decisions that were once reserved for managers. 
    • A clear example of this would be a day-to-day obstacle for the customer services department of a company. When a customer has a problem or needs something to be resolved and the employee seeing to the customer has not been granted the authority to solve such problem – unnecessary time is wasted. This results in the customer having to wait for the store supervisor or manager to become available in order for the problem to be resolved. 
    • So allowing employees to answer and find solutions to problems independently reflects well on the bottom line and additionally makes employees feel more important.
    •  For this to happen, you need confident managers and employees that can operate in an environment of trust.

Read more about Empowering your Team for further explanation of its benefits. 

Decision Making

Decision-making is a key distinction between delegation and empowerment. Delegation is a division of labour, where managers assign specific duties and responsibilities to an individual. Even so, it also shows employees that they are valued and trusted if important jobs are assigned to them. When it is not carried out correctly it can result in problems such as de-motivation and reduction in employee retention. 

Here are some important factors to consider:

  • As a manager, do not allow a significant gap between employees and yourself to grow, as this gives off negative vibes. It could lead them to think they are solely responsible for what they have specifically been delegated to do. 
  • Additionally, if an employee feels likes they are only being assigned unwanted work dropped off by their manager, they are bound to lose motivation and productivity and quality will drop. Try to link decision-making and delegating in a way so they have some input and involvement in this process. This will essentially give them a sense of value to the organisation.

Summary - Overlaps in Delegation and Empowerment 

In summary, both of these management tools require basic principles such as clarified expectations, communication, coaching and training, feedback and trust. Empowerment entails a factor that delegation doesn’t - power/authority. Delegation and empowerment are both effective tools for effective leadership used for different business situations. In other words, empowerment is allowing employees to act on their own behalf whereas delegation is giving enough lead for them to act on your behalf as their manager.