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Delegating: Authority Skills, Tasks and Effective Delegation

Delegation is an important management skill. 

These rules and techniques will provide you with valuable insights into effective delegation methods. They will also help you when your manager is delegating a new task or responsibility to you - delegation is a two-way process.

Why is Delegation a Critical Skill?

Good delegation saves time, develops people, grooms a successor, and motivates. 

On the other hand, poor delegation will cause you frustration, demotivates and confuses the other person, and fails to achieve the task or purpose itself. 

Delegation is a management skill that's worth improving. 

Here are some simple steps to follow if you want to get it right, with different levels of delegation freedom that you can offer. 

This delegation skills guide deals with the general principles and processes, which apply to individuals and teams, or to specially formed groups of people for individual projects (including 'virtual teams').

The Importance of Effective Delegation

  • Delegation is a very helpful aid for succession planning, personal development and seeking and encouraging promotion. It's how we grow in the job. Being appointed more tasks enables us to gain experience to take on higher responsibilities.
  • Delegation is vital for effective leadership. See the Leadership Tips and Leadership Theories web pages for guidance and explanation of how delegation enables and increases leadership effectiveness.
  • Effective delegation is crucial for management and leadership succession. For the successor as well as the manager or leader too: the main task of a manager in a growing, thriving organisation is ultimately to develop a successor. This plays a crucial role in the succession and progression of an organisation.

A Two-Way Process

Delegation can be used to develop your people and yourself. It is not just a management technique for freeing up the boss' time.

Learning delegation techniques are useful for bosses and anyone seeking or being given new responsibilities. Why?

  • As someone appointing tasks, you must ensure this happens properly. 
  • Just as significantly, as the recipient of tasks you have the opportunity to 'manage upwards' and suggest improvements to the process - especially if your boss could use the help.
  • Managing the way you receive and agree to do delegated tasks is one of the central skills of 'managing upwards'
Therefore, whilst improving your delegation skills as a manager is important, the basic principle of delegation can be just as useful for people being managed.

Deciding on which Tasks to Delegate - A Checklist

A simple rule is the SMART acronym, or sometimes even SMARTER. Before delegating tasks check whether they are:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Agreed
  4. Realistic
  5. Time-bound
  6. Ethical
  7. Recordable

This delegation and review form provides more detail on how to implement these in practice when delegating tasks. 

9 Steps of Successful Delegation

1. Define the task

    • Confirm in your mind that the task is suitable to be delegated. 
    • Does it meet the criteria for delegating?

2. Select the individual or team

    • What are your reasons for delegating to this person or team? 
    • What are they going to get out of it? 
    • What are you going to get out of it?

3. Assess ability and training needs

    • Is the other person or team of people capable of doing the task? 
    • Do they understand what needs to be done? If not, you can't delegate.

4. Explain the reasons

    • You must explain why the job or responsibility is being appointed to someone. Why is the task being delegated specifically to that person/this group of people? 
    • What are its importance and relevance? 
    • Where does it fit in the overall scheme of things?

5. State required results

    • What must be achieved? Clarify understanding by getting feedback from the other person. 
    • How will the task be measured? Make sure they know how you intend to decide that the job is being successfully done.

6. Consider the resources required

    • Discuss and agree on what is required to get the job done. 
    • Consider people, location, premises, equipment, money, materials, other related activities and services.

7. Agree on deadlines

    • When must the job be finished? Or if it is an ongoing duty, when are the review dates? 
    • When are the reports due? 
    • If the task is complex and has parts or stages, what are the priorities?

Important: At this point you may need to confirm understanding with the other person of the previous points, getting ideas and interpretation. As well as showing you that the job can be done, this helps to reinforce commitment.  Methods of checking and controlling must be agreed with the other person. Failing to agree on this in advance will cause this monitoring to seem like interference or lack of trust.

8. Support and communicate

  • Think about who else on the team needs to know what's going on, and inform them. Do not leave the person to inform other managers of their new responsibility. 
  • If you have been delegated an important, potentially urgent task, inform your immediate supervisor that you will focus on this task for the time being.

9. Feedback on results

    • It is essential to let the person know how they are doing, and whether they have achieved their aims. 
    • If the aim has not been achieved, it is beneficial to review why things did not go to plan and deal with the problems together. 

10 Levels of Delegation

Delegation is more complex than telling someone else what to do.

There is a wide range of varying freedom that you can confer on the other person. Generally speaking, the more experienced and reliable the other person is, then the more freedom you can give.

The more critical the task, then the more cautious you need to be about extending a lot of freedom, especially if your job or reputation depends on getting a good result.

Aspects to Consider

  • It is important to ask the other person what level of authority they feel comfortable being given. Some people are confident; others less so. It is your responsibility to agree with them on what level of freedom is most appropriate so that the job is done effectively and with minimal unnecessary involvement from you. Involving the other person in agreeing on the level of delegated freedom for any particular responsibility is an essential part of the 'contract' that you make with them.
  • These levels of delegation are not an exhaustive list. They are nuanced and complex which is why it is important to take time to discuss and adapt the agreements that you make with people regarding these delegated tasks, responsibilities and freedoms according to the situation and each person.

These examples of different levels progressively offer, encourage and enable more delegated freedom. Level 1 is the lowest level of delegated freedom (basically none). Level 10 is the highest level typically (and rarely) found in organisations.

Important: Each example statement below is simplified for clarity. In reality, you would choose a less abrupt style of language, depending on the person and the relationship. At the very least, a 'Please' and 'Thank you' would be included in the requests.

1. 'Wait to be told' or 'Do exactly what I say' or 'Follow these instructions precisely.'

These are all examples of instructions with no delegated freedom at all.

2. 'Look into this and tell me the situation. I'll decide.'

This is asking for investigation and analysis but no recommendation. The person delegating retains responsibility for assessing options prior to making the decision.

3. 'Look into this and tell me the situation. We'll decide together.'

This is has a subtle important difference compared to the above example. This level of delegation encourages and enables the analysis and decision to be a shared process, which can be very helpful in coaching and development.

4. 'Tell me the situation and what help you need from me in assessing and handling it. Then we'll decide.'

This opens the possibility of greater freedom for analysis and decision-making, subject to both people agreeing this is appropriate. Again, this level is helpful in growing and defining coaching and development relationships.

5. 'Give me your analysis of the situation (reasons, options, pros and cons) and recommendation. I'll let you know whether you can go ahead.'

Asks for analysis and recommendation, but you will check the thinking before deciding. Compared to the above examples the person doing the task is granted significantly more freedom.

6. 'Decide and let me know your decision, and wait for my go-ahead before proceeding.'

The other person is trusted to assess the situation and options. Additionally, they are deemed competent enough to decide and implement too, however, for reasons of task importance or perhaps externally changing factors, the boss maintains the control of timing. 

Importantly, this level of delegation can be frustrating for people if used too often or for too long. It is therefore important to explain the rationale behind having to wait for the "go-ahead".

7. 'Decide and let me know your decision, then go ahead unless I say not to.'

Now the other person begins to control the action. This subtle increase in responsibility saves time. The default is now positive rather than negative. 

This is a very liberating change in delegated freedom, and incidentally, one that can also be used very effectively when seeking responsibility from above or elsewhere in an organisation, especially one which is strangled by indecision and bureaucracy.

8. 'Decide and take action - let me know what you did and what happened.'

This delegation level, as with each increase up the scale, saves even more time. 

This level also enables a degree of follow-up by the manager as to the effectiveness of the delegated responsibility, which is necessary when people are being managed from a greater distance, or more 'hands-off'. The level also allows and invites positive feedback by the manager, which is helpful in coaching and development of course.

9. 'Decide and take action. You do not need to check back with me.'

The most freedom that you can give to another person when you still need to retain responsibility for the activity. 

A high level of confidence is necessary, and you would normally assess the quality of the activity after the event according to overall results, potentially weeks or months later. 

Feedback and review remain helpful and important, although the relationship is more likely one of mentoring, rather than coaching per se.

10. 'Decide where action needs to be taken and manage the situation accordingly. It's your area of responsibility now.'

The most freedom that you can give to the other person. 

Often, this shift to a strategic responsibility occurs with a formal change of a person's job role. This gives the other person the responsibility for defining projects, tasks, analysis and decisions that are necessary for the management of a particular area of responsibility. 

This level of the delegation would most frequently be used when developing a successor, or as part of an intentional and agreed plan to devolve some of the job accountability in a formal sense.

The Role of 'Contracts'

Variously called 'contracts', 'psychological contracts' or 'emotional contracts', these expressions describe the process of agreeing with the other person what they should do and the expectations linked to the responsibility. 

This is based on the premise that forming a 'contract' by agreeing on the expectations and responsibilities that come with a task, increases accountability and commitment. 

It is essential to the so-called contracting process to discuss a range of topics such as time-scale, resources, budget, purpose and method of the task that is being delegated. 

Further, it is advisable to also include questions, issues or concerns in this discussion.

For further information, click here to visit our piece on The Psychological Contract and click here for our article on Eric Berne's idea of Transactional Analysis Contracting– both are highly relevant to delegation.

See also

On BB, we have far more tips and materials relating to effective management, working, career and self-development. Many, including those below, are very relevant to delegation.

For some more helpful tools on delegation:

For example processes and tools:

And help with managing people in the theories, meaning and application of: