What is effective delegation? (article)


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Effective delegation is defined in this free article by Derek Stockley. The delegation of authority is a key team leader and management skill. Good delegation techniques and systems can help individuals and organisations to be more effective. Derek Stockley conducts one day leadership courses in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or London.

The importance of delegation

The importance of delegation should not be underestimated. Employees often crave trust and responsibility. Effective delegation meets these and other needs.

Delegation definition

I define delegation as:

The assignment of responsibility and accountability for specific outcomes or achievements to a specific individual or organisation unit. The delegation can be temporary or permanent.

Delegation is not the giving out of tasks or 'jobs to be done'. Normally, a delegated task takes more than a short time frame to complete. It does not involve telling people what to do, rather it involves explaining the outcomes and results they are expected to achieve. They are then expected to work out the 'how' and the steps involved.

The manager or team leader making the delegation is still involved, however, the extent of that involvement will vary depending on the existing knowledge and skill levels of the employee receiving the delegation. If the employee is very experienced, the manager’s involvement will be minimal. If the employee is inexperienced, the manager may provide more support, as the delegation is clearly being treated as a development exercise.

In either case, the person receiving the delegation decides what has to be done to achieve the desired result. It is the level of guidance provided by the manager or team leader that varies.

Delegation and motivation

Many motivational theories point to the importance of accountability and responsibility in determining employee behaviour. Employees feel more involved and engaged if they feel they are being trusted with important responsibilities or activities. If they are required to think about the task, consider alternatives and make choices, the work itself becomes far more rewarding.

Too many team leaders and managers see the allocation of tasks as delegation. Whilst the dividing up and allocation of work tasks is still essential, it should not be confused with delegation. As the delegation definition shows, there is a subtle but important distinction.

Responsibility and accountability are important. So is thinking about the work you are doing. It can make even mundane tasks more interesting.

Rather than delegate many managers and team leaders state that it is easier to "do it myself". Past delegation failures lead to the belief that "it is quicker and easier to do it myself".

Delegation is not easy. However, that is an excuse rather than a reason.

Today’s work practices encourage a 'do it myself' approach - think for example as to how many people do their own word processing.

If uneven workloads exist, a review of the delegations in place is warranted.

Delegation of authority

The delegation of authority can be temporary or permanent.

Permanent delegations are often tied to an organisation structure, for example, expenditure approval levels for budget/expense authorisation.

Temporary delegations relate more to development opportunities, where a manager/team leader allocates a responsibility to a team member that normally rests with their manager/team leader role.

Summary and reflection

Delegation is an important management or team leader activity.

Effective delegation is an important leadership skill. Effective leaders use delegation to balance workloads and provide staff development opportunities. Good delegation creates a positive, motivating environment.

What do you think?

Have you delegated something today? Did you delegate something yesterday?

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