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Why, When, and How to Delegate

“Delegating” is entrusting another person with a task or responsibility. When used correctly, this can be a very effective management style. The delegator must communicate what needs to be accomplished, what resources are used to do the job, and when it needs to be completed. However, the delegator is not present while the job is being done and does not have input as to how the job is being done. The delegator defines what must be done and may even communicate how they expect it to be done but then has to trust that the person will properly complete the job, within budget, up to standards, and on time.

What Should the Delegator Focus On?

When delegating, focus on:

  1. Clearly defining the job

  2. Having the job done the way the delegator needs it done

  3. Communicating expectations clearly

  4. Choosing trustworthy employees to delegate the task to

  5. Being free to give their attention and energy to other things

When to Delegate

Delegating is the appropriate management style when all three of the following are present:

  1. The employee has motivation/desire, proven judgment, and experience.

  2. The employee will be discouraged if they are not receiving greater responsibility and autonomy.

  3. It is unlikely that the employee would become so discouraged or frustrated that they will fail.

Four-Step Delegation Process

Step 1: Schedule time to meet to define and express the desired outcome(s) and parameters for the task/job that is being delegated. This cannot properly be communicated in a “passing conversation.”

Step 2: Confirm that the employee understands exactly what must be done by having them repeat what is supposed to be done and the desired outcome, when it must be completed, what resources are required to complete the task, and how you will interact while the employee is working on the project.

Step 3: Be clear about when, what, and why you need progress reports. If this step is not clearly communicated, you may be viewed as a micromanager when you do ask for progress reports, which could be perceived as you not having confidence in the employee.

Step 4: Review the outcome and bring closure to the task, recognizing the work, efforts, accomplishments, and how thankful you are for the employee’s efforts.

Delegate Authority, Not Ultimate Responsibility

Sometimes managers try to delegate responsibility without giving authority. This means that the employees are responsible for the outcomes but do not have the authority to significantly affect those outcomes! Good employees will not stand for this, and it is a major cause of frustration in the workplace.

Effective delegators know that ultimately the buck stops on their desks. They know that even though they have handed the responsibility to another person, they are still responsible for the outcomes. Yet they also know that they must give authority to the person doing the task. That person must be able to make decisions and use resources to get the task accomplished. So, the person must have authority, even though the ultimate responsibility rests on the delegator’s shoulders.

Delegating Requires the Use of Thinking Centers

There are four types of thinking centers: structured, self-concept, practical, and intuition and empathy.

Structured Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, a manager must be able to:

  • Think through a clear plan

  • Explain exactly what is expected and how it fits into the whole plan

  • Make sure the employee knows how things work

  • Equip the person for future success and understanding

  • Be patient in the face of the person’s learning, trying, and doing things differently

  • Think about what the person will need to be successful

  • Communicate plans for proceeding, meeting, and reviewing the work once it is finished

Self-Concept Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, the manager must think in terms of:

  • How you should be

  • What you have committed to

  • Strive to be responsible (even though you are delegating significant levels of authority to the employee)

  • Do a thorough job

  • Be consistent with your word

Practical Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, the manager must think in a practical way. This includes:

  • Assessing what individuals are capable of

  • Wanting to get things accomplished

  • Seeing and being able to interact with another person as to what it takes to get the project done

  • Responding in a positive and motivating way to good work that others do

Intuition and Empathy Thinking

To be effective as a delegator, the manager must:

  • Care about the employee’s development and growth

  • Pay attention to what motivates the employee

  • Trust that the employee wants to do well and will handle things with the best of intentions

Managers who delegate effectively contribute in three important ways. First, they assure employees that they are valued and trusted and that their careers are important. Second, they manage in such a way that frees up their time to do other things. Third, they are actively preparing future leaders and managers for the company to be able to use as the need arises.


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