Delegation is the act of assigning specific tasks and responsibilities to others, along with the necessary authority to complete them. This is a common management technique that allows managers to focus on higher-level tasks and responsibilities while empowering their team members to take on more responsibilities and develop their skills. Delegation typically occurs between a manager and a subordinate, and the manager remains accountable for the outcomes of the delegated responsibilities. By effectively delegating tasks and responsibilities, managers can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their team. The following are illustrative examples.
The expectations for a role as stated in a job description. For example, a job description for a hotel manager that states that they are responsible for handling customer inquiries and complaints.
Goal setting is the process of setting objectives for employee performance for a period of time such as a quarter or year. For example, an IT manager who sets objectives with a developer that state the developer will deliver the code for a project.
Communicating an instruction, request or command to an employee under your authority. If you are someone’s boss, asking them to do something is delegation. If you have no direct authority over someone, any instructions you issue them are simply a request.
An action item is something that a person agrees to do in the context of a meeting. These are issued in a formal action plan document or as part of meeting minutes. If you are someone’s boss then any action items you give them can be viewed as delegation.
Formal communication of work assignments such as responsibility for a client or project.
Asking an employee to own something. For example, a marketing manager who assigns an employee to own a campaign.
Asking a direct report to take on a formal or informal leadership role. For example, a construction manager who asks a carpenter to lead a team for a renovation project.
Asking a direct report to lead a business function. For example, asking a construction manager to lead safety compliance across all job sites.
Management teams are commonly assigned missions. For example, a CTO who is given a mission to improve the operational efficiency of IT. A mission may span many years and be measured as multiple milestones such that it is more complex than an objective or function. It is generally unfair to assign these to low level staff who may lack the self-direction, relational capital and authority to fulfill a mission.
Naming a person as being responsible for some function. For example, naming an employee as a investor’s relations contact for a company.
Assigning an employee to manage a relationship. For example, an IT manager who is asked to manage a relationship with a vendor.
Delegating a task that isn’t documented. This can occur where the task is small, intangible or sensitive. For example, a manager who asks a designer to ask around and try to find information about a client’s marketing budget.
Delegation of Authority
Granting your authority to someone as part of delegation. For example, a hotel manager who asks a front desk staff to manage the hotel for a few hours with authority to make decisions regarding customer requests and complaints.
Delegation Without Authority
In many cases, management will delegate work without delegating the authority required to do the work. This requires management to approve any decisions requiring authority. For example, a hotel manager who asks staff to manage the front desk but asks to be called if there are any decisions to be made.
Delegation of Accountability
It is possible to delegate responsibility but it is not possible to delegate accountability. In other words, when you delegate work you remain accountable for any problems that occur. For example, if a CFO delegates responsibility for accounting to a manager they can’t claim not to be accountable for any financial problems or accounting irregularities that occur.
In some cases, delegation has political motives. For example, a manager who feels threatened by a talented individual on their team who tries to sideline the individual by assigning them to pointless or low value work.
Setting Up To Fail
Delegating a direct report to an assignment where they are likely to fail. For example, a manager who accepts an unrealistic mission or goal who then assigns it to you. Setting up to fail can also involve a lack of experience, support, training, resources and authority that makes a work assignment more or less impossible.
In some cases, managers feel that they have delegated work based on assumptions that haven’t been properly communicated. For example, assuming that someone is dedicated to a project because you invited them to a project meeting without communicating an actual work assignment or action item.