40Effective managers delegate. It is essential for their development that you let your staff take on tasks and projects. Staff development, succession planning and team motivation depend on it. Good delegation saves time, poor delegation demotivates. But you have to learn how to delegate, because you can’t do everything yourself. Many people argue that it is quicker to do a job yourself then to delegate – but is this true? Learn how to delegate without having staff make costly errors and cause problems for you.

Management is the art of achieving things through other people, so a good manager must be able to delegate to be effective.

The basic definition of delegating is “assigning duties to other people while still being held accountable.” The most important thing is to know who to delegate to, and when.

Many people don’t delegate because they know that it is quicker to do a job yourself then to delegate. This is true, especially the first time you plan to delegate each task. Because, before you give the task to someone else, you have to make sure you know exactly what needs to be accomplished, and how. If you are doing it yourself you can decide how to tweak the work as it progresses. But once you hand it over you need to give specific instructions.

An effective manager has to learn how to delegate, because you can’t do everything yourself. You have to teach the job to other people, make sure they understand the required end result, and to flag up to you if things are starting to go wrong.

It is essential for their development that you let your staff take on tasks and projects. It gives them a chance to show what they can do and develop their skills.

Good delegation saves you time in the long run, develops your staff, grooms a successor, and motivates the team. Poor delegation will cause you problems, demotivate and confuse your staff, and fail to achieve the task itself.

Some managers do not delegate because they think that if they alone have the knowledge, they are indispensable. But you are more indispensable when you show your leadership skills by delegating. You are more likely to get praised or promoted when you show your leadership skills than because you are the only person who can do relatively simple tasks.

Successful delegation takes time and energy, but it’s worth it in the long run. It empowers staff and gives you a chance to focus on more important issues. They will be able to meet your expectations, and you build their self-confidence and self-esteem. The more you delegate, the easier it becomes.

The time to delegate is not when you are too busy and need to offload some work: it is when you have time to teach the job patiently to your staff; to have the exercise repeated if results are not good enough the first time and still meet any deadlines.

So as soon as you identify suitable tasks, and staff with the time and ability to learn new skills, start delegation. It builds in cover for sickness and annual leave, as well as maybe lightening your load and freeing up your time to manage better.

If you are managing a team, the ideal position is that most of your job can be delegated out to your team. There may be a few critical tasks that you should delegate upwards or sideways to cover absence, but your team should be able to handle all your day to day tasks without you.

Your manager then will become used to calling on you for help when they need it, because they know your team will get on while you help them. This is the route to promotion!

Delegation demonstrates effective leadership and is the key to management and leadership succession. One of the main responsibilities of a manager in a growing organization is to develop a successor, allowing everyone to move on to higher things. If the manager fails at this task then the succession and progression becomes dependent on bringing in new people from outside.

Top delegation tips and techniques;-

The delegator must ensure delegation happens properly, as they are still accountable.
Delegated tasks should be SMART i.e.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Timebound

Before you delegate, think about;-

  • Which tasks can be delegated?
  • Who amongst your staff can best do the work required?
  • Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively and meet deadlines?
  • Do you have time to review the completed task?


  1. Define a suitable task to be delegated. Repetitive tasks are good to start with- staff can build confidence as they become more proficient.
  2. Select the most suitable individual or team and assess ability and training needs.
  3. Produce a manual or written instructions.
  4. Explain the reasons you are delegating this task, and why you have selected them. Ensure they are happy to accept extra work and responsibility.
  5. State the results to be achieved, Clarify understanding by getting feedback. Explain how the success of the task will be measured.
  6. Consider resources needed to complete the task –access to secure areas, authorisation, passwords, equipment, and materials.
  7. Agree deadlines and build in review dates.
  8. Define priorities for a complex task .Ask for confirmation of agreement, ideas and interpretation.
  9. Agree checks and controls. You don’t want your staff to feel you are interfering, but you must monitor them.
  10. Support and communicate during the task. Who needs to know this person or team is carrying out this task? Advise them if there are matters of politics or protocol.
  11. Feedback on results. Let them know how they did, and whether they have achieved their target. If not, review, and deal with problems.

Once the first task is successfully delegated, develop a programme of training that will enable everyone suitable to learn new tasks, until there is enough expertise and cover in the department.

Transferring authority and responsibility

In management theory, authority and responsibility are inseparable “No authority without responsibility “.

But you have to delegate to staff, whilst maintaining responsibility, and still ensure the required results are achieved.

When you are training a potential successor, or mentoring a trainee through a formal programme, you will often be in the position of being responsible for a team or task, but need to have someone else undertake the task or manage the team as part of their learning process.

There is a wide spectrum of authority and responsibility involved in delegation.

You can start off with small tasks for which you maintain authority and responsibility, and move on to completely passing over tasks together with authority and responsibility for them if you are authorised to do so.

It is important to gauge where on the spectrum to pitch delegation, according to the confidence of the recipient and the implications of the task .Select a suitable starting point and gradually move along the spectrum.

The more experienced and reliable your staff are, the more responsibility you can give. For more critical tasks you might want to be more cautious handing over responsibility, especially if your job and reputation depend on getting good results. Choose the most appropriate task for each team member, and confirm with them they feel comfortable with this.

At the beginning of the process you are managing so will say;-

“Follow my instructions exactly.”

Then move on to;-

“Please check this out and tell me what is happening. I’ll decide what we need to do.”

You are starting to trust their judgement to accurately gauge the situation. Then move to;-

“Look into this and tell me the situation. We’ll discuss it decide together.”


“Tell me the situation and recommend what we should do, and why”.

Now you are coaching them .You are asking for analysis and recommendation, but you will check before deciding.


“Decide what to do, let me know your decision, then go ahead unless I say not to.”

You are subtly transferring responsibility. Now the other person begins to take control. The subtle increase in responsibility saves time, develops their confidence and gives them credibility with colleagues.

“Decide and take action, but keep me informed of the outcome”

Now they have more control but you have retained a degree of follow-up and review. This allows you to offer positive feedback and reinforcement, which is helpful in coaching and development.

However sometimes, when a decision has been made that you are not happy with, the situation needs to be handled sensitively. What you want to avoid at all costs is countermanding a decision that has been made, or forcing your colleague to publicly change his decision. So you must explain why you would not have made that decision, and instigate whatever damage control you need to, without your colleague losing face.

Then review whether you have pushed too far too fast, or if this is a one-off error that won’t be repeated. Consider whether, together, you need to back up a step, forcing your colleague to check with you. What will probably work is offering them a chance to get advice if they need it, a safety route that doesn’t undermine their confidence, but rebuilds it.

“Decide, and if you want/need to check with me before you take action, that’s fine. If not, let me know the outcome”
This is the most difficult, but most rewarding, part of the coaching. There need to be lots of opportunities to review and discussions of situations at this point. If you are grooming this person as a successor, or taking them through a formal apprenticeship or training programme, begin to discuss your decision making with them and involve them in your thought processes. The lessons you teach here will permeate their decision making, and you will eventually have a capable colleague you can hand over more and more work to.

Eventually you will reach the position where you can say

“You decide and implement the decision. You don’t need to check with me.”

This is the most freedom that you can give when you still need to retain responsibility. A high level of confidence in their ability is necessary, and you would need to instigate some management checks to monitor results, and maintain feedback and review.

The relationship has now developed into mentoring, rather than coaching.

Now you need to consider whether to move to the final step. This would be appropriate when developing a successor, or as part of an intentional plan to devolve some of your job accountability.

”It’s your area of responsibility now. Decide what action needs to be taken and manage the situation accordingly”.

This amounts to delegating part of your job, and usually involves a formal change of a person’s job role, involving the delegation of a strategic responsibility. This gives the other person complete responsibility to manage a particular area, defining what projects, tasks, analysis and decisions are necessary.

Bear in mind if you don’t take the final step, you run the risk of your colleague becoming frustrated, and /or people from other departments or companies poaching them. Once you have coached them to take responsibility you need to move them up or lose them. Succession planning needs to keep good people moving up.