How to Delegate Responsibility in the Workplace

Many managers find themselves getting bogged down in routine operational tasks, which leave them no time for the vital managerial functions like long term planning and business development.

Delegation involves giving someone else the responsibility to perform a task that is actually part of your own job. Delegation is not as straightforward as it might first appear. It always carries with it an element of risk, since you are assigning to someone else work for which you retain the ultimate responsibility.

One of the most important reasons for delegation is that it will develop the skills of the people who work for you. People in your team will become more involved in helping to achieve the organizations objectives and goals.

Increased responsibility is an important factor in improving morale and job satisfaction. It is noticeable that managers who delegate successfully usually experience lower absenteeism and staff turnover.

It is often hard to accept that we need the help that delegation can deliver, and there are several possible reasons for this, as highlighted below:

Asking for help indicates a lack of ability
People may feel that any sign of weakness reduces their standing in the eyes of others, and themselves. This may hold them back from asking for help. In reality it is a sign of weakness to hide behind a pretext of coping and a sign of strength to recognize personal limitations.

Nobody else can be trusted to do the job properly
Thinking of oneself as indispensable can be a large boost to the ego. Unfortunately, it is rarely justified. Think in a little more detail about just what it is that nobody else can do as well as you, you will almost certainly discover that whilst your skills may be very valuable to the organization, they are almost certainly not indispensable. If, in some cases delegating means that certain tasks aren’t done as well as you would do them, then this may represent a training opportunity.

Someone else will do a better job and take the credit
This indicates an individual who is jealous of the achievements of their subordinates. What does this say about their attitude to those who have to work for them, surely managers should be proud of the achievements of their staff. People who recognize this attitude as a personal trait should think carefully, as their problems may be more deep-seated than an inability to delegate.

Nobody else can actually help
This is a sign of poor leadership. If there is nobody there to help us when we need it, then it likely that we have done little to nurture and develop the skills of those beneath us.

Feel guilty about the act of delegating work
If you feel guilty about the very act of delegating, when the staff to whom you are delegating are not overloaded, then you should be more realistic. Your job is not to overload yourself but to manage your workload effectively and efficiently and that includes delegating, as and when required.

Be reluctant to relinquish any part of the work
If you enjoy your work so much that you are unwilling to let any of it go, then bear in mind that others are likely to enjoy taking on part of it. Are you keeping things for yourself that really ought to be shared with others?

These are all spurious reasons and most managers who are reluctant to delegate feel that way because delegation reduces their direct control and relies on other people to perform effectively.

They believe that the risks of delegation outweigh the potential rewards. There is no doubt that delegation does increase the risk of a task not being done properly. The answer is to control that risk, not to refuse to delegate.

To reduce the risk a manager should select the tasks to be delegated carefully and select the right people to do them. You should be very careful when delegating tasks that have already been delegated – to you. The person delegating the task has already reduced their direct control and may be very reluctant to reduce it further.

When delegating, tasks that should be considered first include: routine tasks where progress is measurable, tasks that can be planned clearly well in advance and tasks that one of your team has expressed a genuine interest in taking on.

Don’t delegate only unpleasant tasks. In order to bring out the best in your subordinates you should offer them a mix of tasks. Conversely, don’t keep all the unpleasant tasks for yourself. It is important not to hold back all the jobs that you personally dislike, considering it unfair to give these to others.

Make sure that you set aside sufficient time to actually specify delegated tasks and go through them with the relevant members of staff. Ensure that tasks are not delegated at the last minute, each member of staff have their own responsibilities into which they must find the time for the delegated work. Work delegated at the last minute may not be done properly, if at all.

Upward delegation is concerned with ensuring that you don’t waste time on tasks and activities that should be referred to people higher up in the organization. If you need to refer work upwards make sure that you supply your own thoughts and recommendations. This action should save time and demonstrates that you have given the work due consideration before forwarding it.

On some occasions work is likely to land on your desk that is clearly the responsibility of some other section or individual. Here the most efficient action is also to forward the work.

This requires that you have a good understanding of who is responsible for doing what, within your area of the organization. If these duties are not clear you may need to seek clarification.

When passing work sideways remember that a friendly note will make it far more palatable, especially where everyone is dealing with an already high workload and this will also help to ensure that it doesn’t come straight back.

Delegation creates the time needed for vital managerial functions like long term planning and business development. It is also an important factor in improving staff morale and job satisfaction.

Certain characteristics make some tasks suitable for delegation, for example: routine tasks where progress is measurable, tasks that can be planned clearly well in advance and tasks that a team member has expressed an interest in taking on.

If you are serious about improving your time management skills then download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Goal Setting eBook
This eBook explains how to use the theory of goal setting to set practical targets for you and your team members.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Overcoming Procrastination eBook
This eBook explains how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from starting difficult high-priority tasks.

Negotiating Workload Limits eBook
This eBook explains how to negotiate your workload to a manageable level and avoid becoming snowed under.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

Key Points

  • Many managers find themselves bogged down in routine tasks.
  • You are assigning work for which you remain ultimately responsible.
  • Increased responsibility is an important factor in improving morale and job satisfaction.
  • Be careful when delegating tasks which have been delegated to you.
  • Certain characteristics make some tasks suitable for delegation.
  • Delegate a mixture of tasks to ensure fairness to you and your staff.
  • Specify tasks properly and don’t hand them over at the last minute.
  • When passing work upwards, add your own thoughts and recommendations.
  • Forward work that could be done more efficiently elsewhere.
  • When passing work sideways a friendly note is always appreciated.

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