The art of delegation

The art of delegation
Published: 26 June 2014
The art of delegation

Managers are expected to achieve results. Some definitions of management actually define this art as achieving objectives through others. The question is how can we effectively do this without being seen as 'bossing people around' - which is the way that most employees view management.

Another challenge is that a team should achieve more than the sum of its individual members, and the collective more than the sum of individual departments. It is only when we add value to shareholders and clients that the whole purpose of being an organisation is fulfilled.

The key to good management is effective delegation. It is tempting to think that managers delegate to make their own lives easier, but it is an essential task in the effective linking of organisational objectives to execution. The task of a manager is to manage the operation to ensure that the objectives of the organisation are achieved.

So how do you delegate effectively?

Start with the objectives

It starts with the objectives of the business that you are responsible for. Each objective needs a plan or strategy that translates into specific areas or tasks that represent work packages. You need to consider what your task is and what are some of the tasks that you can assign to others.

In the end, you need to be able to compile a list of things that could and should be delegated. This must not be because it is tedious or unpopular work, but must be mindful of the contribution that you make, and be clearly linked to the goals that need to be achieved.

Define the task

Delegation most often fails when the expectations of the manager and the individual accepting the task are misaligned. Aligning expectations starts with the manager clearly outlining the task and thinking through some basic questions, such as:

    What are the expected results?
    Is there a predefined process or procedure that must be followed to achieve the result?
    What is the method that will achieve this result?
    Are there sub-tasks? Are these simple or complex and do they need to be specified as well?
    What are the required limits of authority?
    Are there realistic timelines, and are there other dependencies on this task?
    What other resources may be required to achieve the goal?
    What training and development may be necessary to support this?

In order to set clear and matching expectations for the person delegated to achieve the task, it is always important to first understand it for yourself.

Get the right person to do the job

A great manager understands the abilities of staff and assigns the right person to execute the task. The correct person should have the right ability, knowledge, skills, enthusiasm, talent and time needed to get the job done. If they do not have it, they should be able to develop it within the timeframe of the task. On considering various people to get the task done, it may be clear that there is not one single person who has all the requirements, which may necessitate splitting the task or rethinking the approach. If it is important enough and there is enough time, it may even necessitate recruiting the right person.

Some of the key factors that go into selecting a capable individual include:

    Level of challenge for the individual
    The learning that this will create
    Experience required
    Personal qualities required
    Trust requirements
    Existing workload
    Team dynamics
    Ability to grow the impact of an individual

The task briefing

As a manager, it is one of your most important tasks to ensure that when you outline initiatives and give instructions that you give very clear communication on the task at hand and the results that are expected. A lot of managers do not communicate what is expected clearly and then get angry or surprised when the results are different from what was happening in their head. Management does not happen in your head - it happens with your people.

When you communicate a task, it should include a clear definition of:

    The scope of the task
    The specific results to be achieved
    The time schedule and deadlines
    The available resources
    Any technical requirements, including existing work processes
    Any external information that would change the task
    Authority needed to carry out the task
    How performance will be measured
    Sensitive or risky aspects of the task
    Reporting requirements
    Your confidence in the person


Where do you want the person to start and to finish? Are you tasking them to investigate a solution and bring it to you, or to take the solution and execute it? This makes a big difference in the authority required.

The real art of managerial leadership comes in setting these parameters and establishing the controls to ensure that this authority and power is properly used. Relevant staff and managers need to be aware of expectations and the 'task briefing' may have to be extended to a wider audience for it to be effective.

Open communication lines

Great wars have been lost due to the disruption of communication lines. This is no different for goals. Delegation is not abdication. You need to follow up and make sure that you keep track of where tasks are, what is happening and what the next steps are. At the very least you need to be informed of when things are not going well. Often you find that if you do not drive the update cycle, you end up being outside of the loop.

Keep referring back to the goals that you set out; track progress; and ensure that you remove stumbling blocks to achieve them.

Do not be afraid of conflict and course corrections. It is better to get things on track earlier than trying to fix them later.

Reward progress and performance

When progress is made, encourage it gently. When there is performance, reward it privately and publicly.

Build a team track record

Do not always delegate the same task to the same person. Delegation is a powerful tool to build team capacities and through artful delegation, in time you can build resources that have the confidence, experience and skills to benefit the overall organisation. Skilful delegation and good training form the basis for growing and nurturing future leadership.


When a unit is not more than the sum of its parts, it is quite predictable that the manager is not delegating effectively. When a unit seems that they are achieving more than possible with their resources, it points to a leader who delegates effectively. This is often what separates good managers from poor managers.

Delegation is an art that requires a systematic approach and a lot of follow through. Persistence, patience and constant course corrections are all part of what makes delegation a powerful tool for the effective manager. The objective of delegation is to build capacity and to enable others to achieve their full potential in the context of organisational goals.

This synergy effect allows organisations to add value to shareholders and clients, and is enabled by delegation. 
- Regenesys
Tags: Regenesys,


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