About Delegation


“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit”

–Andrew Carnegie

Delegation is the assignment of responsibility for a defined task to a subordinate during a fixed timeframe. Managing delegations, and providing the appropriate coaching, is a fundamental leadership skill. The leader who is delegating assignments always remains fully accountable for the outcome and the possible aftermath. The subordinate whom the delegation is made to is responsible to complete the task. There is never abdication of responsibility.

A delegated assignment needs to be vetted out to an appropriate depth depending upon the scope, depth, and experience of the contributor. There is both “too much checking” – and there is not enough checking. It needs to be a balance depending upon the “level of delegation” that has been granted.

This empowers a subordinate to make decisions and still have the safety net and benefit of your experience and support. These steps are what make delegation assignments such a valuable learning tool. Effective delegation with coaching helps build skill sets and motivates people. This methodology of delegation, review, and coaching is a powerful tool in the professional development and should have a prominent position in succession planning.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell then what to do and let them surprise you with the results”

–General Patton

There are advantages to delegating assignments that are worth pointing out:

  1. Free up time for the supervisor to accomplish other work. Delegation lets you manage by exception. This is a powerful time management tool that you can use to work more efficiently with other people.
  2. Boosts the confidence of the employee – it provides some real life “I can”. Often this can be the jump start someone needs to break out of the doldrums.
  3. Improved subordinate involvement and interest – this builds their ownership and over time creates an internal locus of control.
  4. Gives the subordinate a chance to experience part of a higher level position in the organization. They can ask themselves is it what I might want for my career? Alternatively, is it uncomfortable? This often provides insight that their line managers job isn’t for me – or that they love it!
  5. Assistance from subordinates in completing tasks the manager simply would not have time for otherwise.

What to Consider

There are a few questions that any supervisor should always be asking themselves. Points where you need to challenge yourself and your thinking. Always look in the mirror.

Delegation Levels

Often the results of a delegation suffer when the imparted level of authority is misunderstood. Is your direction to assess and report back, assess and complete, or somewhere else in the spectrum?

It is worth the time to have some discussion with your reports on how this is done and to clearly define your expectations. Use a model that works for you – but make sure the “level” of delegation is understood.

  1. Decide what needs to be done and take care of it, you do not need to get back with me. You got it!
  1. Act and Report. Decide what needs to be done and do it. Report back to me and let me know how it went over and what the results looked like.
  1. Plan an Act. Size up the situations; let me know your plan, then proceed unless I say not to proceed at this time.
  1. Plan and Report. Examine the issues, formulate a plan, do not proceed until we discuss and hash out some of the details. I will have questions and want them addressed before we move forward.
  1. Plan the Approach. Identify the issues, propose a plan and a few alternatives, list the pros and cons of each one. I expect that you will recommend one of the paths and pitch it to me but be able to provide reasons for or against the alternatives. You also need to be willing to accept the path that is not your first choice.
  1. Gather Facts and Return. Look into the situation, get the facts and report back, I will decide how to proceed. We might move this up to a higher level of delegation depending on what information you return to me with.

Ten Ways to Improve

When a delegated assignment does not reach the desired result or quality we should consider the following points.

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  1. Focus on enhancing the skill set of the candidate and using the opportunity for coaching and learning.
  2. Assignments should be within a reasonable stretch – but never impossible. Did we make the stretch too far? Did we extend the level of delegation authority too far? Was it not clearly understood?
  3. Consider their workload. If we want them to excel with delegation assignments maybe we should cut some back on some of their other work? Maybe it is time to delegate some work to a level lower below them.
  4. Make an exercise of sitting with the individual and writing out all of the activities they are engaged with – can we cut some of them or even delegate them to a lower level
  5. Provide more training? Often we have an employee who is solid on technical grounds but needs help with communication skills, or solid working with people but limited with computers or technology. Perhaps the assignment might reveal a specific skill gap we could address with some focused training. Are you open to consider the ideas of others seriously? The mark of an effective leader is the ability to change your mind and the openness to the other”.
  6. Trust your subordinates – do they know you trust them? Make sure that they do.
  7. Prepare yourself for the pain of productive but critical coaching sessions with your reports. Stretch goals are only as valuable a growth tool as the coaching that must follow. Are you providing adequate follow up?
  8. Are you illustrating the magnanimous wisdom to allow team members to learn from their mistakes?
  9. Prepare yourself to accept results that are at par – this is in exchange to allow you to focus on the mission critical elements while delegating the less critical.
  10. Prepare yourself to accept these same results at par for the experience of building your teams skill set. This is last on the list but must be foremost in every manager’s mind.[/message][su_spacer]

Often I am told it would be easier to simply do it myself. However, delegation is one of the greatest training tools and can provide insights as to possible career paths for the candidate. Always be patient, provide the follow up, and be sure they know you support them.

Until next time.


Tim Crocker
Tim Crocker
TIM is engaged with the Sasol Ethylene Project in Westlake Louisiana as the Utilities and Infrastructure Manager. During his 25-year career, he has worked on infrastructure systems optimization at BASF, Biofuels process development with British Petroleum, and Utilities Management at Georgia Pacific and Domtar. His areas of expertise are Process Improvement, Steam and Power Generation, Water Treatment, Chemical Recovery, Energy Management, Waste Treatment, and Performance Management. Tim has facilitated over 100 Kaizen workshops and been a contributor in three major process improvement roll outs. He received a BS in Chemistry from the University of Portland (Portland, Oregon) along with a second Major in Philosophy, where he also worked as a teaching assistant. Later earned his MS in Paper Science Technology from the Institute of Paper Science in Atlanta, GA. Currently. He is available for speaking engagements in both Process Improvement and Leadership areas. Tim lives in the Moss Bluff community with his wife Cathy and daughter Yuri. They enjoy gardening, amateur astronomy, cooking, and model rocketry.

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  1. To be effective, you must do delegation. However, there are some who get so much into the habit of delegation, that they delegate activities that they, themselves, should be doing. For instance, an executive reviews a report to determine the strategic direction of your company. If the executive wants more information in that report, they would tell someone what they want at a high level and delegate it to them. These people then in turn may delegate to the people who will actually add that information. This results in the executive not getting what they want in a timely manner.

    For a data driven company, delegation can be an impediment.