Delegation of Authority to Staff

Today’s successful supervisors need to empower their employees by giving them greater participation in decisions that affect them and by expanding their responsibility for results. One way to empower people is to delegate authority to them.

Why Delegate?

Supervisors are limited in both time and abilities. To overcome their limitations, and accomplish more than they possibly could alone, supervisors must learn to skillfully delegate. By letting go of tasks that can be done more efficiently by others, supervisors put everyone’s talents to better use.

While there is no doubt that effective supervisors need to be able to delegate, many supervisors find this to be difficult. The greatest challenge? Giving up control. ‘I like to do things myself,’ says one supervisor, ‘because then I know it is done and I know it is done right.’ Another supervisor voices a similar comment: ‘I have to learn to trust others. Sometimes I am afraid to delegate the more important projects because I like to stay hands on.’

How Delegation Works

While supervisors who do not want to delegate will focus on all the reasons why they should not, an effective supervisor should find ways to delegate without adverse results. Properly planned, delegation can actually increase supervisors’ effectiveness and allow them to retain some control.

Delegation can be broken down into a four-step process:

  1. Allocation. Duties are tasks and activities that need to be done. These duties are allocated to an employee or a team. It is important to delegate an entire task to a person or team, which helps establish their responsibility for it. Do not delegate only half a task.
  2. Empowerment. Once duties have been assigned, the corresponding authority over those duties can be granted. The essence of the delegation process is to empower employees to act for you. It is passing to the employee the formal rights to act on your behalf. Be sure you have given the employee enough authority to get the materials, the equipment, and the support from others necessary to get the job done. Encourage the free flow of information, and give advice without interfering in the task.
  3. Responsibility. When authority is delegated, you must assign responsibility. That is, when you give someone rights, you must also assign to that person a corresponding obligation to perform. Helpful habits for assigning responsibility include focusing on results and fixing firm deadlines. Build control into the delegation process, and don’t impose controls as an afterthought.
  4. Accountability. To complete the delegation process, you must hold employees accountable for properly carrying out their duties. While responsibility means an employee is obliged to carry out assigned duties, accountability means that the individual has to perform that assignment in a satisfactory manner. Employees are responsible for the completion of tasks assigned to them, and they are accountable to you for the satisfactory performance of that work. Be sure to give delegatees full credit for their accomplishment. Don’t claim the glory for an assignment or look for scapegoats.

The Supervisor’s Role in Delegation

Delegation will only work when the supervisor is willing to delegate and the employee is willing to take on the responsibility and develop the appropriate skills.

Many supervisors use delegation as a tool for developing employees through coaching and feedback. Supervisors should recognize that they have an important role in providing employees with ‘stretch assignments,’ or more challenging opportunities to increase their skills. Delegation can be used to expand an employee’s capabilities, from a dependent, low-level performer to an independent, highly competent one. This process takes time and effort by both the supervisor and the employee, but it ultimately increases the employee’s value to the team and organization.

One way supervisors increase their effectiveness through delegating is by careful planning—studying the tasks that need to be done and making appropriate matches between the work assignments and the employees. For each work assignment, the supervisor should consider the nature of the responsibility and the readiness of the employee to assume it. The supervisor can therefore avoid hovering, smothering, and generally ‘overmanaging’ the work of an employee who does not need much supervision. He or she will also avoid ‘undermanaging’ an employee who is not ready to be left alone with a task under a hands-off, sink-or-swim policy. After making an assignment, supervisors must mentally prepare to let go of any emotional investment they have in the responsibility for the task.

When supervisors delegate, they must understand that delegation is not the same as participation. In participative decision making, there is a sharing of authority. With delegation, employees and teams make decisions on their own. That is why delegation is such a vital component of empowering employees!

An effective delegator will display characteristics that include:

  • Allowing the employees to participate in determining what is delegated, how much authority is needed to get the job done, and the standards by which they will be judged. This will increase employee motivation, satisfaction, and accountability for performance.
  • Giving a detailed assignment by providing clear information on what is being delegated, the results you expect, and any time or performance expectations.
  • Specifying the employees’ range of discretion, including the amount and extent of their authority and their degree of responsibility.
  • Informing others that the delegation has occurred, specifying the tasks, the amount of authority, and the employees involved.
  • Establishing feedback controls to monitor the employees’ progress (for example, specific time the tasks will be completed, dates when the employee will provide status reports, and any major problems that have surfaced).
  • Insisting on recommendations from the employees when problems surface.

Delegating and Supervising from a Distance

In planning for and organizing work in today’s organizations, supervisors must learn how to supervise effectively from a distance. This is because more and more employees work in scattered sites rather than one central location. With the rise in telecommuting as a business practice, supervisors no longer have to be at the office or job site to supervise teams or individuals. Using delegation, today’s adept supervisors can and should be able to accomplish their charge from a distance.

How can a supervisor operating at a distance ensure high performance? It all begins with developing and instilling trust and cooperation between the members of the team. Supervisors can develop both of these elements by recognizing that a commitment to teamwork, planning, and constant, good communication are important. Delegation plays a key role in developing an efficient team. General guidelines that will help you become effective at supervising from a distance include:

  • Providing opportunities for face-to-face interaction among team members on a regular basis.
  • Planning team meetings in such a way that there is ample time for team members to get to know and learn from one another.
  • Being responsive to the needs of team members working off-site.
  • Bending over backward to provide all necessary resources, materials, and supplies, and to remove obstacles for the team.
  • Ensuring that work schedules and job assignments are not prejudicial to team members, so that off-site work is scheduled equitably.
  • Going off-site with team members as needed to understand the work environment.
  • Spot-checking each employee’s work on a regular basis.
  • Communicating work priorities and timetables at team meetings and in writing, when necessary.
  • Giving clear directions and instructions, setting clear standards and expectations, and measuring results against them.
  • Giving frequent performance feedback.
  • Sending team members off-site to work in pairs, when appropriate.
  • Trusting your team members—do not assume that, if they are out of sight, they will waste time.

Effective delegation is a key leadership quality. By learning this business tactic, you will help to improve your department’s ability to serve your organization, while at the same time showcasing the qualities of both your staff and yourself.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s Administration. More information regarding this is available by calling 1-800-235-2664, or by visiting