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Delegation Do’s and Don’ts

Delegation is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Many executives, managers and supervisors avoid delegation because of various practical and emotional barriers. For example, they may be afraid to relinquish control of some tasks or they may worry that employees will resist or resent delegation. It’s important to overcome these challenges, as effective delegation can have wide-ranging benefits for the delegator, the delegatees and the organization as a whole.

In her book Management Skills for New Managers (AMACOM, 2005), based on the popular AMA seminar of the same name, Carol Ellis describes the importance of effective delegation: “Managers who delegate effectively have direct reports who are more capable and enthusiastic because of the delegation experience. A good manager knows that delegation is the way to achieve results through others.”

AMA’s one-day seminar Delegation Bootcamp provides guidelines that help managers learn how to turn over the right amount of responsibility and authority to the appropriate people. Following are some excerpts from the seminar concerning some of the do’s and don’ts of effective delegation.

Why Delegate?

Benefits to the delegator:

  • Relieves you of some of your workload, time pressure and stress
  • Allows you to devote your energies to higher-payoff tasks
  • Prepares people to handle tasks in your absence
  • Prepares people to take on your job so you can move up
  • Allows you to assess a delegatee’s potential

Benefits to the delegatees:

  • Develops their skills, abilities, experience, perspective and judgment
  • Prepares them for greater responsibility, authority and promotion
  • Raises their involvement and visibility within an organization
  • Helps them feel more trusted and significant
  • Builds their motivation

Benefits to the organization:

  • Improves decision making and execution through wider involvement
  • Develops organizational resilience by developing more skilled staff members
  • Creates a climate of trust and empowerment
  • Demonstrates a belief in the value and importance of people
  • Allows for easier and more effective promotion and succession planning

Appropriate tasks for delegation:

Tip: Keep in mind that the responsibilities you delegate should be “SMART”—
S
pecific
Measurable
Appropriate
Reachable
Timebound

Tasks that can be delegated:

  • Recurring decisions and actions that others can handle
  • Pressing priorities you can’t handle but others can
  • Special projects and long-range tasks
  • Detail work on projects you are handling
  • Tasks that could help people grow in areas key to their future

When NOT to Delegate

Avoid delegating tasks that:

  • Are sensitive and personal in nature
  • Require a degree of risk and decision making that is unfair to the delegatee
  • Require your personal expertise
  • Require your personal leadership
  • Have legal restrictions

Such inappropriate tasks may include:

  • Performance evaluations
  • Counseling, disciplining and other confidential personnel matters
  • Tasks assigned specifically and exclusively to you
  • Tasks that are the responsibility of another team, department or division
  • Crisis situations where people are looking to you for leadership
  • New initiatives that require your setting the example and setting the standard

Avoid delegating to:

  • People who are already overloaded
  • People who have other important, high-priority tasks requiring their attention
  • People who lack the time to complete the task successfully
  • People who lack the skills to complete the task successfully
  • People who have successfully completed similar tasks, if there are other candidates for delegation available

If you need to work on your delegation skills, consider AMA’s Delegation Bootcamp, a fast-paced one-day course that provides delegation strategies that will reduce your stress level, empower your staff and increase your efficiency.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.