Whether you’re a novice at leadership or you’re a seasoned manager, one of the more difficult things to learn or to do well is to delegate. It’s a hard thing to do for a couple of reasons. First, if you’re an experienced person, you were trained in doing the tasks that you are now expected to have others carry out. Second, you were promoted to a supervisory or managerial position in large part because of how well you performed those tasks. Most good supervisors and managers feel responsible for making sure things get done right.
A number of problems arise when a supervisor or manager doesn’t delegate responsibility well. In the case of a line supervisor, you take away the opportunities for people that work for you to prove their skills and knowledge on significant tasks. Similarly, if you’re a manager of other managers or supervisors, it’ll be apparent to your direct reports, their peers and the workforce under them when you micro-manage or do the work of those below you.
Doing so diminishes the authority and esteem of your direct reports. It makes them feel as though they’re not trusted, or not allowed to do their jobs.
The higher up the organization chart the supervisor or manager is situated, the less that person can get done directly. For instance, if you are a manager with six supervisors reporting to you and each supervisor has an average of 10 people working for them, you can’t possibly carry out the tasking assigned for the whole group. A supervisor with two direct reports might get away with doing more of their work, but why would you want to? Obviously, some small teams need the supervisor to pitch in more from time to time, but the supervisor is advised to be thoughtful of which tasks they take on and be mindful of the effects on others.
The first step in the art of delegation is to understand that delegation of task responsibility should be practiced. But a supervisor or manager can never delegate accountability to make sure the tasking gets done. You can delegate, but you can never abdicate. Because you retain accountability, you have to have a system for checking on progress. Woe unto the supervisor or manager who’s routinely unaware of the status of the work going on, or unaware of the capability of their people to carry out the work. A simple way to measure progress, such as daily or weekly briefing session, should be part of the plan. Measurement or task tracking complexity should be appropriate to the situation.
The second step in delegation is to ensure you set up an environment that allows people to make mistakes. This doesn’t mean you allow mistakes to go too far. Don’t allow people to disregard safety or regulatory compliance issues, or to make mistakes that have major effects on production or costs to rectify the mistake. The idea is to give people enough autonomy to own the work they will be doing. As a leader you must develop a sense for your direct reports; how much space you give them and how much coaching time they need.
A third aspect of delegation is to understand how and when to step in. You also must be keenly aware of how others perceive you; your position as a supervisor or manager has inherent power. Be acutely aware that what you say in front of others will have a huge effect on those involved. You need to be a presence so there’s a clear chain of command, but you need to use tact in how you interject when you need to.
The fourth recommendation for the art of delegation is to give credit to others for successes and be accountable when things don’t go well. As a leader, part of your job is to develop your direct reports. Giving them credit for doing a job well and achieving the objectives is the best way to build their self-esteem, and it provides recognition for them. Taking the heat for mistakes is part of being a leader; it doesn’t feel good at the time but the benefits in the long run include respect of those who work for you. When your people respect you, they will go the extra mile when you need them to.
Hone your delegation skills to get more done and to be the leader your organization and your team can be proud to be associated with.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER. Contact him at email@example.com and (321) 773-3356.