THE pressures and demands of modern organisations require managers to learn how to delegate more effectively. It is also a good way of developing staff for future responsibilities.

However, though managers know they should delegate, experience shows that often they are unwilling to do so. Delegating responsibilities and duties to others is a must.  Unless you learn to do it often and skilfully, your future as a manager may be limited.

Why do some supervisors fail to delegate as much as they should? There are three basic reasons, all psychological in nature:


Fear of failure

It is a fact of managerial life that “you can delegate a task but you cannot delegate the responsibility”. If things go wrong, you are still responsible. Fear is a powerful emotion that can tie you up in knots and cause you to be too cautious.  You must conquer fear before you can delegate freely and effectively.


Lack of faith

Many managers do not see enough potential for success in the people who work for them and, as a result, never give their employees important and difficult assignments.  Sometimes this happens because the manager had a bad experience in the past due to poor performance and, as a result, is wary of delegating.


Desire for credit

Some managers with a strong need for ego fulfilment try to do all the important work themselves so that they will receive personal credit from their superiors.


Effective delegation

Let’s assume that a manager has overcome these three fears through coaching. What steps should he consider now that he is willing to delegate? Here are some suggestions:


more expertise

Sometimes, a subordinate can perform certain responsibilities better because he is closer to the issues and, therefore, has more expertise on them. He can likely obtain more timely information about them as well. Or, it may well be that the manager simply does not have the time to do the task properly.


Relevant tasks

If the purpose of delegation is to develop your subordinates’ skills, the responsibilities must be relevant to their career objectives. Developmental delegation is likely to include special projects that allow a subordinate the opportunity to struggle with a challenging task and exercise initiative and problem-solving skills.


Appropriate difficulty

Delegated tasks should be challenging for a subordinate, but not so difficult that there is little hope of doing them successfully. Delegation for developmental purposes should be carried out gradually. As the subordinate learns how to handle initial responsibilities, additional ones are delegated.


Balance both types

Some managers keep all of the pleasant tasks for themselves and delegate only tedious, boring tasks to subordinates. Delegation should include both pleasant and unpleasant tasks. The unpleasant tasks should be shared by subordinates or rotated among them to avoid perceptions of favouritism and inequity in work assignments.


spell out responsibilities

When delegating, it is essential to make sure the subordinate understands the new responsibilities. Explain the results expected for a delegated task or assignment, clarify objectives and priorities, and inform the person about any deadlines that must be met. 


specify limits

When assigning new responsibilities, determine the appropriate amount of authority needed by the subordinate to carry them out. Specify clearly the subordinate’s scope of authority and limits of discretion. 


Highlight requirements

It is important for a subordinate to understand the types of information that must be reported, how often reports are expected, and the manner in which progress will be monitored (for example, written reports, progress review meetings, presentations in department meetings, formal performance evaluations). 


Keep others in the loop

People who are affected by the delegation and people whose cooperation and assistance are necessary for the subordinate to do the delegated tasks should be informed about the subordinate’s new responsibilities and authority. 


Monitor progress

With delegated tasks, as with all tasks, it is important to monitor progress and provide feedback to the subordinate.

It is difficult to achieve an optimal balance between control and delegation, and progress review meetings enable a manager to monitor a subordinate’s progress without having to supervise too closely on a day-to-day basis.


Avoid reverse delegation

A manager should provide psychological support to a subordinate who is discouraged or frustrated, and encourage the person to keep going.

For newly delegated tasks, it may be necessary to provide more advice and coaching about procedures for doing some aspect of the work.

However, it is important to avoid reverse delegation, in which control is reasserted over a task that was previously delegated. 


Avoid the blame game

As a final point, it is important to recognise that mistakes are sometimes inevitable for delegated tasks. Mistakes and failures should be treated seriously, but the response should not be one of criticism and blame.

Instead, the episode should become a learning experience for both parties as they discuss the reason for the mistake and identify ways to avoid similar errors in the future.


Article by Chris Fenney, co-founder and director of Training Edge International. He has more than 30 years’ experience in training and management development. For more information, e-mail or visit