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 seriously limited.

There are many reasons why this is so.

The demands on a modern manager’s time are greatly increasing with performance standards being constantly raised, work volumes increasing, and both headcount and budgets being reduced.

At the same time, there is a continuing need to nurture talent.

Delegating tasks of appropriate difficulty at the right moment in a subordinate’s career offers superb development opportunities.

Why then do some supervisors fail to delegate as much as they should?

There are several reasons, such as a lack of faith in their subordinates.

Many supervisors 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.

Then there are the supervisors with big egos, who try to do all the important work themselves so that they will receive personal credit from their superiors.

However, the main reason supervisors are reluctant to delegate is because they fear their own bosses.

Every time you delegate important work to others, you risk failure and possible criticism from your superiors. You lay your personal reputation on the line.

The truth is, you can delegate the task but you cannot delegate responsibility.

What to delegate

The following guidelines indicate what supervisors should consider delegating:

* Tasks that can be done better by a subordinate

Some responsibilities can be done better by a subordinate than by a manager because the subordinate has more expertise, or is closer to the problem and can obtain more timely information about it, or because the manager simply does not have the time to do the task properly.

* Tasks that are relevant to a subordinate’s career

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.

* Tasks of appropriate difficulty

Delegated tasks should be challenging for a subordinate, but not so difficult that there is little hope of doing them successfully.

* Tasks that are both pleasant and unpleasant

Some managers keep all of the pleasant tasks for themselves and delegate only tedious, boring tasks to subordinates. Such tasks will not enrich a subordinate’s job and are likely to reduce rather than increase his job satisfaction.

Delegate successfully

The success of delegation depends as much on how it is carried out as on what is delegated. The following guidelines are designed to minimise problems and avoid common pitfalls related to assigning tasks and delegating authority:

* Specify responsibilities clearly

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.

Provide adequate authority and specify limits of discretion. Specify clearly the subordinate’s scope of authority and limits of discretion.

Specify reporting 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.

Ensure that the subordinate accepts the responsibilities. If delegation is to be successful, the subordinate must accept the new assignments and be committed to carrying them out.

After delegating responsibilities to a subordinate, further steps should be taken. Inform others who need to know about the subordinate’s new responsibilities and authority.

These include people who are affected by the delegation and those whose cooperation and assistance are necessary to do the delegated tasks.

* Monitor progress in appropriate ways 

When authority is delegated, a manager and subordinate should decide on the type of performance measures and progress indicators to collect.

It is usually best to have all detailed information about the subordinate’s performance flow directly to the subordinate, with less detailed summary information coming to the manager at less frequent intervals.

* Provide support and assistance but avoid reverse delegation

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

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

Make mistakes a learning experience. It is important to recognise that mistakes are 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 mistakes in the future.

A quick recap

So how can you delegate skilfully?

First of all, select the task carefully. Then select the person carefully. Consider all factors involved before selecting the person to whom you will give a specified task.

Next, prepare all individuals for the change. Then, and only then, turn over the assignment.