Delegation as a Management Tool

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Delegation may be simply defined as a management tool that involves assigning some responsibilities to other members of staff in the organization in which case, the assignee will make all decisions appertaining to the delegated responsibilities as he/she would on other responsibilities falling within his/her his job description. Moreover, Burns (2003, p. 3) defines delegation as a process of “entrusting your powers or functions to another person, entrusting that person to complete tasks that you would otherwise have undertaken yourself”. However, although the assignee gets the freedom to exercise authority on the delegated work, accountability remains with the person who delegated the work. Delegation is normally done in situations where the manager has a lot of responsibilities and therefore, he/she finds it worthwhile to shed some responsibilities to his/her juniors while concentrating on providing leadership.

Effective delegation is important in organizational performance as it enhances training and development as well as setting up succession structures. As described by Blair (n.d), delegation allows staff to exploit and improve their skills and knowledge fully; otherwise, they fail to add full value to the organization. However, where the assignee is not given the freedom to carry out the delegated responsibilities, it ends up being micromanagement, the result of which is poor performance and loss of morale. Delegation becomes effective when the assignees have knowledge on the responsibilities delegated, exercise authority on achievement of the results, and clearly understand how (policies and procedures) to perform the responsibilities assigned (Heathfield, 2009).

Despite the various positives about delegation, more often than not, managers are reluctant to delegate due to several factors, the major one being a loss of control over the persons who have been given authority. In addition, a person may feel that the person to whom the responsibility is delegated may not perform it satisfactorily. However, it is always important to have a clear plan of what to delegate, when to delegate, why to delegate, and to whom to delegate in order to have a smooth delegation process. As a management/leadership skill, delegation comes in handy in aligning the structures in the organization and improving overall performance. This paper discusses the importance of delegation as a management function plus its advantages and disadvantages to both managers and subordinates.

Objectives of effective delegation

The primary objective of delegation is to assign responsibilities and authority to another person so as to create an allowance for performing other tasks. In so doing caution should be observed to ensure that the person to whom responsibilities and authority are delegated can exercise the authority. Communication during delegation is important in order to enable a flow of information either in form of feedback or assistance. Since the person who delegated is still accountable for the decisions made on the delegated responsibilities, effective monitoring and guidance are important (Time Management-Guide, 2002). This will also serve to ensure that the assignee understands the roles and clarify the areas that may seem complex to the assignee.

Effective delegation involves not only assigning authority and responsibilities, but also giving the assignee the leeway to make decisions, and providing guidance and resources to perform the delegated job. This is important because the success of delegation will be measured by the end results rather than by the means of delegation. Moreover, effective delegation will not only enhance performance but also will increase the chances for promotion for both the manager and the subordinate.

Delegation success is pillared around four key concepts namely responsibility, accountability, authority and trust. Since the ultimate responsibility and accountability remain with the manager, it is always important to have negotiations with the delegate and structure the goals of the process tailored on schedule, access to information, nature of control and desired results. More often than not, the manager will have to monitor the progress of the process to ensure that the delegates perform the job to the best of their ability and offer leadership (Burns, 2003, p. 4). Enough authority should be given to allow the delegates to make sound decisions on the responsibilities, with the understanding that they will be held accountable by the person who delegated, for the results as pre-agreed. Trust in delegation is important to ensure the smooth progress of the process. According to Burns (2003), trust builds trust – delegates will become trustworthy when they feel that they are being trusted – and where there is a knowledge or skill gap, training and development will help to raise trust and confidence.

One way of making delegation effective is to ensure as much as possible that clear instructions are given in order to fully acquaint the delegate with substantial knowledge. Getting the delegates’ point of view on various tasks to be delegated is important in making decisions on what to delegate, and the boundaries to which authority should be exercised.

Advantages of delegation

A well-implemented delegation serves both the person who delegated and the subordinate positively. One of the advantages of delegation is its contribution to structuring succession in the organization. Delegating responsibilities and authority to subordinates enhances job knowledge to other employees, making it worthwhile when a manager leaves the organization, whether permanently or temporarily. Organizations that fail to have effective delegation always experience problems when a certain position is left vacant as they have to bring in new employees from the outside to the position and as a result lose business during the time that the new employee is under training or the time the position is vacant. According to Blair (n.d), delegation enhances the development of a successor and provides an opportunity for both the manager and subordinate to move up for new and higher responsibilities in the organization.

Effective delegation also helps in the training and development of employees in the organization. One motivating factor for employees in an organization is getting a chance for personal and career development. An effective delegation will help to develop both the manager and the subordinate, enhancing all-around communication and allowing both the manager and the subordinatee to manage both downwards and upwards communication. Since most of the skills are learned on the job, subordinates will improve their skills and be prepared to take up higher responsibilities when they arise. In addition, when delegating, ensure to identify the right persons to delegate to and give the proper instructions about the responsibility (Mackenzie, 1997, p. 117).

Effective delegation leads to efficiency in the organization. When undertaken properly, it creates motivation to the employees –who feel excited to exercise authority- and thereby enhancing their overall performance and productivity. In addition, delegation tends to eliminate or minimize the costlier formal training procedures; this means that only those skills that cannot be acquired through on-job training can be trained through the formal training programs.

Delegation aids in organization restructuring where a manager is given an opportunity to perform other responsibilities in the organization thus saving time on the overall organizational responsibilities. For instance, where a manager delegates some responsibilities to his/her juniors, he/she gets time to complete other responsibilities that could otherwise have been left undone or taken more time to complete. Indeed, Agarwal (1983, p. 165) claims that delegation helps in organization effectiveness since managers have to shed off fewer necessary duties and concentrate on important decisions.

An effective delegation enhances innovation in the organization as employees are given an opportunity to participate in decision-making as well as providing their valuable new ideas to the organization. In addition, it is through effective delegation that the employees can exploit their full potential as well as helping the management to identify and manage talent within the organization.

Delegation enhances independence in the organization especially due to the notion of giving authority to other people to make independent decisions on delegated tasks. However, the person who delegated has to offer leadership making the delegate feel confident to carry out the task. A well-managed delegation according to Chapman (2009) will be “specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, time-bound, ethical and recorded”.

Disadvantages of delegation

Although delegation may be an effective management tool, there are several drawbacks to it. One limitation is the possibility of subordinates not performing the tasks satisfactorily due to a negative attitude towards the delegated duties; for instance, where a manager delegates the authority to the unwilling employee, the performance on the assigned task may not be convincing thus affecting the overall performance of the organization.

Delegation may also lead to a conflict of interest between the manager and the subordinate especially where the subordinate becomes more knowledgeable and develops some egos which may affect his/her attitude negatively. Indeed, Francis and Woodcock (1996, p. 171) point out that where delegation is made to a strong individual the manager may be at threat from the delegate. In addition, where the manager delegates those responsibilities that he/she is not confident enough to undertake, he/she might not give proper guidance thus negatively affecting the performance of the organization.

Communication and decision-making in organizations are usually complex especially when it comes to assigned responsibilities. Assigning authority and decision-making to junior employees requires a lot of homework to ensure that there is no breakdown in the normal operations. When authority and decision-making are delegated, the manager retains accountability for the results, which may force him/her to exercise excessive monitoring or control on the delegated responsibilities thus complicating the performance of the tasks.

Why managers fear delegation

Despite the positive side of a delegation, managers are always reluctant to delegate due to several factors. Most of the managers as latha (2009) put it fear that their responsibilities will not be handled satisfactorily by the subordinate. In this case, the manager feels that he is the only one who can handle the task well enough and that no employee has the qualities to perform the task. In addition, Sharma (1997, p. 164) claims that usually, a manager’s (especially the authoritarian) loss of confidence with the subordinates will make him fail to delegate authority. This calls for coaching and training in order to eliminate those fears.

Managers fear that the persons to whom the delegation is made may become more knowledgeable than them and therefore threaten their control in the responsibilities (Blair, n.d). In addition, the manager feels that the subordinate already has more skills and competency than him and therefore he would not want to be overshadowed by the subordinate. Since competency and skills differ from individual to individual, the manager should be aware that competency and skills should be credited and reinforced for the betterment of the organization (Mancini, 2003, p. 80).

In most cases, managers fear that when the subordinates acquire more knowledge on the job, their positions are at risk and therefore they avoid delegation to preserve those positions. The manager should appreciate that he is in the position due to his competency and therefore should provide leadership which calls for developing subordinates, who will add credit to his department. According to Knight (1995, p. 3) self-assessment is important before delegation in order for the manager to understand his habits and attitude in job situations that require delegation.


Delegation is an important management tool that ensures the overall performance of the organization is improved. Successful managers should have delegation skills and be able to delegate competently. Since most managers have a wide range of tasks to carry out, it is often important to ensure that some of the responsibilities are distributed to junior staff in order to enable them (managers) to undertake other responsibilities effectively and on time. Effective delegation aids in a succession plan, personal employee development, bridge the training gaps in the organization, and creates opportunities for promotion as well as enhancing motivation in the workforce. Despite these positive attributes, delegation may be disastrous if not well managed. In most cases, managers are reluctant to delegate due to various fears inherent in them. all said and done, the effective delegation will lift the credibility of the organization both within and outside as there will be improved performance.


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