Do you ever experience a need to redo a staff assignment, special task or project? Are you reluctant to let it go or feel it’s probably easier to do it yourself?

If the temptation to revise, redo or revamp a project keeps you at the office long after everyone else has gone home, you might need to delegate! Research shows 9 out of 10 managers do not delegate enough. Managers might think they have delegated because they assign a project, but successful delegation is more than simply handing off an assignment to someone else.

Used as a verb, Merriam-Webster defines the word delegate “to entrust to” or to “delegate authority”. Delegation is the transfer of authority. A manager or supervisor transfers or “loans” a portion of his authority to an employee. With this authority, the employee is entrusted to act to achieve a stated objective.

Successful delegation brings great returns to any business, large or small. Training future leaders means delegating authority. Employees gain skills, experience and confidence. Yet, many managers resist delegating. Why? Read on, and don’t forget to delegate the task of reading this article to your team!


Those empowered to delegate often justify their resistance; delegation takes too much time, requires too much explanation, it’s too risky or too uncertain. For some, the very process of delegation stirs up fear of failure or loss of control. Organizational structure, cultural differences and listening skills may complicate the delegation process.

Employees have their own opinions. They may avoid additional responsibility because they sincerely disagree. They may have had a bad experience – a project with a short deadline and unclear expectations or a micromanager overseeing every move but providing no support. Worse yet, someone neglecting to give credit where credit was due.

Working through these barriers can be a slow process, yet incredibly rewarding as both managers and their teams attest. A seasoned manufacturing manager admits, “It took a lot of discipline and trust for me to let go and not micro-manage the project. I know employees feel confident knowing management trusts them.”


Developing and maintaining a healthy balance between trust and responsibility are crucial factors in delegation. A high level of trust is essential to achieving organizational objectives. When you delegate a project or task to an employee, it demonstrates trust. It also encourages them to perform at a higher level and provides an opportunity to develop new skills and experience success. That translates into success for the entire organization. Equally important in delegation is accountability for the project results. Not every delegation assignment ends with glowing results. Failure happens. Critical errors are made. Fact finding ensues. Managers ask, “What went wrong?”


Be mindful of past performance. A past success in one area does not guarantee success in another. It does not mean giving the task to the person with the lightest workload, or the new employee sitting next to you. Selecting the right person or team is probably the most important factor in the delegation process. Match the level of skill required for the project with employee skill level, interests and capacity.

Encourage those assigned the project to brainstorm or storyboard and listen with intent. When employees speak up and share ideas, it can indicate healthy delegation is in progress!

Christine, a health care recruiting manager, told me how she inherited three employees who were not given much freedom or latitude with their previous manager. She’s now slowly grooming them to take on more responsibility and risk. For employees to be successful with new responsibilities, managers must remove barriers and provide necessary resources. Managers must also be a visible source of support to help build relationships, develop networks and provide moral support.


Delegation is really part of a larger, ongoing effective management process. But research suggests following these steps will contribute to a successful delegation.

  • Define the parameters: Provide relevant information necessary for success such as objectives, timelines and other factors.
  • Identify the right person(s): Consider employee interests, skills, schedule and capabilities to ensure project and employee success.
  • Discuss the project: Listen for understanding. All parties should know exactly what is expected and how the project will be evaluated.
  • Review progress and results: Resist the temptation to micromanage. The method chosen to achieve the expected outcome will likely be different than yours depending on the person(s) involved. Let it go.
  • Recognize and celebrate: This is so important! Recognize and give credit where credit is due. Celebrate project success.

No one person can do it all. Mary Beth, President of a professional services firm described it best, “Delegation is both success and survival. Successful delegation provides employees an opportunity to develop and learn new skills. Survival is simply realizing that one manager or leader cannot do it all.”

Effective delegation is one of the most powerful tools for managing more efficiently, getting things done, and achieving organizational goals. Moreover, empowered employees strengthen the team by developing confidence, competence and commitment.

(This article, which was originally published in January 2007, in the Spokane Catalyst Magazine has been
slightly changed for this blog post. © DMG 2020)