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Delegation of Authority: Why It’s Important

March 15, 2019 by Josh Hrala

Delegating tasks to workers is a key component to management. After all, managers can’t – and shouldn’t – be doing everything. Their job is to manage the work of others. However, delegation of authority can be a tricky thing to handle, especially if your business is growing.

So what is delegation of authority? How should a business handle it? These are some of the questions we’ll get into today.

First, let’s go over the basics to ensure we are all on the same page.

What Is Delegation of Authority?

In short, delegation of authority is a organizational process where managers divide their workload between their staff members. In order for this to work properly, managers have to give authority to their workers to make decisions that impact the jobs and workload they are expected to perform.

So, in a way, delegation of authority is just like the delegation of tasks except that you are also empowering your employees to be able to complete their jobs without going back to you for every little thing.

Delegation of authority typically runs downstream, meaning that mid-level managers have authority given to them by upper management. This downward system allows managers of every level to delegate work and authority to their staff members, spreading the workload out among the entire workforce so that work can get done quickly and without the stress of managers and workers having too much on their plates.

Delegation of Authority

When coming up with a delegation of authority structure for your organization, you need to figure out what tasks can be delegated and what authority needs to be extended to workers and managers of all levels so that the work can get done in a timely manner.

Managers never fully give up their authority to workers or lower level managers, though. Managers have to fully examine what tasks are at hand and what needs to be delegated. Sometimes, there are tasks that need the touch of an upper manager. These tasks are typically retained and handled by that manager.

As you can see, delegation of authority doesn’t have a simple, one-size-fits-all outline that all organizations can use. Instead, the process has to be outlined by specific organizations to ensure that it works for them.

Delegation of Authority: Getting Started

Like we said above, delegation of authority is a process that is handled on an organizational level. There is no real way to say that the delegation of authority structure at one organization is going to work the same way at another.

However, there are a few things that do extend to multiple organizations. For example, managers often times find it hard to start delegating authority to staff members when a business is growing.

Let’s dig into this a bit. Say that there is a startup company that has a boot-strapped staff with only a few roles. These individuals are probably doing a slew of different tasks to make up for the low staffing.

Then, after a big sale or deal, the business can expand, allowing managers to hire staff members to help them. When these new hires get onboarded, managers can often times struggle to give up control and authority to new workers because they have been performing the role for so long and know how they want it completed.

Delegation of Authority

This is very common among many different organizations, and it makes a lot of sense. However, for tasks to get completed quickly, delegation of authority has to be addressed.

But how?

Again, it largely depends on the people involved. There are systems that you can use to make the process easier though. So let’s get into that now.

Delegation of Authority: Constant Reviews

In today’s world, the idea of yearly and quarterly reviews are phasing out to make way for constant reporting and reviewing. This is important when it comes to delegation of authority because once authority is handed off, you have to make sure the staff member, or manager, that now has new responsibility can actually perform the role.

So, it helps to constantly check in with them to see if they are performing well with their new tasks. This shouldn’t be some complicated process where people are pulled into meetings and things like that. It can sometimes be beneficial to simply have a one-on-one chat with the employee (or manager) to see how things are going.

If they’re going spectacularly, great! If not, try to see what you can change so that person can perform their role better.

Delegation of Authority: The Most Common Failure

Again, this isn’t something that every organization will have to deal with – but it definitely happens more often then other issues. And that is when an organization has created a delegation of authority but managers are unwilling to let workers actually complete their tasks.

As we talked about, delegation of authority is all about empowering workers to help them succeed in their role while taking work off the manager’s plate. Sometimes, though, managers can be reluctant by not giving the authority workers need, extending the time it takes to complete a task because now they have to go back to the manager to ensure they can complete it.

This actually creates a more work for everyone involved. It would actually be easier for the manager to complete the task themselves without the employee because the employee literally cannot complete it.

Delegation of Authority

This is very similar to what we talked about before. As you can probably tell, one of the biggest issues that can come up during a new delegation of authority process is the inability for managers to fully give over control of some tasks.

With that said, managers shouldn’t completely offload their workload to workers or other managers, either. Each task is different and requires different levels of support. Also, managers will be responsible for their workers success. If managers do not provide a pathway for that success, it will come back on them. This is why it’s important to pay attention to workloads so that workers – and managers – don’t burn out.

Delegation of Authority: Conclusion

Delegation of authority is an organizational process that divides workloads among workers and managers. Delegation of authority is different than simply delegating work tasks because it involves empowering workers will the amount of authority they need to make decisions that impact their role.

For example, if a worker is hired to purchase supplies for an office, they should be trusted with the payment method or to handle issues that can come up with shipments.

The biggest pitfall when it comes to delegation of authority is when management refuses to allow workers to fully do their jobs because they have to keep coming back to the manager for approval. Another common issue is when managers offload too many tasks to workers or lower level managers, swamping them and possibly pushing them to burn out.

When done correctly, delegation of authority is a great way to spread out the tasks involved in running a successful business. The process generally depends on what your organizational needs are and how many staff members you have working there.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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