The art of delegation: Developing this essential managerial skill

by Rob Rawson
The art of delegation

Have you ever wanted a clone of yourself? You know, so you can finish all the dull work tasks on your to do list, and get on with living your life? Unfortunately, it’s impossible to do everything yourself and you can’t make another copy of yourself.

But, as a boss, there is a solution: you can delegate important tasks to your employees, freeing up time for you to work on more pressing matters. While the idea of delegation may make you feel like a bad boss, in actuality the fundamental reason for having employees is to do work for you, and accomplish goals as a team. And, when you get delegation right, you’ll find that employees aren’t there just to help carry the load, they will find surprising ways to knock your expectations out of the park. After all, they have more time to work on a project and a unique skill set.

The dream vision of delegation is that you can hand off an assignment and have it produced quickly, efficiently, and perfectly. In reality, however, bosses struggle with delegation for several reasons. Every boss has a ton of work to do as well as expectations of how a project should be completed and the quality that should be achieved. When it comes right down to it, it’s difficult for many bosses to effectively delegate, because they fear their employees don’t work as hard and that they won’t complete the project correctly.

This begs the question, “how do you move from an overflowing inbox into a world where delegation is used properly and as a motivational tool for growth?

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of where you stand on delegation as a boss, and how you can develop this skill for the betterment of you and your company.

Let’s get started!

Related Content:

Delegation Check-up: How good/bad are you at delegating?

Everyone knows that delegation is an essential managerial skill. However, it’s not one of those skills they teach you in school. Similarly, it’s not an innate quality that every leader possesses. It has to be nourished, developed, and practiced.

Before delving too deep into how to improve your delegation manager skills, you may want to take the Work Delegation Check-up to find out how you measure up. Are you good at delegating? Are you terrible at it? Is there room for improvement? This quick check-up will act as a self-evaluation and a benchmark for improvement.

delegation check-up

If you’ve just taken the quiz and scored poorly, don’t worry. You are not alone. It’s not uncommon for bosses to have bad experiences with delegation and then become reluctant to continue to delegate. Then, eventually, the boss may even find himself/herself doing everything, controlling all aspects of work, and employees become disengaged. This turns into an unhealthy pattern and feeds into a self-reinforcing negative downward spiral where bosses can’t get out of the hole.

You may be wondering if you are stuck in this hole. Some of the questions you can ask yourself that will help you identify if you are in this hole are as follows:

  1. Are you working extra hours, while your employees are going home on time?
  2. Do you have a work backlog with many items being dependent on you to start/progress?
  3. Are you doing things your employees should be doing or can do at a lower cost?
  4. Are you doing things that you are not an expert at?
  5. Are you doing work that is a level below your job title?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you are officially stuck in the hole, and you need to find a way to delegate more in order to manage your own workload and keep your employees engaged.

Before getting to how to delegate, let’s talk a little about why even good managers have a hard time with delegation.

Why is delegation so difficult?

There are several reasons why delegation is difficult. Let’s talk about the main reasons why bosses have a hard time letting go.

1. Bosses buy into “The Myth”

Even though bosses that delegate get better results, some bosses choose not to delegate because they are holding onto the belief that “if you want something done right, then do it yourself.” This is a management myth. You can’t do everything yourself, and if you try you will end up neglecting your priorities and falling short on team goals.

(Do you know what work is taking up your time? Use the activity log delegation worksheet as a delegation tool to find out)

activity log delegation worksheet

2. Managers don’t take the time to be good with people

Delegation is also hard, because managing people is difficult. People are stubborn, even the best employees. People don’t like being told what to do, and you may fear what will happen when you ask your employees for help. Sometimes it may seem easier to do something yourself than it is to figure out the best way to assign your team members appropriate tasks.

3. Managers don’t trust their employees

Another problem managers that don’t delegate well experience is they don’t trust their employees to do a good job. Do you experience any of the following?

  1. Does checking, correcting, redoing or finishing your employee’s work take up a lot of your time?
  2. Do your employees seem uncommitted to results?
  3. Does your team need you around to function?
  4. Do you feel that employees don’t take the care and attention that you would? and
  5. Do you feel stressed or uninformed about employees progress?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then chances are, you don’t trust your employees to do a good job and/or to work independently. Additionally, if you answered “yes” to these questions, it’s a sign that the way you delegate isn’t working, and it’s time to turn it around.

What happens when you effectively delegate?

effective delegation

We talked a little bit about what happens when you don’t effectively delegate. Now let’s take a look at the bright side: what happens when you do manage to delegate effectively?

Effective delegators enjoy the following benefits:

  • Your team will start accomplishing goals more quickly.
  • Your employees will want to learn and grow.
  • You can use delegation as a motivational tool for growth, especially when tasks you don’t want to do can be an attractive development opportunity for an employee.
  • As talented as you are, you’re not the best at everything. The beauty of diversity means that there’s someone out there who is better than you at some tasks.
  • Your employees can dedicate the attention and time that you don’t have.

Not only do effective delegators enjoy benefits as a manager, but as you learn to delegate, you’ll notice your employees are more motivated, become better at their jobs, and are more committed to your firm. This is also a huge win for you as a manager. Here are some of the ways that your employees will find healthy delegation motivational in the workplace:

  1. Right now your employees have skills that are being wasted because they’re not getting used. Your employees want to do what they’re good at. Delegation can help your employees find this fulfilment so they don’t have to leave to find it elsewhere.
  2. Your employees want to progress. Delegating responsibilities to staff is like a small promotion but without the increase.
  3. Your employees want to grow and learn new things.
  4. Your employees want to be entrusted with responsibilities, to make a contribution, and to be valued.

As you can see, delegating is a cheap and efficient way improve the daily workings of your company as well as to motivate your staff.

Resource: Delegation success starts with picking the right things to delegate, use the “How to Identify what to Delegate” as a delegation tool.

Now that we have identified some of the signs of being a bad delegater, let’s talk about what effective bosses do, and how you can improve your delegation game. Keep reading. You won’t regret it.

How can you become better at delegation?

To become better at delegation, you have to take a long hard look at they way you do things now, and be willing to change. That’s hard for anyone to do, but not impossible. Here are some of the top ways you can become better at delegation.

1. Evaluate what you can and can’t do

There is no one who knows your schedule and abilities better than you do. When you get a new project, take the time to determine what needs to be done, and what you should be contributing to the project. Determine what it is you can do and what it is you can’t do. You may want to consider your job responsibilities, your skillset, your other priorities, your deadlines, and your timeline. Once you have evaluated your schedule, focus on your strengths, pick the most suitable tasks, and then hand the rest off to your team mates. Remember, you don’t have to hand off important tasks to just anyone. Take the time to hone in on particular team member’s strengths and assign them a task you are confident they can complete. It may take more time initially and require you to relinquish some control, but it’s worth it.

2. Defer when you need to

Delegating is what happens after you have a task assigned to you, but what about when someone asks you to do something before it actually gets assigned? If you know you and/or your team can’t handle the task, it’s okay to defer to another department. This is especially true if someone is assigning your team the wrong task. For example, let’s say you manage a team of salespeople, and one of your executives wants you to develop some marketing copy. This is a perfect opportunity to defer to the marketing team. That way, you don’t have to worry about delegating a responsibility to someone on your team who isn’t qualified for the job.

3. Let your employees surprise you

You are talented, smart, and good at your job. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be the boss or won’t be the boss for long. However, your employees are also talented, smart, and good at their jobs. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have hired them. Remember that each of your team members was hired on to help contribute to a larger goal. If you don’t give them the opportunity to work on projects, then the only thing you are doing is robbing the company of their talents, and allowing them to watch cat videos all day. Instead, let your employees do their jobs and be open to new approaches.

4. Check in with employees

delegation to employees

Trusting your employees take part in big projects doesn’t mean that you let them go wild and never check in with them. In fact, being good at delegation means assigning your team members a task and then following up with feedback and direction. It’s true that sometimes your employees will miss the mark, but that doesn’t mean you should take the project away from them and try and do it yourself. Instead, set expectations and goals from the get-go, set milestone meetings, and correct and instruct as you go along. It will take way less time to check in with your employees and you’ll end up with a much better product than if you did it yourself or if you didn’t take the time to provide feedback.

5. Be clear about the desired outcome

A huge part of delegating effectively is communicating effectively. If you take the time to sit down with your employees before the start of a project and communicate clearly with them about the desired outcome, you’ll find they do a good job. Making sure everyone on the same page is worth its weight in gold when it comes to moving a project along. If you are worried that you haven’t communicated properly, then remind employees they can come to you with questions at any time.

6. Match the responsibility with the skill set

It seems obvious that you shouldn’t ask your copywriter to design a brochure and you shouldn’t ask your designer to make a sales call. It’s easy to blur lines, especially if your firm is small, but it won’t serve you. When it comes to delegating effectively, take the time to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees and then play to their strengths. Assign tasks to employees with the skills that match the job.

7. Include your team in the process

Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have to be bossy. When you get a new project, consider bringing your team together and asking them to be part of the delegation process. In other words, let them step up to the plate and snag an assignment that fits in with their skill set and schedule. You may find better ways to divvy out projects when everyone is involved.

8. Avoid upward delegation

What is upward delegation? I’m glad you asked. Upward delegation is when the person you delegated to tries and return the project to you for whatever reason. Don’t allow this to happen. Instead, take time to clarify the goals and outcomes of the project. You can also make yourself available to answer questions, but be firm when it comes to making sure your employees are responsible for completing their own projects.

9. Set deadlines

Projects can get out of hand when you don’t set deadlines for completion. If you don’t set deadlines for your employees, you may find yourself doing way more work than you ever planned on, and the project may suffer as a result. Instead, before the project starts, set deadlines of when the project needs to be completed. This will help ensure your delegation tactics are working and that everything will come together in the end.

Of course, you won’t become a perfect delegator over night, but as you implement some of the above strategies, you’ll find your employees are happier, you are meeting deadlines, and that you are growing as a company.


You may not be able to clone yourself and go to work, do others work, and be surfing at the beach all at the same time. But, you can develop skills that will help you manage your time and the time of your firm better. The closest that you can come to creating another copy of yourself is to delegate your work to an employee. Effective managers are pros at delegation, they delegate a lot and they delegate well. Effective bosses don’t just delegate to manage their own workload. Truly great bosses know how to use delegation in management as a motivational tool to:

Personally for me when I hold onto things because I want to do them my way then I find they don’t get done. But when I let go and delegate to my employees then I make more progress. And it’s really satisfying when I get back work that’s done better than I could’ve done it myself.

Remember, delegation is an essential manager skill, to be a better boss, start with improving your own delegation skills with delegation training. Delegation Essentials is a free, online management training course. And you can even earn a certificate for your resume.

About the Author:

Keith Tatley Keith Tatley is a reforming Chartered Accountant. He started Manager Foundation to help bosses recruit, motivate and retain employees using ethical management methods. Start your journey to be a better boss today by finding out your Boss SuperPower at

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