5 Steps to Effective Delegation

Delegation is an essential tool that frees up time to focus on those things we do best, allowing us to add the most value to the firm. Unfortunately, it is often a tool that never makes it out of the toolbox.

There are a number of reasons cited for hesitancy to delegate:

  • "No one other than me can do it.”
  • "Only I can do it correctly.”
  • "Everyone is busy, and there is no one to delegate to.”
  • "I will spend just as much time giving direction as I would simply doing it myself.”

While these may all be valid, they are also obstacles that can be overcome with a little thought and clear communication, prior to delegation. This article provides tips and techniques to improve the delegation process, as well as help you to transition from doing things yourself to doing things through others.

The delegation process entails five essential steps that you must follow. Do not attempt to merely off-load work – a little upfront thinking and planning can greatly increase the chances that a task is completed successfully and to your satisfaction.

  1. Select the Right Person. Match skills and capabilities with the task. Your selection should be based on talents, not simply on convenience.
  2. Specify the Desired Result. Communicate clearly the result you are looking for (expectations) and specify what it looks like when it is done well (criteria).
  3. Set a Deadline. A reasonable timeframe creates accountability.
  4. Determine Authority. Determine the level of authority you intend to grant those taking action and making decisions. Make sure each individual understands that authority level.
  5. Track Progress and Results. Set up a mechanism for reporting progress and communicating issues.

A Closer Look at Authority Levels

If a delegator is not completely satisfied with either the result, or the manner in which the result was achieved, it is likely the result of a breakdown in communication. The delegator must clearly communicate expectations and criteria; however, he or she must first determine the authority level appropriate for the delegate’s task. Here is a breakdown of the different authority levels:

Level 1: Enough authority to simply assess and research the task/decision and report back before taking any action.

Level 2: Enough authority to execute the task/decision, while providing regular progress reports.

Level 3: Enough authority to execute the task/decision with a report only on the final result.

Level 4: Enough authority to execute the task/decision with no requirement to report back –"Just take care of it!”

Determining the level of authority is critical. There is nothing more frustrating for a delegate than to be offered responsibility and authority to make a decision – only to find out the only "correct” approach is one the delegator would have taken. Once the level of authority is established, the delegator is much better equipped to understand expectations and criteria in his or her own mind, and clearly communicate those to the delegate.

Delegation Dos & Don’ts

Following these simple guidelines in the delegation process will also increase the likelihood of success:


  • Constantly update priorities.
  • Help the delegate understand the task or decision’s priority level. He or she must also be informed immediately if that changes.
  • Clarify expectations.
  • Outline what the finished product looks like when it is done well.
  • Provide support to the delegate.
  • Providing feedback, acting as a sounding board and answering questions will help ensure success.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Clear communication about expectations, criteria, timelines and authority levels are all key to a successful delegation process.


  • Expect the delegate to read your mind.
  • The delegate can’t possibly know your expectations, criteria, timelines and authority levels, unless you communicate them.
  • Avoid "drive-by” delegation.
  • Using convenience to delegate (the first person you see) often results in a mismatch between talents and the task/decision.
  • Underestimate the time and effort required.
  • It is best to collaborate with the delegate, in order to determine realistic timelines. This ensures everyone is committed to the same deadlines.
  • Micromanage.
  • The level of authority will determine how closely you need to manage the delegate. This should always be clearly communicated so that there are no surprises.
  • Delegate your unique abilities. Unique abilities are those that you do best and enjoy doing. They are also those that typically add the most value to the firm. Do not delegate activities for which you are highly skilled in performing!