by Phil Manington

What is delegation?

Delegation is not simply assigning tasks to subordinates; it is trusting them with the authority to act on your behalf – they can make decisions, make changes and take action without referring back to you.


Delegation: the entrusting of authority to a deputy.

Delegation is a style of management that puts decision-making and problem-solving at the most appropriate level of the organisation. It is not about telling people what to do and then just leaving them to get on with it.

Good delegation

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

General George Smith Patton Jr

Suppose that your team wants to start recycling office waste. You think you will delegate the job to the cleaners and instruct them to empty the bins every Friday, store the material and then take the accumulated waste to the recycling centre once a month. If the bins are full on Thursday, they still wait until Friday to empty them. If the store overflows after two weeks, it will continue to overflow for another two weeks. This is not good delegation.

Good delegation would involve delegating the job of collecting and disposing of the recycling in an effective and cost-efficient manner. You would trust the cleaners to empty the bins and visit the recycling centre as and when necessary.

You will need to clearly explain what you want them to achieve and then let them use their initiative to determine how best to go about the job. You might want to offer them some help here, depending on how experienced and capable they are, but your objective is to help them become experts on office recycling, not to become an expert yourself.

Key point

If something goes wrong, you remain responsible since you are the manager; delegation should never be used as an excuse for transferring failure to your subordinates.

To delegate work successfully to someone, you must ensure that

  • They know what you want
  • They have the authority to achieve it
  • They know how to do it
  • They have agreed that they will do it.