If you are a manager, there is only one reason that you have your position: to ensure the success of one or more vital functions of the organization.
Moreover, you are a manager because the function entrusted to you is too large for one person to fulfill alone. Otherwise you could fulfill your function as an individual contributor and would not need a team to manage.
So since the function is too large for you to fulfill alone, success depends on your ability to leverage your energy and skills. And this leverage comes in the form of skillful delegation.
Because good delegation is so vital, we should begin by defining it.
Delegation is the process by which management at any level entrusts a portion of its authority and a sub-set of its duties to a lower level of the organization.
This authority may be entrusted to an organizational unit, an individual, or a group of individuals (e.g., a task force or a work team).
Thus, delegation results in new tasking, a new set of duties for one or more parties at a lower level of the organization.
Yet, as simple and as straightforward as this idea might seem to be, there is often a debate in management circles as to what you delegate with this new set of duties. Do you delegate responsibility? Authority? Accountability?
Interestingly, even respected specialists in management theory disagree on this because there is no unversal consensus as to the meaning of the terms "responsibility," "authority," and "accountability" when it comes to delegation.
Without going into the nuances of this debate, let me make the following observations, then offer my own view as to what you delegate.
And the key phrase here is "limited authority." No manager can relinquish the ultimate authority that is inherent in his or her position. Nor can managers relinquish either their accountability or their ultimate responsibility for the function(s) within their purview.
But delegation is not a relinquishing of ultimate responsibility. It is instead a process by which sufficient revocable authority is entrusted to someone to permit that person to take on the immediate responsibility for the delegated duty.
Once delegation occurs, the manager still retains ultimate responsibility for the delegated duty. But the party to whom the duty was delegated now has immediate responsibility for it.
This distinction between ultimate responsibility and immediate responsibility is often overlooked when discussing what can and cannot be delegated. Failure to note this distinction is a primary reason that authorities on the subject of delegation sometimes disagree on its inner workings.
Now, to the degree that any amount of responsibility is transferred through delegation, there must be a commensurate transfer of authority. How much authority? That depends on the level of accountability which is levied on the party to whom the duty was delegated.
The amount of delegated authority must be sufficient to make the level of accountability realistic.
Here, then, is a summary of the inner dynamics of delegation. As a manager …
We can therefore amplify on our original definition of delegation with this further explanation of what delegation entails.
Delegation is the process by which sufficient revocable authority is entrusted to someone to permit that person to take on immediate responsibility for the delegated duty.
In our next issue we will lay out some proven guidelines for effective delegation.
© 2014, Dr. Mike Armour