How to Delegate Tasks to Subordinates

Updated on September 26, 2016
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

Delegating responsibilities demonstrates the supervisor's faith in his/her suboridnates.
Delegating responsibilities demonstrates the supervisor's faith in his/her suboridnates. | Source

The Art of Delegation

With lean budgets and fewer number of employees to do the same amount of work, employers have had to learn to work with less. The fact is, the economic challenges over the last few years have required changes in how employers conduct business. Managers have had to delegate tasks to subordinates and reassign work due to heavy workloads that can no longer be handled by the person who might have previously conducted the same task. The workplace is just not what it used to be. Employers have learned a new way to do old business while continuing to grow. Practicing the art of delegation has been a resource used more frequently by managers in years past because they know they cannot do it all. When work is delegated appropriately, managers can meet the goals of the organization in a manner that is efficient and effective. Subsequently, employees benefit from being able to shine as they grow and develop professionally from the experience.

Definition of "Delegation"

"Delegation," as defined by the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is "the act of empowering to act for another."

In the workplace, supervisors often delegate responsibilities, specific tasks or duties, to an employee. The delegation of such tasks allows this employee to make certain decisions that they normally would not make. The act of empowering an employee to execute a task or take over a responsibility is a great resource for any organization because it allows employees to gain valuable work experience. The practical experience to be gained by actually doing the work, versus watching others do it, can be rewarding.

In some organizations, supervisors are reluctant to delegate responsibilities. For these supervisors, there is a need to have total control of everything under their authority. Others take this controlling philosophy further by assuming that the only way to get something done right is to do it yourself. To think that one can do everything alone is foolishness because it takes the effort of the entire team to be really successful. The reasons for supervisors to delegate responsibilities to subordinates varies. The end result, however, can be rewarding for the employee, supervisor, and the workplace.

Why do supervisors delegate?

Supervisors choose to delegate tasks to subordinates for a variety of reasons. Common reasons to delegate are:

  • opportunity for professional growth - Employees who are delegated new responsibilities are given an opportunity to excel at a task that has been entrusted to their care and direction. Supervisors delegating certain tasks are selecting someone who can perform the work in a manner that will lead to a successful result.
  • cross training - Smart supervisors know that an effective organization includes a well-rounded staff who can step in to cover when the supervisor is out due to sickness or vacation. Delegating tasks allows for this opportunity.
  • new projects and tasks for employer - If the organization has been given a new responsibility, supervisors might find the new task as a great opportunity for the delegation of new responsibilities. Since the task delegated should be one the supervisor would do, the new task might be something new to the organization that could require the dilligence of the subordinate with the oversight of the supervisor. While the supervisor should not be overbearing or scrutinizing every move, the supervisor should make him or herself available should the subordinate with the new delegated task needs some assistance or direction.
  • limited staff in the organization - Reduced staff from budgetary constraints necessitates organizations to reassign tasks from time to time. Supervisors often assess their staff for their strengths and weaknesses to determine the best person to perform the delegated task. As supervisors will be stretched thin to continue to be "hands-on" in much of the work, it often becomes necessary to delegate some responsibilities to subordinates.
  • need to demonstrate support for team - Delegation of responsibilities demonstrates the confidence that the supervisor has for his/her subordinates under their supervision to take over the responsibility.

The bottom line for most supervisors is that they cannot do everything themselves. Any supervisor who thinks that they can is foolish because it takes the contribution of everyone on the team for an organization to be successful . Supervisors should remember that when their employees shine, so do they. In addition, by entrusting certain responsibilities to employees, the supervisor is demonstrating their trust and faith in the team. Every employee in an organization has a contribution to make to the success of the organization. To think that any goals that are reached or any success that is experienced is not due to the employees who help reach those goals is shortsighted of the supervisor. Great leadership is necessary for the purpose of leading and setting good examples for the team. However, it takes the efforts of the entire team to be successful. Delegating tasks to the appropriate staff will help the supervisor lead others to their own professional development.

Selecting the right person for the job.

Once a supervisor has determined the need for the delegation of a responsibility, the next step will be selecting the best person for the task. Delegating tasks to employees must be done in a manner that ensures a successful experience for the employee entrusted with the new opportunity. While there are certainly many levels of responsibilities and significance of reassigned tasks, there are some similar things to consider on the part of the supervisor. Some useful things to consider when deciding to delegate responsibilities are:

  1. Never delegate a task to a subordinate in anger. Let cooler heads prevail by truly examining the nature of the work, and who on the team has the ability to be successful at performing it. Delegating a task should never be done in anger or as punishment.
  2. Select the person with relevant experience and training. In order to select the best person for the task, supervisors should take a look at the experience, education and training that the individual team members have. Since the supervisor wants the employee to be successful, it will be important to select the employee who has the capability to perform the delegated tasks.
  3. Don't take no as an answer. Since the opportunity to take on the responsibility may be somewhat daunting to the selected employee, it will be necessary to offer the task in a supportive way to let the employee know they will not be "thrown to the wolves". Rather, the supervisor should be in constant communication to show support for this employee and their faith that they will get the job done.
  4. Reward good performance. Delegating a task is an opportunity to reward good performance and offer a new occasion to see an employee shine and grow professionally.
  5. Don't let personal biases be the determining factor for the selection of the employee. Supervisors must always select the employee in a manner that is for business reasons only. Leaving all biases out of the selection of the employee is paramount because this task an be seen as a perk. Delegation should not be an occasion for favoritism to be displayed.

Communication is crucial

Once the decision to delegate has been made, and the subordinate has been selected, it will be important for the supervisors to to check back with the employee periodically to offer any support or guidance needed. Communication with that employee becomes crucial because it offers another opportunity to display the faith that entrusted the employee with the delegated responsibility. Supervisors may choose to require these employees to provide regular updates on the progress of the task. In addition, during regular meetings and the annual performance evaluation meeting, supervisors may give some important feedback about how the delegated responsibility is progressing. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback to the supervisor.

Delegation can strengthen the workplace

As mentioned above, every employee in the workplace has a valuable contribution to make toward reaching the goals of the workplace. The strengthened bonds that will exist between supervisors and employees will be a direct result of the experience the employee gains through being entrusted with a delegated task. The need for the employee and supervisor to work with one another to communicate any issues that are occurring will be satisfied when both employee and supervisor meet regularly to discuss the work being done. The working relationship can certainly be improved as trust is established regularly between the supervisor and subordinate. Employers who utilize delegation for the appropriate reasons and for the individuals who can handle the responsibility will be more successful due to the unified performance of supervisors and subordinates.

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