Tips for effective delegation
Delegation is a key management skill. In principal delegating sounds easy and there are people who can do it so well they make it look effortless. However, passing the baton in a work environment requires trust and effective communication. For some of us, delegation may be the hardest to put into practice. 

Penny van der Westhuizen, one of our amazing project managers has taken her years of experience managing cross-functional teams to share insights and tips on effective delegation. 

What is delegation?

Delegation is the practice of giving one of your colleagues the authority to make decisions within defined areas of responsibility; to authorize someone to do a job on your behalf. It does not mean that you are free from the responsibility for it. You still continue to be accountable, if things go wrong. 

“Delegating doesn't mean passing off work you don't enjoy but letting your employees STRETCH their skills and judgment.” Harvey Mackay
Harvey Mackay
The benefits of delegation
  • For you: It will provide more time and energy to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing, leading, and managing.
  • For staff: Builds confidence, and helps with job satisfaction and professional development.
  • For your team: Fresh perspectives on the task, and provides cover when you are on leave.
  • For the company: Develops future leaders.
Pitfalls to avoid when delegating

Sounds amazing right? So why do so many people get it wrong? These are some of the reasons why you may not be getting the desired results when delegating:

  • Underselling – don’t trivialize the task or duty you’re handing over.
  • Overselling – don’t over-hype the task, you may give the delegate a conflicting sense of priority.
  • Supervise too closely. 
  • Supervise not nearly enough.
  • Usurping their authority – don’t under-cut or overrule the delegate.
How to Delegate More Effectively

1. Know your work

What are the tasks/projects that need to be completed, and how will you know when they have been completed successfully? Focusing on SMART objectives and breaking them down further into subtasks, subprojects, or sub-objectives. 

2. Plan backward

Planning backward is a good practice. Start with the goal and then mentally plan the steps required to meet the goal, in reverse chronological order. This has a powerful effect and enhances the likelihood of goals being achieved.

3. Identify the team member

Engage with the assigned team member. Assignments should be based on their level of experience, knowledge, skill, and motivation. Take the following into consideration and action accordingly:  

  • Do they have the confidence to tackle the role?
  • Is it a big stretch for them? 
  • Do they need extra training and support? 
  • Are you really clear on what is needed from them in order to get the work done?
4. Have the conversation with the individual

Outline the task, and how it fits into the broader scheme of things as well as what you think is the sensible pieces of the task. Explain the why and the how. 

Get their views on what you are proposing. Bear in mind that in many work situations the people at the “sharp-end” (closest to the work to be done) have a much better sense of how things can best be achieved. 

Discuss and agree on the SMART objectives. If the individual feels they are going to hit a blocker, you will need to explore why and how you might be able to help them achieve the objectives. 

5. Record agreements and timelines

Confirm in writing what has been agreed, timelines and when check-ins will happen to monitor progress. 

6. Provide ongoing feedback

Prioritize and focus your feedback. Consider the feedback’s potential value to the receiver and how you would respond – could you act on the feedback? As well, too much feedback provided at a single time can be overwhelming to the recipient. Your feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. Use the following feedback tips:

  • Concentrate on the behavior, not the person. 
  • Balance the content of the feedback, and also focus on the positive.
  • Be specific. 
  • Be realistic. 
  • Own the feedback. 
  • Be timely. 
  • Offer continuing support. 
In short, good delegation practices focus on: 
  • Delegating the whole job
  • Clearly defining success
  • Offering support and an open line of communication
  • Identifying clear check-in meetings and project gateposts
  • Signaling trust in your people and a desire for their development
  • Delegating on the basis of competence and commitment to the project
Delegation framework
Delegation framework
Penelopie Van der Westhuizen

Penny van der Westhuizen

Project Manager

Additional resources