Steps to Effective Delegation

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In leadership, delegation refers to the sharing or transferring of responsibilities, typically from a superior (or an employer) to a subordinate (or an employee). Delegation of authority is a concept that is often practiced by leaders due to its utility in increasing employee motivation while also achieving positive returns for organizations and managers. The objective of this section is to introduce the concept of delegation, explore the main benefits of delegation, and to encourage learners to strategize their way through barriers they may face in delegating to others.

Delegation is not some mysterious art available only to a chosen few. It is a basic management process that can be learned and honed to a fine edge by anyone who is willing to make the effort and able to get some practice (Maddux, 1997).


Activity #1

CASE STUDY: The Do-It-Yourself Manager

Joanne is an extremely capable and enthusiastic professional. Recently, she has been promoted to manage a group of five other individuals who are completing work very similar to her own past assignments. Joanne began her new position thinking, “I was promoted because of my excellent performance in past assignments. Therefore, I must have greater expertise than any other member of my team. I can probably do most of the work better and faster than they can. I will train them when I have time, but right now I better concentrate on getting the work out.” As a result, Joanne did not pass on any major assignments to her employees; she did the work herself. As time passed, her hours of work increased and she was less and less available to her team and to her own supervisor, with whom coordination was important. Her employees were given only the most routine work, received no training, and actually knew very little about major projects in progress. One actually resigned because of the lack of challenge and personal growth. Joanne was too busy to replace him. Finally, after two months, Joanne’s supervisor called her in to discuss her performance.


Reflection Exercise

How to complete this activity and save your work: Type your responses to the questions in the box below. When you are done answering the question navigate to the ‘Export’ page to download and save your response. If you prefer to work in a Word document offline you can skip right to the Export section and download a Word document of this exercise there.

(Adapted from Robert B. Maddux, Delegating for Results, 1997.)


Activity #2


  1. You don’t want to lead an army of one
  2. You’ve moved from doing to directing
  3. You are responsible for the growth of others
  4. You can’t get everything done yourself
  5. You don’t want to create indispensable and unpromotable people
  6. You need to get the best return on your personnel dollars
  7. You can increase your influence
  8. You will have more time for important issues that specifically require your skillset
  9. Succession planning
  10. Delegation benefits the team and the unit


Reflection Exercise


Steps of Delegation 

Step1:  Analyze Your Tasks

This step will help you to assess whether you are working on your most important priorities while developing others. What tasks no longer need to be done? What tasks can you partially or fully delegate? What can only be done by you?

Step 2:  Select the Delegate

To ensure you select the best person to delegate to, assess their abilities, interests and needs. What are their strengths, development needs, and interests? What new responsibilities are they motivated to take on? Are they under or over capacity? Who on your team, therefore, is best suited to this task?

Step 3:  Define the Task

If the task objective is not clear in your mind, chances are it won’t be clear to the delegate.  Create a desired outcome for the task, such as: “complete the report with 100% accuracy by Friday at noon.” Determine what is non-negotiable and what decision-making authority the delegate will have. What milestones need to be met? What progress updates are required?

Step 4:  Provide Support

The delegate will likely need more support when completing a new and unfamiliar task. What information, knowledge, skills, and resources does the delegate need from you or someone else to be successful? How will these be provided?

Step 5:  Monitor and Review

Despite the best planning possible, any delegated task can meet its share of obstacles; therefore, you will need to ask yourselves: How will you ensure the agreed upon progress reporting occurs so that you are aware of obstacles early on? How will you provide coaching support so that obstacles can be resolved? How will you hold yourself and the delegate accountable to this?


Video: Derek Sivers’ TED Talk ‘How to Start a Movement’ (3:09)

People cannot grow and develop if they are over-supervised or not trusted to handle their normal duties and responsibilities (Mosley, et al., 1997).


Activity #3

Why do leaders choose not to delegate?

Since leaders are held accountable for results, some of them hesitate to delegate out of fear that their employees will make mistakes.

Some leaders believe that when they delegate, they surrender some of their power, thus decreasing their authority.

Some leaders feel compelled to control/dominate things completely.

Some leaders do not delegate because of a lack of trust in others.

Some leaders do not delegate because they are insecure and are afraid that their subordinates will do so well that they will be recognized and promoted ahead of the supervisors.

In some cases, some leaders realize that employees do not have the ability or maturity to handle tasks without close supervision.

(Adapted from Mosley, et al., 1997.)


Your Leadership Challenge

For one week, list all your tasks – anything you touch, write it down.

Then, identify which tasks you can either wholly or partially delegate (Step 1) and which you must retain.

Select one task you can delegate – not your most complex – and apply Step 2 through 5.

Assess what you learned from your experience.

What did you do well? What will you do differently next time?


Check Your Understanding


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Leadership for Nurses in Clinical Settings Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Kirsten Woodend, Dr. Catherine Thibeault, Dr. Manon Lemonde, Dr. Janet McCabe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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