The Importance of Delegation of Authority in Management

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 October 2022

Published 26 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The responsibility for ensuring that all tasks get accomplished belongs to managers, but it's often not possible for them to perform all the duties on their own. A manager lightens their workload by assigning tasks to appropriate people within the team and allowing them to make decisions regarding the project. Thus, delegation of authority is one of the essential managerial skills that organisations seek while hiring for positions of authority. In this article, we discuss what delegation of authority is and explain how you can develop this skill.

What Is Delegation Of Authority?

The procedure of distributing tasks or responsibilities with their associated decisions to a subordinate employee on a temporary or long-term basis is delegation of authority.

All medium and large corporations have a hierarchy of positions. Usually, the managing director or chief executive officer holds the overall responsibility for the daily operations. However, it is not feasible to expect them to perform all the tasks of the organisation themselves. So, leaders assign the work along with the responsibilities and authority to make decisions to their employees. However, delegation always takes place top-down, and juniors cannot pass tasks on to their seniors.

In a successful company, success is an outcome of shared authority and responsibility, which allows the company to run in an organised manner. Delegation also promotes the development of employees and improves their decision-making abilities by enabling them to demonstrate their accountability and troubleshooting skills. It is the first step in recognising the potential in your employees to shoulder the responsibility of promotion, thus helping them to achieve their career goals.

Moreover, delegation of authority doesn't just benefit junior employees. Sometimes, managerial staff can get overburdened with essential activities. In such cases, they may assign some tasks to other employees on a short-term basis to save time. However, they are still accountable to their own superiors.

How To Delegate Authority Effectively

Once you have decided to hand over some of your assignments, use the following steps to make sure that the job is completed according to your satisfaction:

  1. Prepare a plan. The first step in delegating authority is to divide a big project into smaller, achievable tasks. Then, review the workforce and time constraints. Determine which tasks are appropriate for the employees within the team. To select the best candidate for handling those responsibilities, consider the qualifications, experience, past performance and any training history. Distribute the assignments by utilising suitable communication channels. You can either use email or conduct a meeting for this purpose. Explain to your team members why you chose them for those specific tasks.

  2. Provide clear instructions. Make your expectations clear from the beginning. Set the deadlines, milestones and furnish all details of the expected results. This information has to be completely unambiguous to avoid misunderstandings in the future. Before your teammates begin on their assignments, conduct a question and answer round to clarify doubts and provide any missing information.

  3. Grant proper authorisation. Some processes require adequate permissions and decision-making power. For example, suppose your acquisition manager wishes to procure raw materials to perform a certain duty. To be able to do that, the manager needs to know your suppliers. Additionally, they should have the authority to negotiate the prices and arrange for the delivery. Hence, granting proper and timely authorisation is extremely important.

  4. Follow up on tasks. However, autonomy can backfire at times when employees end up making wrong decisions. Ensure that the job is proceeding according to your expectations by asking for periodic updates. The employees should be required to report to you regularly so that you can solve any issues. Also, make sure you have some contingency plans in place in case something goes wrong.

  5. Analyse the results and provide feedback. Good leadership requires scouting for potential candidates who can take your place once you've moved on to other roles. A great way to do this is by analysing the results of delegated tasks to gauge the effectiveness of your team members. If you are particularly satisfied with an employee's performance, you can train them to handle more responsibilities. Conversely, provide constructive feedback to those who need improvement and avoid delegating further tasks until your next evaluation. Creating such a culture of support helps you build a fully functional team.

Differences In Delegation Levels

Delegation of authority happens in all sectors, but the implementation varies. In some industries, the scope of responsibilities is defined clearly so that every person carries out specific tasks according to their job descriptions. In other cases, the job descriptions allow for greater flexibility.

For example, the managing director or chairman of a company can assign entire departments to members of the board of directors depending on their specialisations. A project manager in a software company may ask senior developers to track their own issues and manage junior developers. Another example is of a marketing head who may concentrate on policy management and hand over daily operations such as hiring and creating campaigns to the assistant marketing manager.

However, in non-corporate industries, things work differently. For instance, in the armed forces, a high-risk sector where lives are often at stake, strategic or tactical decisions are restricted to the respective commanding positions. Low-level officers work within a strict code of conduct and they have a limited capacity for making decisions in the field.

In other sectors such as construction, employees are hired primarily for their specialised skills. Often, there is minimal overlap between departments even if they are all working on the same project. For example, the manager of the safety department would not hand over the policy decisions and buying of safety equipment to personnel in the engineering or design departments.

Thus, as a senior staff member, you have to consider the situation carefully before deciding to delegate authority.

The Principles Of Delegation

There are certain risks involved in handing over responsibilities. These risks are directly proportional to the scope of the project. A decision made by a lower-level employee may cause critical problems in the project or affect other departments in a chain reaction. As the scope of the project increases, the time and costs involved in reversing such incorrect decisions rise exponentially and may lead to expensive write-offs.

There are seven principles of delegation of authority that help to minimise such occurrences and which should be a part of the risk planning process:

  1. The scalar principle: This management rule states that all employees must follow the chain of command within an organisation. They should report to their respective line managers and be aware that only their immediate superiors are authorised to delegate duties.

  2. Principle of defining function: Subordinates should know the detailed requirements of the assignment and its impact on other jobs in the department. These requirements include the process, the exact nature of the task and any sub-tasks or activities involved.

  3. Principle of delegation by expected results: Effective delegation also depends on clarity in expectations. The manager should define the results and the metrics for assessing the quality of work clearly, which serves two purposes. It becomes easier to decide whom to delegate the tasks to, and employees are fully aware of what's expected of them. If you want your team members to do no more or less than what is asked of them, clarify that right at the beginning. There shouldn't be any confusion in the minds of employees regarding when to make decisions independently and when to approach seniors.

  4. Principle of unity of command: Different managers have their own leadership styles. Any employee should have to turn to only one line manager for performance evaluation, solution to problems and final reporting. In some cases, an employee has to follow the instructions of more than one senior, which can create confusion. Furthermore, it has a chance of damaging the professional relationship and causing division of loyalty.

  5. Principle of balance in authority and responsibility: Responsibility and power go hand-in-hand. A person without authority may not be able to carry out the necessary obligations. Conversely, too much autonomy can lead to abuse of power. So, it should be clear to everyone that while accepting any delegated task, it is their responsibility to perform according to expectations within the purview of the authority granted to them.

  6. Principle of authority level: Some managers may find it difficult to relinquish control. A few tend to micromanage, while others fear adverse outcomes. But if they always make the decisions for their juniors, they will never create worthy successors. Allowing employees to make their own decisions within the limits of their authority inspires confidence and trust. If there are any doubts, or if the progress is not satisfactory, communicating this problem with juniors and advising corrective measures helps to set them on the right course again.

  7. Principle of absolute responsibility: A junior employee is completely answerable to their immediate superior when accepting tasks and responsibilities. However, the manager remains responsible for the smooth operation of the project.


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