Delegation of Authority: 6 Ways to Empower Employees

Aug 18, 2022 | Professional Development

Delegation of authority helps organizational processes to flow smoothly. In fact, good people management revolves around it. Why? Sharing authority among team members eases the burden on managers. As a result, it helps avoid issues like bottlenecks.

So, by delegating authority, managers and companies can boost their success. 

That’s why leadership author John C. Maxwell says,  “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” 

Let’s discuss what delegation of authority means in more depth. Then, we’ll dig into its importance and how to do it effectively.

Table of Contents

1. What Does Delegation of Authority Mean

2. The Benefits and Potential Pitfalls of Delegation of Authority

3. The Process of Delegating Authority

4. The Delegation of Authority Matrix

5. Good and Bad Examples of Delegation of Authority

What Does Delegation of Authority Mean

Delegation of authority doesn’t just mean offloading tasks. Rather, it means giving someone else authorization to do something. 

“Often, managers think that they are delegating when they assign tasks to employees,” says SHRM. “Real delegation is assigning responsibility for outcomes along with the authority to do what is needed to produce the desired results.” By SHRM’s definition, good delegation typically includes delegating authority.

Several types of authority can be delegated:

  • Projects and tasks. You can give an employee ownership of a project or task. That person may then direct others in completing it. They may also decide whom to appoint to specific roles. Or, they may decide when and how to complete a task individually. For example, an employee could have authority to carry out analysis as they see fit. 
  • Decision-making. You can specify which employees have authority to make particular decisions. For example, certain staff may decide when to order office supplies.
  • Supervision of teams. You can delegate authority over a permanent or ad hoc team. The team then reports to this leader. 

Managers can delegate authority for specific projects or on an ongoing basis. Let’s take a quick look at each of these scenarios.

Examples of Delegating Authority

Scenario 1: Temporary Authority

Your department is planning the launch of a new app. So, you’ve appointed an employee to bottom-line the process. He has authority to assign tasks and oversee progress. 

Scenario 2: Ongoing Authority

You’ve created a new digital marketing team and appointed a leader. That employee becomes head of the digital marketing team. So, she has authority to make decisions that relate to its daily activities. 

When you delegate authority, you’re accountable for ensuring others use it wisely. That means checking in often and monitoring their performance. We’ll discuss best practices for delegation of authority in a moment.

Delegation of Authority vs. Delegation of Responsibility 

Authority involves being granted certain permissions that allow one to accomplish a project or task. Holding responsibility for a task means being accountable for completing it. 

Delegation of authority gives employees greater autonomy. Rather than taking someone else’s lead, it empowers them to take action on their own. Having authority prompts them to respond to needs without being asked. 

Often an employee holds both authority and responsibility for a task or process. However, that’s not always the case. An employee could hold responsibility without authority. That person would then be carrying out orders (or group decisions). Without authority, the person would have less autonomy in how to complete it.

Alternatively, an employee could have authority over certain tasks but not responsibility for an entire project. That person might be authorized to make particular decisions. Meanwhile, someone else would act as project manager.

Delegating responsibility without authority can prevent projects from moving forward. When delegating responsibility, assign an appropriate level of authority. 

Employees managing a project may still need to run big changes by you. However, they should propose those changes, stating their rationale. They should also be able to make key project decisions. And they may need to delegate tasks to coworkers. 

The Benefits and Potential Pitfalls of Delegation of Authority

Man in suit and man in jacket discussing delegation of authority
Credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator/Pexels

Delegating authority has the following benefits:

  • Increasing efficiency. It reduces bureaucracy so teams can act without hesitation.
  • Growing skills. Employees stretch their abilities by assuming greater authority.
  • Heightened engagement. Work becomes more interesting when people have higher-level responsibilities.
  • Greater investment. Employees feel more invested in projects when they have a more important role to play.
  • Boosting work/life balance. Organizations can enhance wellness by sharing duties among more people. In particular, this eases managers’ stress.
  • Allowing managers to focus on higher-level priorities. By delegating, managers can focus on developing people and other key responsibilities.
  • Preparing people to lead. With increased authority and responsibility, employees prepare for higher-level roles.

What, then, are the drawbacks of not delegating authority?

  • Getting caught up in micromanaging. If supervisors have to make every micro-decision, work happens very slowly. This seriously limits productivity. 
  • Decreased trust. Employees may feel mistrusted if they have little authority. 
  • Holding up projects. Too many tasks may sit on one manager’s shoulders, creating roadblocks.
  • Limiting people’s potential. Employees don’t stretch their strengths. Meanwhile, managers lack time for personal growth.

Now, let’s explore how to delegate authority effectively.

The Process of Delegating Authority

Three women of colour discussing delegation of authority in office
Credit: Christina Morillo/Pexels

How does delegating authority work? Here are the key steps we’ve identified:

  • Consider who would benefit from the opportunity and has time for it. Also consider who would enjoy taking it on.
  • Explain the authority you are delegating. Ensure the other person fully understands you and is on board. Outline the deliverables you expect, if applicable.
  • Tell people how much autonomy they have to complete the task, as HBR writes. Spell out any guidelines they must adhere to. Give them autonomy in when and how they complete it, if possible.
  • Provide training and guidance. At the same time, encourage independent thinking.
  • Make sure others understand the authority this person holds. Ensure they are working cooperatively with the employee.
  • Set times for check-ins and specify their format. Will you expect progress updates by email, followed by one-on-ones?
  • Give feedback on a regular basis. If the employee is using this authority on a daily basis, provide daily feedback. View missteps as chances to learn. Encourage employees to move forward with their newfound knowledge.

Taking all of these steps will help ensure a seamless transfer of authority. Make sure to stay positive, helping employees build confidence along the way.

The Delegation of Authority Matrix

A delegation of authority matrix is a chart that displays responsibilities held by each employee. It provides a quick-reference guide to who holds which types of authority. 

Often this chart displays responsibilities throughout an organization. But companies may also use a delegation of authority matrix for a project. It might outline, for instance, who can sign particular contracts or approve certain changes.

Good and Bad Examples of Delegation of Authority

Considering delegating authority? Make sure you’re following best practices. We’ll share some key tips for success and what to avoid.

Effective Delegation of Authority: Best Practices

How can you delegate authority effectively? These steps will ensure a smooth hand-off of authority.

  • Express confidence in employees’ abilities. Explain why you’re trusting them with certain types of authority.
  • Set clear ground rules. State the reason why you’re giving the authority. And share conditions for its use.
  • Clarify how to use their authority. Do they need special authorization to log into a platform or make a purchase? Do they need to run their decision by a senior leader before implementing it? Explain how the process of exercising their authority works. 

Encourage them to flex their problem-solving muscles. “If you jump in too early and too often with insights, your peers and direct reports will never have an opportunity to develop their own expertise,” Sabina Nawaz writes in HBR.

  • Stay available to consult with employees. “Some decisions within a project will be more significant than others. These may be ones that your empowered team members may still want to consult with you on,” says the Wharton School. “When questions come up, instead of providing your way of doing things, first ask the employee about their ideas.” Then talk the idea through together.
  • Ensure accountability. Determine if people are using their authority well. Are they interacting with others effectively? Are they acting in a timely manner? Conduct performance reviews on a quarterly basis to share in-depth feedback. And use performance tracking software to give clear, ongoing feedback.

What to Avoid in Delegating Authority

Steer clear of these missteps when handing off authority!

  • Giving too much, too soon. Strive to give employees an appropriate level of authority. And let them get used to managing one or two new things at a time. Otherwise, they may feel overwhelmed and lose confidence.
  • Creating competition. Try to delegate authority in a balanced way. Sure, you may need to appoint a leader at times. But when possible, give different types of authority to various employees.
  • Not clarifying goals and guidelines. Don’t leave employees guessing exactly what they’re supposed to do and why. This will undermine their confidence and set them up to fail. 
  • Waiting until you’re overwhelmed to delegate. Set yourself up for success by delegating in calmer times. Then, you’ll adequately support employees through the transition. You’ll be less likely to tell yourself, “I can do it more quickly myself.”

With good delegation of authority, you’ll see morale and engagement increase. Employees will feel more enthused and energized about their work. And you’ll minimize busy work for yourself by trusting in their abilities!

Want to learn how performance management software can help delegate authority? Demo our product to see for yourself.

Related Articles