How to Delegate Authority and Tasks Using 3 Simple Questions

Do you delegate authority in your team? Or do you try to get everything done on your own?

In this article, you’ll learn the difference between two concepts of delegating – allocating tasks and delegating authority. We’ll show you three simple but effective questions to ask in order to delegate effectively.

Why Delegation?

Delegating authority to team members helps build trust and confidence in them. By delegating, your actions show that you trust the competency and outcome of your team members, no matter how experienced they may or may not be.

Delegation also encourages learning and effective communication. Having a culture of learning is vitally important to maintaining morale and developing people. In fact, in a study from the learning platform provider, Docebo, they identified that around 59% of employees from the UK and USA, believed learning affected their happiness levels.

Good delegation means allowing people to learn from mistakes and to continuously improve under your guidance.

The byproduct of delegating authority is that it helps improve productivity and profitability, as well. In other words, by learning from mistakes and encouraging continuous reflection and improvement, processes and systems are improved, as well as skills and competence.

Matthew Syed highlights similar positives to the approach of learning by failing, in his book, Black Box Thinking. He shows how transformational it can be when looking objectively at failures, so you can learn from these mistakes.

Deloitte’s study into employee engagement, found that companies with a strong learning culture, had employee engagement levels that were 30-50% higher than companies that don’t.

So, applying learning and lessons learned, seems to help improve employee engagement levels.

One of the ways to encourage learning is through delegating.

Delegation Versus Allocation

Before we delve into how to delegate and what questions to ask, let’s look at two terms that many people confuse to be the same.

Delegating Authority

Generally, with authority, that person has higher degrees of ownership and responsibility.

Decisions typically lie with them and they have the responsibility to get the job done.

This authority can be either in the form of a complete project or set of tasks, which is typical of delegating authority, or specifically in a small task or two.

It can also be formalized in a specific scheduling software for project management like this one, for example, or just verbally agreed. Flexibility allows for customization based on the complexity of the task and the communication style preferred by the involved parties.

The method of delegation can significantly influence the effectiveness of task execution and overall project outcomes.

When giving authority to someone, you’re giving them the opportunity to enhance their skills in their role and to take on more decision making and accountability.

Some examples are:

  • Running the department in the boss’ absence;
  • Working on an entire project on your own;
  • Leading a breakout team on a project;
  • Facilitating a project improvement initiative.

The point is, any project where the person has control over decision making, is where delegating authority largely sits.

Real authority and satisfaction come from managing the entire sequence of tasks (the whole project), rather than one or two tasks within it.

An example here is in my experience, where I was given the entire project to oversee and manage a new aerospace redesign project. I could have been given a lesser role, helping another project manager complete some brainstorming and analysis sessions for them.

Instead, i was given the entire project to make the product ready for manufacturing, ensuring:

  • All analysis is completed;
  • The teams are engaged and complete their actions on time;
  • All work is documented;
  • Capacity and risk analysis completed;
  • The project is completed to a deadline.

Being given this authority and responsibility allowed me to learn faster, develop my experience and increase my job satisfaction.

Did I make mistakes? Of course, but the act of reflecting on what worked and what didn’t, held me in good stead to do it again even better.

Allocating Tasks

At the other end ot the delegating spectrum is allocating tasks. These are often simple tasks that need to get done. They could be team tasks, or indeed tasks that are on your to do list that you can delegate to the team.

They are normally lower skilled and largely mundane actions. Here are some examples:

  • General admin tasks, like filing and processing information;
  • Setting up a meeting;
  • Ensuring metrics are collated and sent each week to management;
  • Process specific tasks that repeat (data entry, invoice payments, ordering product, etc).

Referring to the Eisenhower matrix, they are normally quadrant 3 items.

In other words, they are things that need to be done, but can be allocated to other people in the team, so you can focus on managing.

These tasks, in comparison do not consist of delegating authority; they merely ensure that people are accountable for what needs to be done.

For Growth Opportunities, Convert Task Allocation to Delegating Authority

In some instances, you may be able to take simple tasks that you assign, and convert them into more meaningful tasks that come with more authority and ownership. The more you do this, the more your team develop skills and capabilities (not to mention increased satisfaction).

Some examples of moving from allocating tasks to delegate authority, could be in the following:

  • Instead of ensuring the team metrics are completed each week, expand the task for someone to own: updating the metrics, completing the report and presenting it back to management;
  • Instead of arranging a meeting; arrange the meeting, set the agenda and lead the discussions in that meeting;
  • Instead of updating the customer onboarding database; update the database and oversee the onboarding of a customer from start to finish for an entire project.

See the difference? The more authority you delegate, the more your team grows in competency and effectiveness.

The key is to add additional tasks as they learn, so your employees can transition from playing a small part in a project or sequence of activities, to eventually, the owner of the entire project or work. It’s a method endorsed by Ken Blanchard and his Situational Leader framework. We’ve written a guide to help you get to grips with the concept.

Delegate Authority or Allocate Tasks?

The bottom line is that, as a manager, you will need to do both.

This means:

How to Delegate Authority: 3 Key Questions

Brian Tracy identifies three questions you should ask before you delegate authority or tasks.

So, before you take on the next activity yourself, as a leader, stop and ask the following questions, to see if you can share the love…

  1. Instead of you?
  2. Better than you?
  3. Can it be eliminated?

Step 1: The “Instead of You” Question

This involves listing the tasks, projects and commitments you have to do this week and asking; can anyone do this instead of you?

If so, place them on your delegation list.

Find people who are suited for the role you have in mind. Use the five generic motivations to help you match tasks with team members’ motivational needs.

For instance, if it’s more of a mundane task, can you find someone that is more motivated by security and resistant to change?

If you are looking to design and implement a new process, could you pass it to an adventurer, who would relish the opportunity?

If you are looking for somebody to stand in for you, is there a team member who values authority and power, and who is competent to do so?

Step 2: The “Better Than You” Question

Contrary to what some people believe, a leader shouldn’t be a technical expert. You see this a lot when someone who was good at their job in a technical discipline, is then promoted into a leadership position.

The problem is that as an expert, you’ll always tend to keep hold of these technical tasks. You’ll probably do them yourself, because you can get them done faster, not to mention you already have all the answers, so you may as well get on with it.

If you persist in this approach, you’ll always be swamped with questions. All things will go through you and you’ll struggle to manage a team and be the go-to expert. 

You need to move away from this by developing the next person who can be the expert in your field. Let them learn from you and make mistakes under your tutelage.

Other People May be Better

Where someone is generally better at a task, get them to do it. Throw your ego to the side. The best leaders don’t profess to know it all. They definitely don’t try to do it all.

They understand that the more competent the team is and the better their output, the more successful they are as a leader.

So, avoid the temptation to get hung up on how good you are, or how much of an expert you are.

Your focus should be as an expert leader.

Actively look for opportunities to delegate authority because people are better than you at doing that task.

Elon Musk openly admits that his success is built around his ability to surround himself with experts.

His philosophy is to build a team that gets results.

Look for people in your team that are experts.

Step 3: The “Can it Be Eliminated” Question

Similar to the Eisenhower matrix, these tasks are quadrant 4 activities.

Often, we get caught up in legacies in business.

These are things that if you asked why they happen, you’ll get a typical, “Because we’ve always done it,” answer. Chances are, some of the things that we’ve always done, just don’t need to be done, now.

Things move on. Processes change.

Identify all tasks and activities that you and the team complete, and question them.

For each one, ask “Can it be eliminated?” The fact is, many of them could well be eliminated with little effect on productivity and output.

So, whilst we are looking to delegate authority, let’s also look to see where we can get rid of the dead wood – the time sappers that don’t add value and which are causing unneeded diversion in time and resource.

Call Newport in his book deep focus, asks, If you didn’t do them today would the world stop spinning? If the answer is no, then perhaps  there may be some opportunity to eliminate it from the to do list.

Look through your tasks and see which ones that you can hand-on-heart say they’re not needed anymore.

Or indeed, that you can do less of.