Delegation of Authority

Delegation of Authority: A Step-by-Step Guide

Emily BarrAlignment & Direction, Leaders, Management Tips


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Delegation of Authority


Delegation of Authority: A Step-by-Step Guide


As we advance in our professional careers and rise in the ranks of our companies, the level of responsibility bestowed upon us increases and eventually reaches a point where it outpaces the number of hours available in our workday. Therefore, staff are assigned to managers and individuals in supervisory positions. A manager alone cannot perform all the tasks assigned to them. In order to meet their targets, they need to be able to delegate certain tasks to subordinates.  


What is Delegation of Authority? 

The delegation of authority refers to the division of authority to the subordinate. It is the organizational process of a manager dividing their own work among all their subordinates and giving them the responsibility to accomplish their respective tasks. Along with responsibility, they also share the corresponding amount of authority so that responsibilities can be completed efficiently. 

In other words, delegation of authority is the sharing of authority, and the monitoring of their efficiency by making subordinates accountable for their doings. Delegation is about entrusting another individual to do parts of your job, and to accomplish them successfully. There are three central elements involved in the delegation of authority: 


1. Authorityin the context of a company, authority is the power and right of an individual to use and allocate their resources efficiently, to make decisions, and to give orders to achieve the organizational objectives. This component should always be well defined – everyone with authority should know the scope of their authority.  

Essentially, it is the right to give command, meaning the top-level management always has the greatest authority.  Because of the symbiotic relationship between authority and responsibility, authority should always be accompanied by an equal amount of responsibility if the task is to be completed successfully. 


2. Responsibility: this refers to the specifics and scope of the individual to complete the task assigned to them.  Like the conflicts that can arise when someone is given too much authority with too little responsibility, responsibility without adequate authority can lead to discontent, dissatisfaction, and frustration for the individual. 

While authority flows from the top-down, responsibility flows from the bottom-up. Middle and lower-level management hold more responsibility. 


3. Accountabilitythis component refers to the process of providing explanations for any variance in an individual’s performance from the expectations that were set. Unlike authority and responsibility, accountability cannot be delegated. Rather, it is inherent in the bestowment of responsibility itself, and anyone who sets out to accomplish a task and take on a job in a company becomes accountable for the outcome of their efforts.  


The Key Features of Delegation of Authority 

Under the delegation of authority, the manager never surrenders their authority completely. Rather, they share certain responsibilities with their subordinates, and delegates how much authority is necessary to complete that task. 

The delegation of authority can manifest in many ways, depending on the management style and discretion of the superior. However, there are several key features of the process itself that all managers should keep in mind when delegating authority to their subordinates: 

  • Delegation means giving power to a subordinate to act independently, but within the limits prescribed by the superior. The subordinate must comply with the directions provided to them by the superior, as well as the provisions of the organizational policy, rules, and regulations.  
  • Once designated, authority can be expanded or withdrawn by the superior, depending on the situation. 
  • The manager or superior cannot delegate the authority which they themselves do not possess. Similarly, they cannot delegate their full authority to a subordinate. 
  • The delegation of authority may be oral or written and may be specific or general. This is all determined by the extent of authority being given, as well as the timeframe for which that authority is limited to. 
  • Delegation of authority is adaptable to various circumstances and business situations but must always comply with all the fundamental rules of an organization. 


The Zuckerberg Example 

The distinction between authority and responsibility is an important aspect of understanding delegation. A great example that illustrates the difference between the delegation of authority, and the delegation of responsibility, can be seen in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s response to the intense scrutiny Facebook and he faced following the 2016 presidential election.  

In a press release following the first breaking of the scandal, where Zuckerberg set out to address the narrative that Facebook did not adequately protect the personal information of its users, Zuckerberg used the word “responsibility” 17 times. He also said, “I started this place. I run it. And I am responsible for what happens here.”, taking full responsibility for the shortcomings of the platform and company. 

Facebook is a multibillion-dollar corporation, with tens of thousands of employees responsible for a multitude of tasks that keep operations moving. Like any other corporation, all those individual tasks have been delegated to someone other than Zuckerberg. However, in his statement, he reiterates that while other individuals have responsibilities, he is ultimately the highest authority figure that those responsibilities fall into.  

The concept of delegating authority, while maintaining responsibility, can be challenging for managers, especially in times of duress or when faced with obstacles. However, good managers recognize that with their authority comes the weight of ultimate responsibility, and thus, accountability. Managers should be trained from the outset on the expectation of holding themselves responsible for everything within their purview, regardless of their delegation decisions. 


Sprigg Performance Management
Sprigg Performance Management


The Process of Delegation of Authority 

Now that the key distinctions have been made, how do you actually go about delegating authority? As mentioned earlier, the delegation of authority is an adaptable process wherein the manager assigns responsibility to their subordinates, along with the certain authority necessary to accomplish those tasks on the manager’s behalf.  

The specific ways in which the steps unfold can vary depending on the company and the manager, but there are four key stages that the process of delegation always tends to follow: 


1. Assignment of Duties to Subordinates 

Before delegation can begin, the delegator needs to determine the duties which they want the subordinate(s) to perform. It is in this stage that the superior lists the activities they want to be performed by their subordinates, along with the targets to be achieved, and then communicates this to those recruited. Duties are then assigned to the subordinates, as per their job roles, rankings, and expectations. 


2. Transfer of Authority to Perform the Duty 

The second stage is when the delegator determines the necessary amount of authority required to perform the assigned duty and bestows that on the subordinate(s). During this phase, the manager must always ensure that the authority is strictly delegated just to perform the assigned responsibility, since disproportionate authority lends risk to misunderstanding by the subordinate.  


3. Acceptance of the Assignment 

It is in this stage that the subordinate can either accept or reject the tasks assigned to them. If the delegate refuses to accept the duty, and subsequently the authority to perform it, it is the responsibility for the delegator to either investigate as to why the delegate has refused or to identify another person who is capable and willing to undertake the assignment. Once the task is accepted by a subordinate, the process reaches its final stage. 


4. Accountability 

The process of delegation of authority concludes when an obligation is established on the part of the subordinate, that indicates the performance expectation and the amount of responsibility and authority assigned to him. Once the assignment is accepted, the subordinate becomes accountable for the completion of the duty and is held responsible to their superior for their performance.  


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In Summary 

A manager alone cannot perform all the duties assigned to them. They need to be able to successfully delegate authority and responsibility to their subordinates, dividing their workload effectively so they can reach their goals and ensure constant progression and development for their company. Delegation of authority is all about entrusting someone else to do parts of your own job and counting on their successful completion of those duties. This makes the process of delegation of authority one of the most important responsibilities of supervisors and superiors everywhere. If a manager’s subdivision of power and responsibility is distributed ineffectively, there can be serious consequences for the organization 


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