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I know delegation is an important leadership skill but I often struggle with delegating tasks to members of my team. How can I strengthen this skill?

Industry Matters Newsletter
Bill Carroll, Carroll Applied Science, L.L.C.
Bill Carroll, Carroll Applied Science, L.L.C.

Three steps. But first understand that delegation is a matter of trust. People relish the idea of being allowed to create success—just like you do—learn to trust them to contribute as you backstop the whole operation.

  1. Set good ground rules.  Delegating responsibility is different from delegating authority.  In the first case, you retain the rights to call the shots while your team member gets the blame if it goes south.  People hate the former.  Always do the latter.
  2. Start small.  Inoculate yourself by turning over the wheel for smaller tasks, and gradually increase scope as people prove themselves.  Remember—those who create tend to defend.  You’re cultivating a group of committed stakeholders.
  3. Focus on outcomes, not pathways.  Within broad limits, how it turns out matters more than how you got there.  Learning to respect and understand someone else’s approach to a problem is another dimension of diversity.  You can’t allow toxic behavior—that becomes your teaching moment—but there’s generally more than one way to pet a cat, if you get what I mean.

Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC
Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC

Leaders of teams are tasked with accomplishing tasks with the resources available to them. In order for a team to succeed the members must all be leveraged in such a way that all tasks are completed with minimal use of those resources. Delegation allows leaders to task their teams according to their strengths and weaknesses.

While it can be tempting to immerse yourself in everything your team is doing under the guide of responsibility, this can lead you to becoming a bottleneck, instead of a gateway for productivity. Doing this is in conflict with your goals as a leader, as the team isn’t optimally functioning, and you are at fault for this obstruction. Look critically at your team and see the tasks and environments where your team members shine, and distribute work accordingly, even if it is unorthodox. Just because you are the leader, doesn’t mean all of the important tasks fall directly to you. Rather, it is your responsibility that they are performed correctly. If a system falls apart when the leader is gone, that isn’t a team, it’s just people following whatever instructions (orders) come next.


Norton Peet, ACS Career Consultant
Norton Peet, ACS Career Consultant

As Project/Team/Group Leaders, it is easiest for you to NOT delegate, because you could really handle the responsibility best yourself. However, know that your primary responsibility is TO delegate, to train your staff and be there to guide them, only when needed, through difficulties. Your managers are watching for you to successfully delegate responsibilities, so they can then promote you to a position of higher responsibility and know that your staff can excel on their own, using the leadership skills that you have instilled.


This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

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