Delegation is a vital management skill. But for some, it’s the hardest to put into practice.

There are several reasons why managers may shy away from delegating work. They might:

  • Think it would take longer to explain the task than actually completing it themselves
  • Want to feel indispensable to their team by being the keeper of specific knowledge
  • Enjoy completing certain projects so prefer not to reassign them
  • Feel guilty about adding more work onto another employee’s to-do list
  • Lack confidence or trust in who they need to transfer the project to
  • Believe that they’re the only ones who can do the job right

Whatever the reason, it’s important to continue honing the skill, as refusing to delegate can have negative consequences. Not only will you overload your schedule and prioritize the wrong tasks, but your employees will miss out on valuable learning and growth opportunities.

According to a Gallup study, CEOs who excel in delegating generate 33 percent higher revenue. These executives know they can’t accomplish everything alone and position their team to tackle tasks they’re confident they’ll achieve—in turn empowering employees, boosting morale, and increasing productivity. In the process, CEOs free up their time to focus on activities that will yield the highest returns and grow the company.

If you want to experience similar results, here are seven ways you can start delegating more effectively.

How to Delegate Effectively

1. Know What to Delegate


Not every task can be delegated. For example, performance reviews or any personnel matters should be handled by you. After all, hiring the right talent and knowing each employee’s strengths and weaknesses will ultimately make you better at assigning deliverables and transferring responsibility to the appropriate team members.

Several other day-to-day activities don’t require your oversight, though. Is there a task you regularly tackle despite knowing your co-worker is better equipped to complete it? Would assigning the project to other employees help bolster their careers? If there’s someone who could do the work better, or you think this could be a teachable moment, delegate. It will show you trust and value your team, while also giving you time to focus on more strategic projects.

2. Play to Your Employees’ Strengths and Goals


Every employee should have goals they’re working toward, and within those goals are opportunities to delegate. For example, maybe you have a direct report who wants to gain management experience. Is there an intern they could start supervising, or a well-defined project they can own the execution of? The type of work you delegate could factor into their professional development plan.

For other tasks, there’s likely someone on your team with the specific skill set needed to achieve the desired result. Leverage that and play to your employees’ strengths. When someone has a higher chance of excelling, they’re more motivated and engaged, which then benefits the entire business.

Related: How to Become a Better Manager

3. Define the Desired Outcome


Simply dumping work onto someone else’s plate isn’t delegating. The projects you hand off should come with proper context and a clear tie into the organization’s goals.

“You’ve got to have real clarity of objective,” says Harvard Business School Professor Kevin Sharer in the online Management Essentials course. That includes having alignment on “what does good look like” and by what timeline, and “the technique of measuring accomplishment.”

Before anyone new starts working on a project, they should know what they need to complete and by when, including the metrics you’ll use to measure the success of their work.

4. Provide the Right Resources and Level of Authority


If the person you’re delegating work to needs specific training, resources, or authority to complete the assigned project, it’s your role as a manager to provide all three. Setting someone up for an impossible task will frustrate both sides; your colleague won’t be able to achieve the desired outcome, and then you’ll likely need to put that work back on your to-do list.

This is also where you need to fight the urge to micromanage. Telling your co-worker, step-by-step, how you would accomplish the task and then controlling each part of the process won’t enable them to learn or gain new skills. Focus instead on what the desired end goal is, why the task is important, and help address any gaps between the outcome and their current skill set.

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5. Establish a Clear Communication Channel


While you want to avoid micromanaging, you do want to establish a communication channel so that the person you’re delegating to feels comfortable asking questions and providing progress updates.

“You’ve got to have some way to communicate so that the person you delegated to can come back and to you and report,” says Sharer in the Management Essentials course. “You’ve got to have some way along the way to see how things are going. It isn’t fire and forget. That is, ‘I just give you the task and I don’t worry about it anymore. We’ve got to have some way to monitor the progress along the way without me getting in your way.’”

Setting up regular check-ins and providing feedback throughout the project can help with this.

6. Allow for Failure


This step is particularly important for the perfectionists who avoid delegating because they think their way is the only way to get the work done. You need to allow for failure—not because your employees might fail, but because it will enable experimentation and empower the people you’re assigning tasks to, to take a new approach.

If you’re open to new ideas and approaches to the work, you’ll have an easier time delegating when able.

Related: 7 Strategies for Improving Your Management Skills

7. Give Credit Where It’s Due


After you’ve delegated tasks and they’ve been seen through to completion, credit those who achieved the work.

“Recognizing that success is because of your team is not only right, but it has the added benefit of making those around you more engaged—making you even more successful,” writes HBS Online Executive Director Patrick Mullane for Richtopia. “It’s counter-intuitive, but not claiming success for yourself will lead to more future wins.”

The more you thank and credit those you’ve delegated work to, the more likely it is they will want to help you on other projects in the future.

Honing Your Delegation Skills

Delegating isn’t easy; it’s a skill that must be practiced and honed over time. But the better you become at aligning the right people with the right tasks and responsibilities, the more effective you’ll become at your job as a manager.

Are you interested in further improving your managerial skills? Explore our eight-week online Management Essentials course, which will provide you with real-world tools and strategies to excel in decision-making, implementation, organizational learning, and change management.

Lauren Landry

About the Author

Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she's not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who's willing to listen terribly corny jokes.