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What is Delegation?

The term delegation describes the process used by a manager to shift some of the responsibilities for the task implementation to another team member. Delegation is key to improving team members’ feelings of involvement and ownership, and the ability to delegate is therefore considered to be an extremely important skill for a project manager.

The ability to delegate responsibility for tasks fully or partially to other people not only gives higher motivation to the team members, but also frees the project manager to be able to carry out other project tasks related more to her area of responsibility, such as planning, management, reporting, and coordination.

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The process of delegation requires certain steps. It starts when a new team member joins the project and needs to be given the idea of the nature of the task he is responsible for. Furthermore, the delegation process requires the person to be able to think the task over and reformat it as he thinks appropriate without actually changing the job content. After the newly named task is represented back to the delegator, it’s time for an informal or formal—depending on company policies—agreement to be signed. The progress reporting mechanisms are set at the same time. Further work of the delegator will include coaching and monitoring the work implementation process.

Although the process seems to be fully compliant with the major ideology of project human resource management, it does not necessarily mean the process of delegation will always be the same in different situations and with different people involved. The so-called Oncken’s levels of delegation include five stages for the process of delegation: "Wait until you are told"; "Ask what to do"; "Recommend, then do it"; "Act, but advise at once"; and finally, "Act on your own, routine reporting". It’s easy to see that the first stage requires lots of involvement of the delegator. In stage two, there is at least some initiative allowed for the delegatee. In stage three, the opinion of the delegatee about the issue becomes important to the delegator. Stages four and five are different mostly because of the urgency of reporting about the decision made and the actions undertaken by the delegatee.

Although it seems as if the five stages of delegation describe very well the development of trust and responsibility of team members throughout the course of project development, from early to late stages, this can also depend on other circumstances such as the degree of importance of a certain activity or task. It is also possible that the same person can be in one stage of delegation with one task and in a different stage with another task, and it takes lots of communications and attention from the delegator in order to make it completely clear to the team member so that he is not confused.