Understanding the Four Levels of Delegation When Managing People in Business

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Effective delegation is an important skill in both leadership and management. However, an important element of doing so is assessing each task being delegated and grading it according to the amount of authority that it requires on the part of the colleague who will be performing it.

This ensures the best outcome both in terms of the task itself and the development of the person fulfilling it.

Level 1 – Zero Authority

This degree of authority is best given for tasks that are so important or particularly complex in their nature that you need a high level of involvement to ensure they are completed correctly. It could also be a task that is of a type that the person receiving it has no or little previous experience of, and therefore cannot reasonably assume authority for it. Because of this very limited autonomy, such zero authority matters can be repetitive, dull or otherwise uninspiring but that is simply the nature of the job.

When delegating a task with this lowest level of authority it is important to explain to the person why you are doing so. This is good practice because the person could otherwise misconstrue that you do not trust them, souring your present and future relationship. So be sure to explain that the decision does not reflect on them, but rather on the nature of the task itself.

By understanding and correctly applying the four levels of delegation above you will not only improve the outcomes of delegated tasks, but also boost your own productivity and aid the development of those completing them.

A common example in a business setting might be assigning someone junior to do the final proofread of an important document. If the aim is just to ensure that there are no errors, the person to whom this task is delegated will be expected merely to follow their instruction rather than providing input about the document’s actual content, format, presentation, readability etc.

Level 2 – Minimal Authority

Completing delegated tasks with a low level authority given is a key stage in the development of an individual employee moving up from the zero authority level. This second stage allows for their own skills and performance to start having an impact on the desired outcome, with the consequent growing feelings of satisfaction, loyalty and value that such involvement brings.

For tasks of this degree of authority you should ensure have a system for monitoring the colleague’s progress and reassure them that they should contact you if they run into difficulty with the task. This helps to ensure both that the task progresses smoothly and that the employee does not lose motivation or confidence when confronted with obstacles that they may not think they can overcome on their own.

Level 3 – Moderate Authority

Tasks delegated with this mid-level of authority allow the person receiving them to engage in decision-making without your direct involvement. It is of course crucial to ensure that they are comfortable with the additional responsibility that comes with this level of authority before the task itself begins, otherwise there may be problems later.

In addition, the person will be managing the individual goals that make up the task and assessing how well these have been performed themselves. This can sometimes represent a challenge for an inexperienced employee who is unused to that level of autonomy, and is thus worth keeping an eye on from a manager’s point of view to avoid discovering inadequacies at the end of the task or timeframe.

As with minimal authority tasks, the person will still report back to you with progress. But crucially they will also be expected to set a higher threshold for problems that require your attention, which must be significant enough to be incapable of resolving on their own. They will still be accountable for their problem-solving decisions, but need not seek constant supervision or approval of them.

Level 4 – Total Authority

Tasks of this level of authority give the person receiving them complete control of each task through to its completion, with only minimal reporting back to you required.

This is when delegation can be most effective in boosting a manager’s productivity, saving time and helping individual employees develop skills and grow in confidence. It requires employees to be mature, self-sufficient, reliable and accountable in order to dispense with too much oversight, and as such will undoubtedly need to be granted on a selective basis.

Due to the attributes and mentality required, being allowed total authority over a task or a matter can be a big change for an employee (as allowing it can be for the manager). However, in successful career-minded individuals the pride and respect that arise from having such a role far outweigh the ‘risks’ or pressures of taking this form of authority and testing themselves in a new, challenging way that represents the next step upward and onward to success.