The Strauss Blog

Effective Delegation for Association Leaders

Delegating tasks to both association volunteers and staff is a primary role of association leaders. Considering that delegation is integral in the day-to-day work in associations, can we then assume that association leaders are good at it? The answer is, not necessarily. Delegation is not a skill that most people tend to focus on or even think about, yet it is one of the most important managerial skills and can potentially be the difference between being a high performing association or not.

The benefits of effective utilization of this skill in the long term can be massive. In his article, the 12 Rules of Delegation, Richard Lannon explains that effective delegation saves time and money, builds and motivates teams, and grooms successors.

Delegation Defined

According to Wikipedia, “delegation is the assignment of any authority to another person to carry out specific activities. It is one of the core concepts of management leadership.” For more on leadership in associations, read my colleague’s article, “Association Leadership Traits: Do You Have What it Takes to Lead?”. Delegation involves trusting and empowering others to make decisions while the person who delegated the work ultimately remains accountable for the outcomes. This sounds simple, yet it can be an intimidating idea for some people.

Delegation isn’t just about telling someone what to do. It also isn’t all or nothing. There are varying degrees in which delegation occurs based on the nature of the task and the individual being delegated.

Barriers to Effective Delegation

When leaders fail to delegate correctly, the result is often overwhelming volunteer or employee workloads and inevitable burnout. Despite these implications, this continues to be an issue. There are several possible reasons why association leaders hold on to their high workloads instead of delegating.

  1. Can’t Let Go: It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “I have always done this job.” The inability to let go and pass tasks off to others is a common reason why people hold on to work instead of delegating. The individual may feel that by handing over certain responsibilities, there will no longer be a place for them. This is a mentality that needs to be overcome since effective delegation means letting go and trusting others.
  2. Lack of Trust: Another common statement is, “No one can do this job as well as I can.” How does a manager with very high standards delegate tasks they feel they can do better themselves? The focus should not be on achieving perfection but instead getting the job done sufficiently and, through the process, developing the competencies and skills of our people.
  3. Too Much Work: We’ve all heard someone say, “It’s easier and faster if I just do it myself.” This is a common reason why people don’t delegate. Training another person or team properly and providing the necessary support requires both time and commitment. Overcoming this obstacle requires prioritization and an understanding of the long-term goals and benefits.

Effective delegation has the potential to provide substantial benefits for associations, the next question is how does one effectively delegate?

Approaches to Effective Delegation

Just as there are many leadership styles, there are different approaches to and degrees of delegation. There are six key steps that should be involved with any process:

  1. Define and Select Tasks: Define the tasks that need to be done, which ones are appropriate to delegate, and the reasons why. There will be tasks which are essential for association leaders to do themselves, in which case delegation would not be appropriate. Leaders should aim to delegate as much as possible to continue to develop association volunteers.
  2. Select the Individual (or Teams): Decide who to delegate defined tasks to. Some considerations include the individual (or team’s) current knowledge, skills, experience, work style, and workload. It is also important to consider whether the task provides an opportunity to grow and to develop individual skills.
  3. Assess Training Needs: Once the task and the individual (or team) is identified, asses the training needs, skills levels, and ensure certain criteria are met. First, the person (or team) needs to know what is expected of them. Second, they need to have the authority to do what is being asked of them. Lastly, they need to know how to do what is being asked of them.
  4. Set Clear Goals, Objectives and Timelines: Just as in goal setting, delegated tasks are most effective when they are “SMARTER”. This means that they are Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-bound, Ethical, and Recorded.
  5. Ensure Access to Resources and Information: Effective delegation can only happen if the people we delegate to have access to the information they need to be successful. Controlling and limiting access to important information is always harmful. Ensuring the people to whom we delegate, whether staff or association volunteers, have access to the necessary knowledge is key.
  6. Ongoing Support, Communication and Feedback: Lastly, have open, clear and ongoing communication. Association leaders need to ensure they are providing accurate and timely feedback on a regular basis. It is important for people to know how they are doing and whether they have achieved their pre-defined goals. If there are any issues, it is important to ensure that they understand the problem, feel confident enough to carry on, and know how to prevent future problems or mistakes. When the work is complete, and done well, it is important to take the time to recognize and celebrate success.

Effective delegation helps to ensure that the Board Chair or chief staff officer (Executive Director) are maximizing the use of association volunteers and staff in the short and long term, while providing opportunities and development. The reality is that time is one of the most valuable resources an association has in today’s world. Effective delegation allows associations the ability to maximize this time. An investment in effective delegation processes needs to be an investment not only in people but also in the long-term health and success of the association.

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