How Much Authority Should You Delegate?

Authority, like power, is hoarded in most companies. Managers delegate authority with great trepidation, which is one of the reasons why there is so much bureaucracy in large companies. There is always the possibility that a person will abuse the authority that has been given to him. In most cases, however, it is better to err on the side of giving a person too much authority rather than too little. When people have authority they tend to take more initiative.

So, how much authority should you give an employee? Enough to fulfill the responsibilities that have been delegated to him. If a person is to be held responsible for the results he achieves, he must have the right to make decisions within the limits of his responsibilities.

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What happens when a person is given too little authority?
The amount of responsibility he is able to fulfill will shrink to the level of the authority. When a manager fails to delegate authority, the responsibility and therefore the work stay with the manager. In theory, the unfilled responsibility stays with the manager. In reality, however, what often happens is that the person is reprimanded for not completing the job. The manager is the one at fault for not having delegated the proper authority but his employee is the one who takes the rap.

In determining how much authority to give to a person you should first look at the job to be performed. Ask yourself how much authority will be needed to fulfill those responsibilities. At this point you are looking at authority solely from the perspective of the work to be accomplished.

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After you have examined the job you will want to take the person into consideration. How capable is the person of exercising the authority assigned to the job? Depending upon your answer, you may want to modify the authority level somewhat. Let’s say, for example, that a person is new to a job. He may not be equipped to fulfill all of the responsibilities and exercise all of the authority assigned to the job immediately. For a period of time you may ask him to consult with you on certain decisions until he gets up to speed.

Or let’s say that you have an employee who has been working in the same job for a fairly long period of time. He has mastered the job and is performing above standard. In addition to performing his current job, he is preparing for his next position. In this case you may want to give the person authority greater than that which is assigned to the job.

The authority assigned to the job should always be equal to the responsibility. From time to time, however, it may be appropriate to give a person a little more or a little less authority depending upon where he is in terms of being able to meet the job standard. Know more about delegating authority only at the University Canada West.


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