Delegation of authority | Meaning | Components | Importance

Delegation of Authority – Meaning:

Delegation of authority is an important managerial practice of getting things done through others by sharing authority with them. It is the delegation by one individual to another of the right to act, to make decisions, to requisition resources, to direct others to act and to perform other tasks in order to fulfill the job responsibilities.

Delegation of Authority

Image: Delegation of Authority, Meaning, Components of Delegation. Source:

According to O.S. Hinger,

“Delegation takes place when one person gives another the right to perform work on his behalf and in his name, and the second person accepts a corresponding duty or obligation to do what. is required of him.”

It should be noted that delegation is the granting of authority to subordinates and exacting responsibility from them when the volume of work to be done is in excess of an individual’s capacity.

Delegation of Authority by a Company Manager

Through delegation, the manager shares the burden of his work with others by:

  • entrusting to others the performance of the part of the work he would otherwise have to do himself; and
  • providing a means of checking up on the work what is done for him to ensure that it is done as he wishes.

All authority of the manager cannot be delegated. For the purpose of delegation, such an authority has been divided into three categories:

  • authority which must be delegated, such as authority to take decisions for the accomplishments of tasks;
  • authority which can be delegated, such as administration of policies; and
  • authority which cannot be delegated, such as authority to take policy decision.

One man’s business requires no delegation because the owner-manager performs every task himself. But with the growth of size and complexity of business, delegation becomes essential.

Through it substantial assistance can be obtained by a manager, who is over burdened with work and, therefore, short of time for doing everything by himself, by sharing know-how, responsibility, authority, budgetary information, materials and equipment to the degree necessary to get the work done and achieved.

In terms of technical aspect of business, delegation, through task assignment, can achieve decisions more quickly and eliminate a cumbersome information system. In terms of behavioral aspect, delegation can satisfy man’s demands for responsibility, recognition, and opportunity to exercise authority.

Components of Effective Delegation

The process of delegation covers the following three elements:

  1. Entrustment of responsibility to the subordinate for performance;
  2. Granting of authority to make use of resources, and take necessary decisions for carrying out the responsibility; and
  3. Creation of an accountability or obligation on the part of the person accepting the authority to perform in terms of standards established. These three attributes of delegation (Responsibility — Authority — Accountability or RAA) are like three legs of a stool, which are all interdependent.

1. Entrustment of Responsibility

Responsibility is the ‘obligation‘ of an individual to perform assigned tasks/duties. Responsibility arises from a superior-subordinate relationship, i.e., the superior (manager) has the authority to require specified services from a subordinate.

Authority flows from the superior to the subordinate, when duties are assigned; and, at the same time, responsibility is the obligation of the subordinate to accomplish those duties. By holding a subordinate responsible, the superior does not relieve himself of any part of the original responsibility.

Delegation only authorities some one else to undertake the work. In actuality, responsibility is a series of obligations contracted between any two organization levels.

Delegation of Authority - Organizational Pyramid

Image: Delegation of Authority – Organizational Pyramid

Responsibility flows through the entire organization. The process of delegation takes the form of a pyramid. At the head are the shareholders, who entrust the task of managing a company to the Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors hold the President or the Chief Executive or the General Manager responsible for total operational performance. He in turn, holds various vice presidents, Deputy Managers responsible for marketing, production and finance functions. They repeat the process, resulting in a series of obligations to be performed at various organization levels.

At the lowest, supervisors hold operational personnel — machine operators, office workers — responsible for their activities. If the assigned task is not fulfilled at the lowest level, the supervisor is responsible for the action of his subordinates to the next higher level and so on upto the ladder.

One thing is to be noted that although the work is shared, the person assigning the task is always accountable for the results achieved.

Before responsibility can be assigned, certain conditions must be fulfilled:

  • Work-load must be divided among the personnel. Individual jobs — based on units of responsibility — are specified by grouping similar functions into individual work programmes, i.e., the principle of ‘functional similarity’ should be followed.
  • Overlapping of responsibility should be avoided. Gaps in responsibility develops when all requirements for performing work have not been properly foreseen.
  • Delegation of responsibility should be avoided for functions that do not contribute to organization objectives.

2. Granting of Authority

Authority is the right to perform certain assigned tasks. It is the power to order or command and is delegated from the superior to the subordinate to discharge his responsibility for the assigned work. The amount of authority should be commensurate with the responsibilities undertaken; responsibility and authority should be balanced.

But in practice, this balance is rarely achieved. Because many factors — which are uncontrollable such as unexpected changes in consumer preference, actions of labour unions, government legislation, and fluctuations in business cycles — prevent the managers from achieving the goals.

If the superior is abreast of times, he often makes allowances from the unforeseen events. It should be noted that:

  • Authority seems more desirable for organization members than responsibility. But it is always in the interest of the organization and the individual to concern more for enlarging his obligations than demanding greater responsibility.
  • Granting authority does not mean giving away or surrendering authority. A manager while assigning duties to his subordinates delegates authority to them but, at the same time, retains overall authority for the successful performance of the duties assigned.

3. Creation of Accountability

Accountability flows upward through an organization, i.e., each manager is held accountable to his superior. Accountability cannot be delegated.

The secret of applying accountability is that measurement of performance must be against specific operational plan, based upon company objectives. Further, and individual is answerable to only one immediate superior, and no more. The reason is that single accountability promotes not only discipline, resulting from a good understanding of what is expected of the individual but also promotes coordination and minimizes clash of interests.

Importance of Delegation of Authority

Delegation of authority is felt important because:

1. An individual’s energy and time is limited and hence, he cannot do more than his capacity to do. His work, therefore, is distributed among others to get the work accomplished effectively.

2. Certain activities are rather complex and need expertise for doing these. The services of staff specialists are, therefore, utilized by delegating some of the responsibility.

3. When business is not diversified but also scattered over a large area, new branches need be opened and these require delegation of authority to persons working there under the head office.

4. Delegation is a crucial step in management development, for it offers ample scope to the manager for self-expression and self-advancement through and taking decisions on many vital issues on his own account.

In short, delegation of authority is a must when the work costs too much in money and time for a manager. Generally, routine duties needing programmed decisions are delegated to subordinates.