Best Practices for Taking More Off Your Plate So You Can Work ON the Business

By Steve Czerniak, Subject Matter Expert, SCORE of Southeast Michigan

Part of defining goals and objectives is delegating responsibility, authority, and accountability to the employee. Goals and objectives have to be set to ensure alignment and traceability with the mission, vision, values, and strategy of the organization. They should cascade down the organization.

The dictionary definition of “delegation” presents with the idea of “empowering (one) to act for another” (Merriam, 2006). At no time does it suggest dumping a problem on someone else and walking away. Unfortunately, many employees, and leaders, take the notion of delegation to such an extreme. They read things like “the full authority to act must accompany delegation of responsibility” (Gunn, 2004) and believe that, once empowered, they are free to “act” or decide alone and outside their area of responsibility (e.g. HR policies).  Experience tells one that very few leaders make decisions in a vacuum.  Rather, they work with others and review their ideas with others before arriving at a decision.  Certainly, one can agree with the concept that authority must accompany responsibility (Gunn, 2004).  Beyond that, one must also be held accountable for the actions taken or decisions made.

Most people can’t draw a distinction among responsibility, authority, and accountability. Responsibility is accepting the “obligation to perform certain tasks and assume certain duties” (Byars, 2004). Authority is “the right to apply resources, expend funds, make decisions, or give approvals” (PMBOK, 2004). Accountability is “answering for your actions, taking the appropriate blame” (Gunn, 2004) (or credit). This definition of accountability implies taking ownership of the results of your actions.

People in an organization want to know “what’s it gonna take” to get empowered and trusted with responsibility, authority, and accountability. Supervisors or leaders must be convinced that employees are ready to accept and perform on new and greater challenges. Typically, that comes from experience.

Delegate to Elevate (Yourself)

The bottom line is that we all start our careers by accepting small levels of responsibility, authority, and accountability. If we do well with small levels, we can expect to progress to larger and larger levels. No CEO started at that level. Almost all of them worked their way up until they were willing and able to accept and deal with multi-million or multi-billion dollar decisions. They earned the power to do so. They earned it by repeatedly performing well.

Leaders need to undergo the worst of trials. I call it “the great letting go.” The leader needs to let go of a small piece of their authority to allow others to learn and progress. Most leaders find this very difficult.

Although as leaders, we delegate responsibility, authority, and accountability to employees, we still retain responsibility, authority, and accountability for those employees.

Creating a Culture of Delegation

As a project and program manager, you learn the discipline of documenting and managing the scope, schedule, and risk to deliver quality results. This can be a great way to delegate work. Start by developing a project plan with the employee. As the project work progresses, periodically check in on the status of the project. Once again, continue to monitor the scope, schedule and risk. During the execution of the project and at its conclusion, hold the employee accountable for completion, delivery and customer satisfaction. Help and encourage the employee. 

CAUTION: Not-for-profits and others using volunteers have to be careful about “agency.” Agency is all about a person acting on behalf of another person or organization. Volunteers should not be allowed to take action in the name of their not-for-profit. A recognized member or employee of the not-for-profit should take such actions.

Here’s how an employee can promote delegation: Accept responsibility, authority and accountability. Know your boss’ goals. Always put your hand up. Take on additional work, no matter how busy. Don’t expect your boss to spoon-feed you. Pitch in to help others. Know the limits of your authority.

Here’s how a supervisor can promote delegation: All the employee behaviors, plus … Willing and Able to “Let Go.” Be responsible and accountable for your work. Be responsible and accountable for the work you delegate to employees. Let employees make decisions (within bounds). Don’t override the employee’s decisions … particularly, don’t make it a habit.


Byars, L. L., PhD, Rue, L. W. PhD. (2004) Human Resource Management.  7th Ed. New York: McGraw Hill Irwin. 
Gunn, B. (2004, Feb). Letting Go to Get Ahead.  Strategic Finance; 85, 8; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 8 
Merriam-Webster Online (2006). Retrieved from the Online web page at
Project Management Body of Knowledge, A Guide to (2004). Third Edition.  American National Standard.  Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

About the Author

Steve Czerniak retired after a successful 37-year career as a leader and innovator. The last fifteen years were a series of opportunities that honed his skills as an internal consultant and “change agent.” In retirement, he is a volunteer consultant and a SCORE Subject Matter Expert for the Southeast Michigan chapter. His personal volunteer objective is to “derive personal satisfaction from helping others, and the organizations they operate, to develop and prosper.”


Delegate Like You Mean It!