Delegation of Authority

… a core concept in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M

AbuseofAuthorityConcept description

Delegation of authority (“delegation”) is defined as the process “by which a person (i.e., delegator), vested with specific statutory authority, assigns a specific power or function to another.”

Delegation is an essential organizational process. Delegation means the assignment of certain responsibilities along with the necessary authority by a superior to her subordinate(s). Delegation does not mean surrender of authority by the higher level manager. It only means transfer of certain responsibilities to subordinates and giving them the necessary authority, which is necessary to discharge the responsibility properly.

Delegation is not a process of abdication. The person who delegates does not divorce herself from the responsibility and authority with which she is entrusted. She remains accountable for the overall performance and also for the performance of her subordinates.

Delegation involves the following three basic elements:

  • Assignment of duties to subordinates,
  • Granting of authority to enable the subordinates to perform the duties assigned, and
  • Creation of obligation on the part of subordinate to perform duties in an orderly manner.

Objectives of the delegation of authority include: a reduction of the excessive burden of work on superiors (e.g., executives and managers); provision of opportunities for growth and self-development to junior executives; establishment of a team of experienced and matured managers for the organization; and improvement of individual and overall organizational efficiency.


Delegation involves four distinct stages. The process of delegation moves through these stages. Note that in the public policy context, the ability to delegate authority may require authorization in statute or policy directive.

  1. Acceptance of the assignment. In this third stage of the delegation process, the subordinate/delegate has to accept or reject the task assigned to her in the first stage along with the authority given in the second stage.
  2. Assignment of duties to subordinates. Before delegating, the delegator has to decide precisely the duties which are to be delegated to the subordinate or a group of subordinates. The authority is delegated accordingly and the subordinate is told what is expected from them. The usual practice is to list the functions to be performed by the subordinate(s). If necessary, targets to be achieved by the subordinate(s) are also spelt out. Subordinates may be assigned tasks either in terms of activities or results. The manager (delegator) must communicate clearly her expectations. Competent and responsible employees may be given general guidelines about what needs to be accomplished.
  3. Transfer of authority to perform the duty. In the second stage of delegation process, the authority is granted by the delegator to her subordinate (delegate). Authority must be delegated strictly to perform the assigned duty. The performance of duties suffers serious setback when required authority is not delegated along with the duty.
  4. Creation of Obligation / Accountability / Responsibility. The fourth stage in the delegation of authority is the creation of obligation on the part of the subordinate to perform duties assigned to her in a satisfactory manner by using the authority given. When subordinate accepts a task and the authority is given, an obligation is created. She has to perform the assigned task by using the authority granted to her. A subordinate is also responsible/accountable for completing the assigned work. She is held answerable to a superior for the satisfactory performance of that work assigned.
Advantages of delegation of authority

Relieves manager for more challenging jobs: Delegation makes it possible for the managers to distribute their workload to others. Thus, managers are relieved of routine work and they can concentrate on higher functions of management like planning, organizing, controlling, etc.

Leads to motivation of subordinates: Subordinates are encouraged to give their best at work when they have authority with responsibility. They take more initiative and interest in the work and are also careful and cautious in their work. Delegation leads to motivation of employees and manpower development.

Facilitates efficiency and quick actions: Delegation saves time enabling tile subordinates to deal with the problems promptly. They can take the decisions quickly within their authority. It is not necessary to go to the superiors for routine matters. This raises the overall efficiency in an organization and offers better results in terms of production, turnover and profit.

Improves employee morale: Delegation raises the morale of subordinates as they are given duties and supporting authority. They feel that they are responsible employees. The attitude and outlook of subordinates towards work assigned becomes more constructive.

Develops team spirit: Due to delegation, effective communication develops between the superiors and subordinates. The subordinates are answerable to superiors and the superiors are responsible for the performance of subordinates. This brings better relations and team spirit among the superiors and subordinates

Maintains cordial relationships: The superiors trust subordinates and give them necessary authority. The subordinates accept their accountability and this develops cordial superior-subordinate relationships.

Facilitates management development: Delegation acts as a training ground for management development. It gives opportunity to subordinates to learn, to grow and to develop new qualities and skills. It builds up a reservoir of executives, which can be used as and when required. Delegation creates managers and not mere messengers.

The advantages of delegation will not be available easily and automatically. They will be available only when the process of delegation moves smoothly. Problems may develop, if the delegation is not introduced with proper planning and in proper spirit. For example, the authority given to subordinate is inadequate or the subordinate is not competent to discharge the responsibilities assigned or the superior fails to monitor the whole process of delegation effectively. In all such cases, the delegation will be ineffective and the expected advantages will not be available to the organization and also to concerned parties.

Obstacles and barriers to effective delegation of authority

The primary barrier to delegation in the public sector is likely to be an inability to do so due to statute or policy direction from a higher level of authority.

Additional barriers to the effective delegation of authority, both within the public service and outside of it, may include the following:

On the part of managers: unwillingness of the manager to delegate authority; fear of competition; lack of confidence in subordinates; lack of ability to direct; absence of controls that warn of coming troubles; conservative and cautious temperament of the manager or a desire to control subordinates.

On the part of delegates: too much dependence on the manager for decisions; fear of criticism; lack of information; absence of positive incentives; absence of self-confidence; difficulty in decision-making; poor superior-subordinate relations; undue interference by superior; fear of being exposed (“inferiority complex”).

Principles of effective delegation of authority

Knowledge of objectives: Before delegating authority, subordinates should be made to understand their duties and responsibilities. In addition, knowledge of objectives and policies of the enterprise should be provided to them. This will enable them to discharge their roles purposefully in the process of delegation.

Parity of authority and responsibility: This principle of delegation suggests that when authority is delegated, it should be commensurate with the responsibility of the subordinate. In fact, the authority and responsibility should be made clear to the subordinate so that she will know what she is expected to do within the powers assigned to her. There should be proper balance/parity or co-existence between the authority and responsibility. A subordinate will not function efficiently, if authority given to her is inadequate. On the other hand, if the excess authority is given, she may misuse the same. See also “Absoluteness of Responsibility” below.

Unity of command: This principle of delegation suggests that everyone should have only one direct superior. A subordinate should get orders and instructions from one superior and should be made accountable to one superior only. This means ‘no subordinate should be held accountable to more than one superior’. When a subordinate is asked to report to more than one boss, it leads to confusion and conflict.

The scalar principle: The scalar principle of delegation maintains that there should be clear and direct lines of authority in the organization, running from the top to the bottom. The subordinate should know who delegates authority to her and to whom she should contact for matters beyond her authority.

Clarity of delegation: The principle of clarity of delegation suggests that while delegating authority to subordinates, the latter should be made to understand the limits of authority so that they know the area of their operation and the extent of freedom of action available to them.

Absoluteness of responsibility: This principle of delegation suggests that it is only the authority which is delegated and not the responsibility. The responsibility is absolute and remains with the superior. The manager is responsible for the acts and omissions of her subordinates.

Use of exception principle: This principle of delegation indicates that when authority is delegated, it is expected that the subordinate will exercise her own judgment and take decisions within the purview of her authority. She is to be given adequate freedom to operate within his authority even at the cost of mistakes. Unnecessary interference in the work of delegates should be avoided.

Completeness of delegation: This principle of delegation suggests that there should be completeness in the process of delegation. The process of delegation should be taken to its logical end. Otherwise, there will be confusion of authority and accountability.

Effective communication support system: This principle suggests that there should be continuous flow of information between the superior and the subordinates with a view to furnishing relevant information to subordinate for decision-making. This helps the subordinate to make proper decisions and also to interpret properly the authority delegated to her.

Reward for effective delegation: This principle suggests that effective delegation and successful assumption of authority should be rewarded. This will facilitate fuller delegation and effective assumption of authority within the organization.


Drawn from Gaurav Akrani, Kalyan City Life Blog, Delegation of Authority Principles and Importance of Delegation, at, accessed 25 January 2016.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Responsibility and Accountability (core topic) in Ethics, Rights, and Accountability and Atlas111M Ethics.

Page created by: Dave Marshall, last modified by Ian Clark on 31 May 2016.

Image: From at, accessed 25 January 2016.