Learning to Delegate

In last month's column, we explored the sentiment common to supervisors and managers of the construction process that it seems there is not enough time to get everything done. In that article, the first tool is planning.

The second tool a supervisor can use to achieve goals is delegation.

Delegation is a time-management tool that supervisors can employ to their advantage. Delegation can be defined as assigning a duty, which you would otherwise have to perform yourself, to someone else. Of course, a supervisor will have to devote some of his or her time to this effort if it is to be effective. However, the time spent delegating, like the time spent planning, can be considered an investment. It costs an expenditure of time to implement, but it accrues a dividend of saving time in the long run.

The importance of delegation can be traced to the basic functions of supervision. In supervising, and in all other forms of management, effectiveness is determined by how well the project can be done through, or by means of, the work of others. Supervisors’ productivity is not determined by how hard or how efficiently they work with their hands and with the skills and tools of the trade. Rather, a supervisor’s effectiveness is determined by how well they manage the process of getting the work performed through other people.

As discussed, supervisors function in a position where much is expected of them. And the demands come from many different directions and sources. Supervisors soon feel they cannot possibly get it all done, at least not by themselves. Supervisors need help.

While the exact nature of the tasks delegated will vary considerably from one company or job situation to another, there is one thing that is certain: delegation is a key to saving time and to managing effectively. Smart supervisors who wish to be more effective will determine what they can delegate and to whom they can delegate and then will proceed to parceling out some of the things that have to be done.

Delegating effectively also means overcoming some natural human tendencies, such as the no-one-else-can-do-it-as-well-as-me mindset and the Superman syndrome. Both act as barriers, preventing supervisors from delegating. And then supervisors find themselves frustrated that they do not have enough time to get everything done. In fact, the problem isn’t time. The problem is they do not manage time effectively.

The no-one-else-can-do-it-as-well-as-me mindset is common to supervisors, and it has several extensions and other ingredients. Most supervisors have worked hard to achieve their positions of trust and responsibility. They are rightfully proud that they have distinguished themselves and have developed and advanced their skills; that they can do things that many of their peers cannot. The supervisor fears that if she entrusts tasks to others and these tasks are not done properly, it will waste more time and reflect poorly on herself. In addition, the supervisor often thinks, in the time it will take him to plan for what he could delegate, determine the person to whom to delegate, assign the task, explain the end result, follow up, include time to improve the places where it was not done as well or as completely as the supervisor would like, he could long since have done it himself. This thinking is a natural extension of the first mindset described above. Both of these elements of fallacious thinking, when they prevent the supervisor from delegating, keep the supervisor in a situation where there truly is not enough time to get it all done.

Effective supervision through delegation means supervisors must know their people in order to know who has the skills and the willingness to perform the task to be delegated. It also means the supervisor must have sufficient trust to rely on that person to get the job done. Additionally, effective delegation means following up and adding corrective or maintenance measures to ensure the task is performed as it should be. It is literally getting things done through other people, and it will save huge amounts of time for the supervisor.

Furthermore, the supervisor’s thinking frequently takes a form similar to this: “I am already as busy as can be, and now another need has arisen.” So, the supervisor works through lunch, after regular business hours or on weekends. It is only natural that supervisors attempt to find a way to get it all done themselves. Inevitably, however, the supervisor discovers there simply isn’t enough time.

Delegation is, in many ways, a powerful management and time-saving tool. It can help you overcome the feeling of not being able to get everything done, not having enough time, and having no help. You have plenty of help in the form of employees. Use them.

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at jlrounds@unm.edu. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at rsegner@archmail.tamu.edu.

About the Author

Jerald Rounds

Supervision Columnist
Jerald Rounds is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at jlrounds@unm.edu .

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.