Leaders must learn the art of effective delegation

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By: By Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN

Whether you’re a new leader or a seasoned one, you must master the art of delegation to be an effective leader.

There is no way around it. There are many ways to define it, but simply put, delegation is one person giving another person (normally manager to subordinate) the responsibility, power or authority to carry out a specific role or responsibility, while maintaining accountability for the outcomes.

The ability to delegate effectively is a crucial skill needed by leaders at all levels. For those of you who say you’re not good at it, who avoid delegating unless there’s absolutely no other alternative, or frequently says, “I’d rather just do it myself,” maybe delegation is just an underdeveloped and underutilized management skill you can improve on.

Effective delegation may not come easy to you. But when it’s done right — when responsibilities are assigned based on team members’ skills, talents and education — it can help reduce your unit’s overall workload. Successful delegation can help you multiply yourself as you divide up responsibilities, and allow you to work on other issues, such as planning, budgeting and quality management.

Effective delegation helps everyone

Delegating effectively can benefit everyone. For instance, your strengths as a leader and your relationship with your staff can improve. And joint decision-making between you and your staff can lead to better communication, which can improve patient care and safety.

When you delegate, staff members know you’re recognizing their talents and that they are important to the group. They are likely to take on greater responsibilities and maybe even feel more willing to try new things. Their critical thinking skills can be strengthened, their confidence levels can increase and many of them will begin to grow into new leaders themselves.

Good delegation can make your patient care assignment methods work better and promote more cohesive work groups and smoother running units. Productivity, work output and efficiency can increase, and patient and staff satisfaction scores can rise.

What delegation is and what it’s not

I have highlighted what successful delegation is, but what is just as important is to define what delegation is not.

Delegation is not giving away jobs you don’t want to do yourself. Whatever you do, don’t use it just to get tasks off your to-do list. Think instead about delegating authority and responsibility to the staff members you know can handle them. Also, try not to view delegation just as an exercise; view it as something that will help you with the way you manage every day.

Your staff members are professionals who want their talents and skills to be used — and they want to be recognized. If you never single them out or delegate anything important to them, and if you never expect them to exercise professional autonomy and make independent decisions, you may lose them.

Delegation is not just a skill you should have, but an important part of your facility’s top-to-bottom organizational authority. Part of your role as a leader is to ensure it is occurring at all levels. One person can’t do everything, so all members of the team should be delegated to and be able to delegate. When delegation is effective down through the different levels of an organization, from the boardroom to the bedside, the organization becomes stronger.

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