How to Delegate Without Fear

Sharing the workload can benefit both you and your staff.

May 16, 2017

Many managers—especially newer ones—wrestle with a common dilemma: They have a full slate of work but are nervous about handing off some of their duties.

“Once you get to that supervisor or manager level, you are an overachiever,” said Caleb Bullock, CPA, CGMA, a business development manager at Somerset CPAs in Indianapolis and a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. “And one of the hardest parts of getting to that level is giving up that control.”

CPAs who don’t delegate, though, can face a plethora of pitfalls. Their work can pile up, increasing the chance that they won’t meet their deadlines. They can also inadvertently push away talented younger colleagues who are eager to take on more responsibilities, Bullock said.

And, said Michael Camden, CPA, manager of credits and incentives at Ryan LLC in Austin, Texas, “if you don’t delegate, you will burn yourself out, especially in public accounting.” Camden, a manager for three years, admits delegating was “a struggle” for him but said he had to do it in order to balance all the clients and other engagements needing his attention.

So how can you delegate effectively, without putting yourself or your organization at risk? Experts offer these tips:

  • Accept your new position as delegator. It’s tough to relinquish control of tasks you have completed successfully for years. But as a manager, you must embrace the fact that your responsibilities have changed. “Once you get into a manager role, you are more of a delegator, teacher, and reviewer,” Camden said.

  • Decide which tasks you can delegate. Keep a log of everything you do at work for the next two weeks, said Rik Nemanick, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and principal consultant with The Leadership Effect, an advisory firm in St. Louis. At the end of the two weeks, put the items on your list into one of three categories: things you should have delegated, things you could have delegated, and things you should not delegate, he said. Then match items that you should or could have delegated with employees who are prepared to embrace those tasks—and then be ready to hand off the work the next time.
  • Gauge your employees. To accurately assess and plan for delegation, have one-on-one meetings with your staff before you hand off work. “Ask them: ‘What types of projects do you like? What skills do you feel you should be developing? What skills do you have that we haven’t tapped into?’” Nemanick suggested. Pay close attention to their strengths and weaknesses, and determine whether they are ready to tackle tasks you may delegate.

    “Trust your gut in terms of what you delegate to whom,” said Joseph Rugger, CPA, CGMA, director of accounting for Jonesboro Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratory in Jonesboro, Ark.

  • Set clear directions, expectations, and deadlines. When delegating, “paint the entire picture,” Bullock said. Explain what you need done, and how much time it should take to complete the project or task. Let your staff know that they can ask questions, no matter how insignificant the questions may seem, and that you are there as a resource.

    In addition, consult often with your employees to measure their progress. Don’t micromanage, but instead empower them to finish the job with varying degrees of helpful oversight. “Give them an opportunity to fail or succeed on their own,” he said.

  • Be prepared for mistakes. Blunders are common when employees take on new responsibilities, so offer positive and corrective advice when necessary. Don’t chastise them for mistakes or for going off-script.

    Also, don’t wait for the annual performance review to give feedback to your employees. “When you see things going wrong, address them immediately,” Rugger said. “You’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

  • Don’t patch up employees’ mistakes. Many accounting managers tend to fix employees’ mistakes for them, because it’s usually quicker, Rugger said. Instead, he recommended allowing them to correct their own mistakes, if at all possible. That way, they’ll learn more.
  • Constantly seek out new ways to learn about delegation. Camden advised aspiring or new managers to read books and other publications, and perhaps attend soft-skills training.

    “If I could give anybody advice, it is to specifically focus on delegation and work on that right when you become a manager,” he said. “It is definitely a skill you will need going forward.”

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.

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