Seven Principles for Clarity in Delegation of Authority

Delegation of authority may be specific or general, written or unwritten. If the delegation is unclear, a manager may not understand the nature of the duties or the results expected.

The job assignment of a company controller;

For example;

May specify such functions as accounting, credit control, and cash control, financing, export-license handling, and preparation of financial statistics, and these broad functions may even be broken down into more definite duties.

Or a controller may be told merely that he or she is expected to do what controllers generally do.

Specific written delegations of authority are extremely helpful both to the manager who receives them and to the person who delegates them.

The latter will more easily see conflicts or overlaps with other positions and will also be better able to identify those things for which a subordinate can and should be held responsible.

The fear that specific delegations will result in inflexibility is best met by developing a tradition of flexibility. It is true that if authority delegations are specific, a manager may regard his or her job as a staked claim with a high fence around it.

But this attitude can be eliminated by making necessary changes in the organization structure.

Much of the resistance to change through definite delegations comes from managerial laziness and the failure to reorganize things often enough for the smooth accomplishment of objectives.

7 Principles of Clarity in Delegation

The following principles are guides to delegation of authority. Unless carefully recognized in practice, delegation may be ineffective, organization may fail, and poor managing may result.

  1. Principle of delegation by results expected

    Since authority is intended to furnish managers with a tool, for so managing as to assure that objectives are achieved, authority delegated to individual managers should be adequate to assure their ability to accomplish expected results.

    Too many managers try to partition and define authority on the basis of the rights to be delegated or withheld, rather than to look first at the goals to be achieved and then to determine how much discretion is necessary to achieve them.

    In no other way can a manager delegate authority than in accordance with the responsibility exacted.

    Often a superior has some idea, vague or fixed, as to what is to be accomplished, but does not trouble to determine whether the subordinate has the authority to do it.

    Sometimes superiors do not want to admit how much discretion it takes to do a job, and are reluctant to define the results expected.

  2. Principle of functional definition

    To make delegation possible, activities must be grouped to facilitate accomplishment of goals, and managers of each subdivision must have authority to co-ordinate its activities with the organization as a whole.

    These requirements give rise to the principle of functional definition; the more a position or a department has clear definitions of results expected, activities to be undertaken, the organizational authority delegated, and authority and informational relationships with other positions understood, the more adequately the individuals responsible can contribute towards accomplishing enterprise objectives.

    To do otherwise is to risk confusion as to what is expected of whom.

    Although simple as a concept, this principle which is a principle of both delegation and departmentalization is often difficult to apply.

    To define a job and delegate authority to do it requires, in most cases, patience, intelligence, and clarity of objectives and plans. It is obviously difficult to define a job if the superior does not know what results are desired.

  3. Scalar principle

    The scalar principle refers to the chain of direct authority relationships from superior to subordinate throughout the organization.

    The clearer the line of authority from the top manager in an enterprise is to the subordinate position, the more effective the responsible decision-making and organization communication will be.

    A clear understanding of the scalar principle is necessary for proper organization functioning. Subordinates must know who delegates’ authority to them and to who matters beyond their own authority must be referred.

    Although the chain of command may be safely departed from for purposes of information, departures for purposes of decision-making tend to destroy the decision-making system and undermine manager-ship itself.

  4. Authority-level principle

    Functional definition plus the scalar principle gives rise to the authority level principle. Clearly, at some organization level, authority exists for making a decision within the power of an enterprise.

    Therefore, the authority-level principle derived would be as follows; maintenance of intended delegation requires that decisions within the authority of individuals be made by them and not be referred upwards in the organization structure.

    In other words, managers at each level should make whatever decisions they can in the light of their delegated authority, and only matters that authority limitations keep them from deciding should be referred to superiors.

  5. Principle of unity of command

    A basic management principle, often disregarded for what are believed to be compelling circumstances, is that of unity of command: the more completely an individual has a reporting relationship to a single superior, the less the problem of conflict in instructions and the greater the feeling of personal responsibility for results.

    In discussing delegation of authority, it has been assumed that the right of discretion over a particular activity will flow from a single superior to a subordinate.

    Although it is possible for a subordinate to receive authority from two or more superiors and logically possible to be held responsible by them, the practical difficulties of serving two or more masters are obvious.

    An obligation is essentially personal, and authority delegation by more than one person to an individual is likely to result in conflicts in both authority and responsibility.

  6. Principle of absoluteness of responsibility

    Since responsibility, being an obligation owed, cannot be delegated, no superior can escape, through delegation, responsibility for the activities of subordinates, for it is the superior who has delegated authority and assigned duties.

    Likewise, the responsibility of subordinates to their superiors for performance is absolute, once they have accepted an assignment and the right to carry it out, and superiors cannot escape responsibility for the organization activities of their subordinates.

  7. Principle of parity of authority and responsibility

    Since authority is the discretionary right to carry out assignments and responsibility is the obligation to accomplish them, it logically follows that authority should correspond to responsibility.

    From this rather obvious logic is derived the principle that responsibility for action cannot be greater than that implied by authority delegated, nor should it be less.

    The president of a firm may, for example, assign duties to the manufacturing vice-president, such as buying raw materials and machine tools and hiring subordinates in order to achieve certain goals.

    The vice-president will be unable to perform these duties unless given enough discretion to meet this responsibility.

Managers often try to hold subordinates responsible for duties for which they do not have the necessary authority to perform. This is, of course, unfair.

Sometimes sufficient authority is delegated, but the delegate is not held responsible for its proper use. This is, obviously, a case of poor managerial direction and control, and has no bearing upon the principle of parity.