6 Tips for Delegating Effectively in Project Management

Last updated: Nov 15, 2019

When you’re a project manager, your first task is to give up the notion that you can take on and take credit for every project that crosses your desk. Your goal is to gain authority and efficiency, perhaps counterintuitively, by becoming less caught up in the day-to-day. In short, you must become a master of delegation. If letting go feels like giving in, think through these 6 essential tips for delegating effectively in project management and you’ll be on your way to helping your team take the reins and get more projects across the finish line.

A project manager discusses figures on a graph with her team

Why Delegating Is Difficult

Our business culture is all about rolling up our sleeves and staying until the job is done, but inherent to your role as project manager is empowering others to contribute. This is not as easy as it sounds. Harvard Business Review calls it a leadership paradox: “You need to be more essential and less involved. When you justify your hold on work, you’re confusing being involved with being essential.” Here’s the crux: Being busy is not the same as being productive.

Are you hung up on doing everything yourself? Do you recognize yourself in these scenarios of delegation-resistance?

  • Delegating feels like more work than if I just do the project myself.
  • If I delegate, people will think I’m slacking off.
  • Nobody else could do this project as brilliantly as I can.

It’s high time to get over yourself and get your team pitching in on your projects. Smart delegating is a positive feedback loop of planning, monitoring, and communicating. So, let’s dig into a half-dozen tried-and-true tips so you can start delegating like a pro today.

6. Be Specific

An acronym catches on for a reason. For the ubiquitous SMART rules, they’re popular because they work, particularly when a project manager uses them to delegate tasks that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

The other letters of SMART are self-explanatory, but “specific” begs the question: Just how specific should a project manager be when delegating a task or process? Put it this way: No colleague will ever complain across a conference table that you overdelivered on defining their goals. Being specific when you delegate runs the gamut from the planning stage to the due date and should include the following:

  • Naming the project
  • Defining why it is being done
  • Agreeing on who is the authority and who has the final say when conflicts are escalated
  • Defining the deliverable
  • Limiting the scope (what the project will and will not accomplish)
  • Establishing start date and deadline
  • Estimating hours/weeks/months of effort per person or team
  • Determining who communicates progress and problems to whom and how often

Professional development, such as USF’s Corporate Training and Professional Education courses in project management, can help you become an expert in the SMART way to delegate.

5. Be Realistic

According to the Project Management Institute, the United States government meets only 64 percent of its project goals. You can do better than that. Setting realistic expectations before the project gets off the ground will help your organization deliver results on budget and on time. Focus your goals on your leadership team’s priorities and assign them in accordance to your co-workers’ strengths. In the excitement of a new endeavor, do not lose sight of practicality: The scope of the project must be aligned with the budget, your team’s bandwidth, and the timeline.

In addition to assigning the right team, CIO recommends technology project managers set and manage expectations by following these pointers:

  • Schedule a discovery period before diving in.
  • Document everything (and make checklists that team members self-manage).
  • Pad your schedule.
  • Set milestones.
  • Anticipate conflicts (and possible resolutions)

4. Be Supportive

Project managers who have mastered delegation do not flit nervously behind their colleagues’ desks to check progress, they do not rescind responsibility at the first obstacle, nor do they panic over a little pushback. Once expectations, deadlines, and deliverables are determined, your job as a project manager is to facilitate and to monitor only as needed. Perfectionism is incompatible with project management, so encourage your team to sweat the details and do the work they were hired to do, while you coordinate additional materials or freelance support if it’s required. Your other means of support is communication with your project team. Don’t skimp on positive feedback. Spend it like it’s burning a hole in your pocket.

A project manager encourages his team and they look at the progress on a laptop

3. Be Selective

Your project cannot solve every business challenge your organization faces, so you must be its gatekeeper. Do not allow add-ons to sneak into your team’s task list or a stakeholder to suddenly shift the scope of the project after the working team has bought into the project agreement. You must be discerning about what your team can manage and what needs to fall away, then delegate the relevant and achievable to the person or team best equipped to handle it. One more suggestion about being selective in your delegation: Drilling down on the most useful technology and tools can help your team meet its project goals.

2. Be Accountable

As a project manager, even if you don’t have ultimate authority, you are the boss of this project. So, while you can delegate tasks, you cannot delegate your accountability for the project’s success or failure. You own it. Model accountability by following through on your responsibilities and commitments and owning up when you fall short. Accountability is contagious. Your team members will follow your lead, accepting ownership of their tasks, timelines, and outcomes.

A second element of accountability is keeping your teammates informed of progress. This responsibility may not be yours on a daily or weekly basis, but as project manager you should establish the line of communication by defining:

  • Who will deliver updates to the team
  • How, where, and when updates will be delivered
  • Who will receive updates
  • If action will be required after updates are received

1. Be Motivational

You are empowering your team to manage tasks and achieve peak personal and team performance. It’s a big deal. When you delegate effectively as a project manager and assign the right tasks to the right people, you are helping your team gain control, hone their skills, and develop a sense of autonomy. This might seem like a heavy lift for a role that depends so heavily on Gantt charts and time trackers, but approaching delegation with a human touch can inspire your team’s motivation and job satisfaction.

If you are ready to maximize your skills as a project manager and master the art of delegation, earn your Project Management Certificate or prepare for the PMP exam with USF.

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