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Career Tips

How to delegate

by Brought to you by ACS Careers
April 3, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 12


An illustration of a person’s face with arrows pointing to six people’s faces underneath.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Good leaders know how to delegate effectively.

As you advance in your career, you will find that more and more often, you have to delegate specific tasks, or even entire projects, to other people. In fact, being able to delegate well is one of the hallmarks of a good leader. Unfortunately, delegation is a skill not often taught in school. Here are some tips to help you delegate better and accomplish more.

Choose wisely. Give careful thought to which projects, or portions of projects, are suitable for delegation. You want something big enough to make a difference yet small enough that the other person can handle it. If you have options, think carefully about to whom you will delegate this task. If it is a high-profile, crucial task, you will want to pick someone who has the skills and motivation to do it well. If it’s a smaller, less visible project, you may be able to choose someone for whom it will be a stretch, to give that person a chance to advance professional development goals.

Provide parameters. Set up a time for uninterrupted discussion about the project, and give your delegate all the information needed to be successful, including the following:

Background information
What you want to accomplish
What has been done so far
Resources available
Deadlines, and how firm they are
Interim and final deliverables
Restrictions, including people that should not be contacted or resources that should not be used
Dependencies. Is this part of the project waiting on other things, or are other people waiting on this part
Which parts are flexible, and which are not. Can the delegate throw out work that has been done by someone else, or should the person start there and build on it?

Give the why. Along with all the technical details, make sure you explain to your delegate why this job needs to be done and why you chose that person. That information will not only provide motivation but also help when the delegate needs to make decisions about the project. When someone knows the reason behind a project, that person is better able to prioritize tasks and won’t have to come back to you for every decision.

Provide feedback. Make sure to check in at regular intervals and provide feedback. These may be informal chats or scheduled reviews of interim deliverables. Check in before a due date so you can make any necessary course corrections, but try not to second-guess the person’s methods or decisions.

Show appreciation. Make sure to use “please” and “thank you.” You want the delegate to accept the assignment, take ownership, and be motivated to do an excellent job. The best way to make that happen is to show how much you appreciate and have confidence in that person.

Delegating can be hard work. But if you learn to do it well, you can magnify your impact significantly—and get a lot more accomplished.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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