5 Tips for Delegation in Academia

By | December 2, 2014

Delegation in Academia

Delegation can free up your time, reduce your stress levels and help grow and develop those around you. While not always encouraged in academia, with so many pulls on the modern scientist’s time, if you are careful, delegation in academia can be a great way to help get things done.

So check out these 5 tips for making delegation work in academia.

1. Look out for opportunities to delegate

Delegation and team work are not always obvious in an academic environment. Independence is actively encouraged, and there is often no clear hierarchy or management structure.

But you can still find opportunities to delegate if you think about it.

One area that is well suited to delegation is teaching or training. You may be the expert at a particular technique or experiment and often find that much of your time is taken up with training others. Once you have trained one or two people, then you can ask them to pass the training on to others. Delegation to the rescue!

Paper writing is another good opportunity to use delegation. Once the data is in and you’re coming to your conclusions, you may wish to involve a more junior member of the contributors by asking them to put together a draft or outline of the paper. It will probably need editing or expanding, but it saves you the initial work and helps them develop their writing skills.

Another example is collaborative work between various people or groups. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being a specialist at a particular technique, and not allowing a less experienced (but less busy) person to carry out a task. Yes, you could do it quickly and right first time, but this is a good opportunity to take a step back and let someone else do some of the work.

Delegation won’t always be the best solution, or even possible, but have a look out for opportunities to delegate and share the work around.

2. Delegate authority, not responsibility

In the armed forces, where delegation is fundamental, there is an important mantra of delegating authority, not responsibility. This means that while you may ask someone to do something, you remain responsible for that task.

For example:

If you delegate the job of training someone, it is still your responsibility to make sure that trained person is competent.

If you delegate the writing of a paper it is still your responsibility to make sure it is well written and accurate before it is submitted.

Delegating is not cutting and running, and it is not completely letting go. It is allowing someone else to do the work that you will then check and verify.

3. Delegate down

At its heart delegation is shifting work from busy, experienced people to (ideally) less busy, less experienced people.

In the ‘One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey‘ this is put as

[tasks] must be handled at the lowest organisational level consistent with their welfare

Be careful, however, not to overwhelm someone with a task they are just not ready for.

4. Coaching and delegation: two sides of the same coin

Your role doesn’t stop with finding tasks and people to do them. You have to coach the people you delegate to.

Coaching goes hand in hand with delegation. It means supporting people in doing what you ask. You’ll find that different people will need different amounts of support for different tasks, and at first it may seem like you are spending more time coaching people than you would like.

But remember that this is an investment: supporting people as they complete tasks will help them grow more confident, and better able to take even more complicated jobs off your hands.

Coaching is your side of the bargain. The person you delegate to is saving you time and stress by doing this job, so it is important that you take coaching them seriously.

It’s also important to remember that you have to be ready to jump in to help out if there is a crisis or things get complicated or more involved than originally expected. Save yourself some stress, and help people to grow, but don’t do it at the expense of your careers or equipment!

Find out more about coaching and delegation in ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey‘.

5. A word of caution: Be sensible, maintain your independence

Delegation can be a great way to spread workload and help people develop, but you have to keep in mind your ability to demonstrate independence.

Independence is a key factor in getting science jobs and being awarded grant money and fellowships. Be careful not to ‘delegate’ work that you may regret such as taking data or carrying out experiments. You don’t want to find yourself in a scrap over authorship or attribution.