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How to Delegate Without Authority

By Melissa Lawrence

Working within a matrix environment, where employees are expected to collaborate across functions and to report to multiple leaders, has become a norm in many organizations. However, when you serve as one of these leaders, without being a direct manager, you may feel that your job is uncomfortable and difficult to do. Whether collaborating with or leading a peer on your project team, being able to delegate without authority is a skill that will help you excel in your career now and in the future. This article will provide you with specific steps to follow in order to delegate effectively in a matrix environment, helping you to maintain a healthy workload and to elevate your skills.

Delegating effectively involves a strategic process to ensure that tasks are completed efficiently and effectively. Let’s explore the steps to successful delegation in a matrix environment.

Step-By-Step Guide to Effective Delegation

Step 1: Identify the Responsible Party

The first step in the delegation process is to pinpoint who, ideally, should be accountable for the task. This might seem straightforward, but it’s often overlooked as it’s common for high achievers to hastily take on tasks that they believe no one else can handle (or complete as well as they can).

If you’re unsure who should be responsible, consult your manager or other knowledgeable team members. Identifying the right person not only ensures that the task is handled by someone with the appropriate skills but also prevents you from overextending yourself.

Step 2: Establish Roles and Responsibilities

Once you’ve identified the responsible party, set up a meeting to discuss roles and responsibilities. This step is crucial to eliminating any confusion about who should do what and why. It also provides an opportunity to negotiate and to decide task ownership intentionally.

Step 3: Set Clear Expectations

After establishing roles and responsibilities, the next step is to clearly communicate your expectations. This includes timelines, communication methods, updates, and quality standards. It can be helpful to discuss work style here, as well as communication preferences. Remember, don’t assume that the person will perform the task exactly as you would. Open and clear communication can prevent frustration and conflict down the line.

Step 4: Teach Them Now to Save Time Later

Sometimes, you might need to guide the person through the task, especially if it’s their first time handling it. This might seem like extra work, but view it as a long-term investment. Once they’re trained, they may never need your help with that task again, so your time will be freed up for more work that is important and relevant to you.

Step 5: Escalate as Needed

If the person fails to meet the set expectations or refuses to perform work for which they are responsible, don’t hesitate to escalate the issue. Try first to resolve it directly, but if that doesn’t work, involve your manager or the person’s manager. Remember, taking back the task won’t solve the root cause of the problem. Learning to escalate effectively is an essential part of delegation and can enhance your leadership skills.

In closing, moving from doing the work to delegating the work takes practice. Remember, this is a new skill you are learning. With every attempt, you will improve, and before you know it, delegating without authority will be a skill you are recognized for. It will serve you well and help you advance your career for years to come.

You can dig deeper into this topic by listening to episode 99 of the Your Worthy Career Podcast: How to Delegate Part 1.

Melissa LawrenceMelissa Lawrence is a seasoned career and leadership coach and the Founder of Your Worthy Career. She is driven to reshape the traditionally male-dominated landscape of the Pharma/Biotech industry. Lawrence is the creator of a proven process that has helped numerous women step confidently into impactful roles and to excel in their career, without working additional hours or compromising their values. Through private coaching, group programs, and her insightful podcast, “Your Worthy Career,” she  shares her effective strategies for creating a fulfilling career in the life sciences industry.

This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.