Effective Delegation

Aug. 31, 2009
How to handle the transfer of responsibility

Knowing how much to delegate is a difficult problem for aviation supervisors. In a highly technical field like aviation maintenance, it is very common for supervisors not to delegate. The successful manager learns to switch the focus of activities from doing to planning. There is a direct correlation between management position and the amount of time required in “planning” and in “operating.”

Barriers to delegation
Delegation involves chance. Chance is risky. It is a question of control. When a job is delegated, there are feelings attached to the transfer of responsibility such as loss of power, loss of authority, and loss of achievement. Even though some of these feelings are uncomfortable at times, the risk is worth it when you consider the benefits of delegation. These emotions are not negative, but they do hinder effective delegation. Understanding these barriers will help you develop your “delegation consciousness.” One of the barriers is within the management personnel. The following are the three major barriers in management.

1). I can do it better

This fallacy of “I can do better” is often found among aviation supervisors. Even if the manager can do the work better, the choice is not between the quality of his/her work and the quality of the subordinate’s. It is rather between the benefits of better performance on a single task and the benefits derived when that time is devoted to planning, delegating, supervising, training, and developing a team. Eventually a team will both outperform and outlast the manager.

2). Lack of confidence in subordinates

This is a never-ending cycle. When delegation is withheld because of lack of confidence, subordinates are denied the opportunity to develop the very abilities they need to warrant confidence. This makes the manager’s doubts a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3). Insecurity

Do not be afraid of being disliked by subordinates. Don’t be afraid to ask others to increase their job responsibilities. Don’t be afraid you will appear to be dispensable to the company. Delegation is a management tool designed to help you get greater results with less effort. A hectic pace is not a sign of achievement, but of inefficiency.

What to delegate
Even a good employee will not find the work to do. That is your job now as a manager — managing and directing. Why invent jobs or stretch out work to satisfy a false perception of “looking busy?” Even though people sometimes slide through their workday, there is no reason you should choose inefficient and often directionless management. It is like troubleshooting the aircraft by parts swapping. A technician may look busy and is doing something to repair the aircraft, but the reality is he/she is not accomplishing anything. In fact, it is costing more money and longer aircraft downtime.

1). Delegate routine and necessary tasks.

These are the jobs that you have done over and over. These are often the “necessary” tasks of the job that are routinely dictated by your company. You know the jobs very well, including problems, unique characteristics, and the specifics of how to do these jobs. Delegate routine jobs such as shipping a part by properly filling out all forms, boxing it, and making the arrangements. These are the easiest jobs to delegate. Because you know these tasks so well, you can easily explain and delegate them away.

2). Delegate the specialty.

Would you perform surgery on your family? Would you represent yourself in court without a lawyer? Would you overhaul a jet engine? You will probably not do all these things, unless you happen to be a surgeon, a lawyer, or an experienced engine technician. You should look for the most skilled person in the field. The same is true at your company. Take advantage of any specialties that exist in your operation. If you are choosing a new avionics package for your aircraft, you should look for an avionics technician to delegate. If you are creating a maintenance procedure manual, delegate to a technician who writes well.
Beware of being a “superman.” You must realize that there are occasions that require delegation of tasks you normally perform to skilled professionals such as lawyers, accountants, engine technicians, avionics technicians, and HAZMAT consultants. Match your needs to the skill of the people available to you. Practice selective and discriminating delegation here.

3). Delegate “occupational hobbies.”

These are the duties you should have delegated a long time ago, but have not because they are too much fun. It is OK to keep a couple, but at least recognize them for what they are. They are easy, enjoyable, and much better done by someone else. It may not seem right to delegate the very aspect of your job that you enjoy most, yet these are often the tasks that you hang on to even though they do not represent the best use of your time and energy. They often relate to your areas of expertise or an earlier position that you had with the company. A perfect example is a manager troubleshooting an aircraft when there are many excellent technicians with troubleshooting skills on staff. Holding on to specific duties becomes a manager’s means of protecting his/her turf.

A manager has been attending the same aircraft manufacturer’s “technical” seminars each year for several years. He/she looks upon the assignment as a chance to get away and see old friends. Actually, it is no longer necessary for the manager to attend this technical seminar. One of his/her technical supervisors could achieve better results. Do you see yourself in this or comparable situations? Are you simply indulging yourself? Would your career be better served by spending time at management-related seminars? Take a look at your priorities.

What not to delegate
While the majority of aviation supervisors do not delegate enough of their work, there is the occasional manager who delegates entirely too much. For many reasons there are certain tasks that simply cannot be delegated to your subordinates. From the chief executive of the company on down, everyone has obligations and responsibilities that are not to be delegated. These are among the very reasons that you have your job rather than a subordinate position. Guidelines for determining what should not be delegated are:

1). Do not delegate rituals.

There are certain functions that require a person of specific position to be present. For example, retiring employees do not expect to have their retirement gift presented by the president’s secretary. They expect and deserve to have someone as important as the president in attendance.

2). Do not delegate personnel or confidential matters.

Personnel decisions such as evaluations, promotions, or dismissals, are generally sensitive and often difficult decisions to make. While you may need the confidential input of your subordinates on personnel issues, the job and responsibility is yours. An analysis of your department’s job classifications and pay scale may seem like a time-consuming project and a prime job for delegation. This is a job for management. You can just imagine the problems in maintaining the confidentiality of all salaries within a department. This is not a job for subordinates.

3). Do not delegate policy-making.

Responsibilities and tasks within a certain policy area can be delegated, but never delegate the actual formulation of a policy. Policy sets the limits of decision-making. Responsibility for policy-making within specific limited guidelines may take place. For example, credit supervisors develop general credit policies of business. Yet to grant credit to specific customers up to a certain dollar limit is often granted to sales supervisors.

4). Do not delegate crisis.

Crisis will happen. A crisis does not offer the time for initiating delegation. When one does occur, it is the responsibility of the manager to handle problems and find the solution. Studies have shown that in time of crisis, successful supervisors with good delegation skills are able to maintain their leadership role. This is because they have already laid the groundwork for delegation prior to the crisis. Their subordinates are self-motivated and enthusiastic team players. They know what to expect. They are part of a trained team. A crisis in business demands skill and experience.

J.D. McHenry, president of Global Jet Services, has been involved in numerous aviation maintenance and flight operation programs for more than 31 years. His background includes aircraft manufacturer, corporate flight operations, FAR 91 and 135 operations, aircraft management, repair stations, and fixed base operations. He holds A&P, IA, and Doctorate of Business Management. For more information on Global Jet Services, visit www.globaljetservices.com.