You_ve been the operations coordinator for All-City EMS for about a year, and you feel like you can never seem to get through your to-do list. One day, during a gripe session with the executive director, you tell him you_re frustrated. He says, "Why don_t you delegate the scheduling to Joe. He_s been around for a while, knows the agency and seems to have a good head on his shoulders." Seeing an uncomfortable look come across your face, he says, "You aren_t afraid to delegate, are you?"
"Delegation" is one of those management terms everybody has heard of but is usually unable to implement for their own betterment or that of their organization. This is especially true of most EMS managers. But it_s important because delegation underpins a management style that allows your staff to develop their skills and knowledge to their full potential. Without delegation, you lose out on the full value of your employees.
Delegation is primarily about entrusting your authority to others. This means they can act independently, and they assume responsibility with you for certain tasks. If something goes wrong, you remain responsible, because you_re the manager. The trick is to delegate in such a way that things get doneƒand get done right.
The purpose of delegation is to havesomeone elseget the job done efficiently and effectively. Not just the simple tasks of reading instructions or turning a lever, I_m talking about major decision-making and critical thinking. With delegation, your staff has the authority to react to situations without referring back to you.
To enable someone else to do the job for you, you must ensure that:
- They know what you want them to do;
- They have the authority to achieve it; and
- They know how to do it.
These factors all depend on clearly communicating the nature of the task, the extent of their discretion, and the sources of relevant information and knowledge.
How to Delegate
For various reasons, most managers are somewhat reluctant to delegate. But we need to assume that most people want added responsibilities. (Don_t we all?) Also, assume they_re eager to learn and that they recognize the short-term training investment will pay off in the long term.
The steps presented below will assistyou in the "how-to" phase of delegation:
- Make sure the standards, as well as the outcome, of what you_re delegating are clear. What needs to be done, when should it be finished, and what degree of quality or detail is expected?
- Delegate the objective, not the procedure. Outline the desired results, not the methodology.
- Delegate authority along with responsibility. Making your employees come to you multiple times during the course of a project for minor approvals is overkill.
- Delegate to the right person. Don_t always give tasks to the strongest, most experienced employee or the first available one.
- Reaffirm your direction. When you finish giving instructions, ask them, "What else do you need to get started?" They will tell you.
- Trust people to do well, and don_t look over their shoulders or check up on them along the way, unless they ask you to.
- Obtain their feedback to ensure they feel they_re being treated appropriately. Asking how the new project is going might be enough.
- Ask for progress reports at various times during the project(s), and set interim deadlines to see how things are going.
- Give praise and constructive feedback at the end of the project. And, if appropriate, give them additional responsibilities to continue their growth.
What to Delegate
There_s always the question of what todelegate and what to do yourself. Look at this from a long-term perspective: Don_t you want your employees to eventually reach your level of expertise?
Also, keep the following rule in mind: Don_t delegate what you can eliminate. If parts of a process are unnecessary, you shouldn_t be assigning those duties out to others.
Routine, administrative-type assignmentsare ideal tasks for delegation. These include:
- Fact-finding assignments;
- Preparation of rough drafts of reports;
- Problem analysis and suggested actions;
- Photocopying, printing, collating; and
- Data collection and entry.
Some things you can_t delegate, such as performance reviews and disciplinary measures. Also, remember to delegate, not abdicate. Someone else can do the task, but you_re still responsible for managing the delegation process and the end result.
Some managers feel that by giving others authority, they_ll lose control or power. But if you train your staff (both by example and full explanations) to apply the same criteria as you would yourself, then they_ll be exercising control on your behalf. And because they_ll witness many more situations over which control may be exercised (you can_t be in several places at once), the power is more diversely, efficiently and rapidly applied.
To understand delegation, you really have to think about people. Delegation cannot be viewed as an abstract technique; it depends on individuals and individual needs. Each task you assign should have enough complexity to challenge that staff member a little more each time. But remember, both the EMS manager and the person being managedneed to feel confident, or the entire delegation process will fail.
Delegation can be an easy concept to learn, but it_s difficult to master. If you do it right, you_ll have more time to take on additional projects and your team will be stronger. So, look around. There are people who will help you if you approach them the right way.JEMS
Raphael M. Barishansky,MPH, is currently the chief ofpublic health emergency preparedness for the Prince George_s County (Md.) Department of Health. Prior to this position, he served as executive director of the Hudson Valley Regional EMS Council based in Newburgh, N.Y. He_sa regular contributor to various EMS journals. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.