Delegation (Part 2): The WHAT

As a general observation, some leaders tend not to delegate as they should. Although they may say they trust those they supervise, their automatic reaction to solving a problem is to jump in themselves to find solutions. They may believe it is more efficient not to delegate and can be heard saying something like, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” However, that belief is a false approach to efficiency, which limits leaders and those they lead.

As a school leader, I have often shared that a large portion of my job is to delegate. When school community problems and issues arise, it is my responsibility to identify the key players in working out solutions. It is not as simple as passing the proverbial buck. Rather, it falls on the school leader to know his or her principals, coordinators, specialists, teachers, and others on the school leadership team well and connect the right problem-solvers with the right problem – and then support them throughout the process of developing solutions or completing the project.

Although school leaders may recognize the value of delegating, they may struggle with specifically what to delegate or not to delegate. In Fiore’s description of a school leader’s essential duties, he states the leader is charged to…

“Delegate duties and responsibilities to officers or employees… except where policy or regulations of the school board prohibit such delegation of authority.” (Introduction to Educational Administration: Standards, Theories, and Practice )

So, to answer the question, “What type of decisions may be delegated?” – he is saying, “as many as possible.”

What should not be delegated? At the senior-level of school leadership, the answer is those decisions and responsibilities for which the position is legally, ethically, and contractually responsible. For example, signing off on the school’s budget. Every year most schools will spend months preparing the budget for the following school year. In that process, the school leader will often first meet with their business manager and determine a global cap for the overall budget. Next, they may create suggested budget caps for various departments and divisions and provide those numbers to the respective principals and coordinators: all of whom obtain budget requests from those they supervise (i.e., teachers, counselors, chaplains, library staff, etc.). Principals and coordinators keep the numbers within the caps. They then collaborate with the school leader in identifying modifications to those caps when justified – but in the end, the decision must be that of the chief administrator. The school leader is responsible for ensuring the overall budget provides the funds necessary to support a quality program and operates within responsible financial expectations. The school’s overall fiduciary health cannot be delegated – especially if it is a contractual obligation of the leader.

Delegation should not be done when terminating employment. Before termination, the trusted school leader relies on principals and coordinators to undertake a series of steps to avoid the termination, doing all they can to support the employee’s success. Trusted school leaders maintain strong commitments to the employee management process, including mentoring, documented verbal warnings, written warnings, and a professional improvement plan and review. If these strategies do not spur employee improvement, the school leader’s role is to close out the employee’s contract. School leaders not involved directly in managing these difficult decisions and relegate them to an H.R. Coordinator or other administrator diminish their trust level.

The leader must always ask themselves the question, “Do I need to do this?” So, for example, as a Superintendent, when a request for my involvement in a project or initiative is brought to me, I must ask the question, “Does the Superintendent need to do this?” If the answer is “No” and the initiative needs to move forward, my role may become one of assisting in the identification of who needs to be involved. The point here is that I am the only one who is commissioned to do the work of the Superintendent, and like everyone, I have a limited amount of time and capacity to accomplish my work. If I involve myself in tasks and projects that do not require the Superintendent’s involvement, I am stealing time and energy away from my role and the work that only my role can do. 

Thus, in identifying the WHAT of delegation, we serve our teams best when we delegate everything that does not require the participation of our unique role. Diversify and disperse leadership to the greatest extent possible, without abandoning responsibility, and you will not only develop a team of leaders, but the trust in your leadership will also grow as you entrust others.

©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved.

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