How Engineers Can Delegate With Confidence

We’ve all had the colleague: The Hoarder.

The Hoarder likes to collect project after project, task after task. They are focused on growing their to-do list and are hell-bent against sharing any of their work. There could be many reasons for this behavior: they don’t trust their coworkers to do the work, they fear for their job security and want to stay overly busy, or they think it’s easier to do the work themselves. Or as is the case with many engineers, they simple aren’t skilled at delegating the work.

This scenario works for a while until The Hoarder becomes burnout, the quality in their work starts to suffer and deliverables get delivered late. At the same time, the junior or intermediate engineer that isn’t receiving enough work becomes bored, resentful of The Hoarder and eventually leaves their job to find a more engaging role.

For engineers, delegating work can be a challenge, both the giving and the receiving. Engineers solve problems, but often we create our own challenges when we aren’t confident in certain leadership aspects of our work. Delegating with confidence requires engineers to strategically lean into aspects of leadership that don’t always come naturally.

This article explores three ways engineers can become more confident with their delegation skills and create a more engaging and productive workplace.

Establish Connection

Don’t get me wrong, I loathe small talk just as much as you do. However, before launching into a detailed explanation of a complicated task, it’s important to establish a connection with the human you’re talking to. I’m not suggesting you need to hear a detailed account of their love life, but at least give them a good look in the eye and say, “Hey, how’s your day going?” This shows you care, and they are valued. When people feel valued, they are more connected to their team and their work.

Next, before outlining what needs to be done, it’s important to provide a little bit of context about why this particular task is important to the overall project. Are you designing a new road to help reduce commute times? Are you writing new code for a charity website? Are you doing calculations for a new supply of clean drinking water to a remote community? As the delegator, it is our role to tell the story of the project and how a particular task benefits the project. You are selling the importance of the task within the project. Get them excited for the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful project.

Creating clear expectations

Scope, schedule, budget, we all know these are critical to every project, but most of us are guilty of not making these three things explicitly clear when delegating. How many hours are available for this task? When is it due? What does the final deliverable look like? For the best chance of successfully delivering on a task, these three things — scope, schedule, budget — must be clear during delegation. For larger tasks, outline these three things in an email and follow-up with a phone call or a meeting.

To ensure that the scope, schedule and budget have been understood during delegation, have the person you are delegating to repeat them back to you. This is powerful. Here’s how this conversation can look:

Delegator: “Ok, I just want to make sure you are clear on what is expected for this task. Can you repeat back what we agreed upon?”

Delegee: “Yes, I have twenty hours to complete this task, I need to get it to you by end of day Thursday, and I am going to use the same report template as last time.”

The repetition serves to create an agreement between the two parties that the task will be completed as planned.

The follow-up

The gold is in the follow-up — that’s a corny phrase in sales, but hey, it works, even in delegation.

The mistake that many engineers make when delegating is they don’t follow-up on their request. Or if they do, they leave it until the very last minute.

For a complex task, say one that is a week or more in duration, there’s no harm in sending a follow-up message or having a quick call a day or so into the work. “Do you have everything you need? Are you off to a good start? Are you still looking good for the due date?”

These short and simple touchpoints make the delegee know you are thinking of them, and that you want them to succeed on the task. These check-ins, if done far enough in advance of the deliverable due date, can serve to mitigate any last-minute chaos.

As, engineers, we are fortunate to work on a variety of complex problems. As engineering leaders, we are doing ourselves a disservice if, in addition to being technically strong, we do not become expert communicators and proficient delegators. The quality of our work and the satisfaction of our clients has a direct correlation to our ability to lead.

So, what will your delegation habit be? Establishing a connection, creating clear expectations, or finding gold in the follow-up?

Become confident with delegation and watch your teams thrive.

Michael Tranmer is an #1 International Best-Selling Author, TEDx Speaker, Professional Engineer & GHD’s Western Canada Maritime & Coastal Leader, Vice Chair of the BCCR Emerging Leader’s Group.

Michael has spoken on leadership in engineering for the Professional Engineers of Ontario, Project Management Institute, Engineers & Geoscientists BC, Association of Consulting Engineering Companies of BC, and the British Columbia Construction Roundtable. He has been featured on: CBC TV, Daily Hive, Elephant Journal, New York Weekly & Wealth Insider.

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