How to delegate effectively when you're not the boss

Here's a question I received that I suspect other people might also have.

I really appreciate all of your blog posts. One thing I noticed about delegating is that we need to incentivize the individual. This is often the hardest part for me as a Senior Associate because I am not yet part of management and often times the individual prioritizes the management’s task over mine. I would really appreciate your thoughts/strategy on how to effectively incentivize in these type of situations.

So this is an interesting question that could seem complex on the surface but the answer is actually pretty straightforward. The situation mentioned by the reader could basically happen in one of two scenarios.

1. Associate, Senior Associate, and Manager on the same project/workstream

This scenario can and does occur but really shouldn’t. If you find yourself in this position, you should consider having a conversation with your manager to validate you have a clear understanding of the priorities for the project. If everyone is on the same project and workstream within that project, every decision should serve moving toward the same objective.

That being said, you may not have full visibility to everything going on, so if you think there might be a conflict, speak up! Ask which task is higher priority. And if it’s not the answer you want, ask if the task you want to delegate can wait or if you should just do it yourself in the interest of time (assuming the other things on your plate are lower priority.

To sum it up in a phrase, you need to communicate.

2. Associate and Senior Associate on the same project/workstream but the manager is on another

If you work on a larger engagement, you may find yourself in a situation where multiple partners, directors, and/or managers will look to the nearest “doer” to help on something which may or may not be client-related.

This scenario is a bit more difficult to navigate than the first above, but I suggest you try the following approach.

First, you should remind the associate in question that client deliverables trump internal lunch-n-learns.

Second, you have to encourage the associate to speak up if in a time crunch. The higher-ups, especially on larger engagements, rely on you to say something if you reach capacity and taking on another task will compromise a pre-existing due date.

Lastly, if you’re not sure or uncomfortable with approaching the manager giving conflicting direction, you should mention what’s going on with your manager. Then your manager can have the conversation to align on staff priorities.

Learning how to delegate effectively is far from a perfect science, but you get a better feel for what to do as you have more encounters with these types of situations and get more familiar with the people on your project teams.