Delegating work

December 2012 » Columns » COMMENT
Daniel A. Cuoco, P.E., F.ASCE

My first experience in delegating work to another engineer was positive, since I was moving to a more responsible role, but it also concerned me a bit; I would now be accountable for someone else's work!

Many people struggle with the concept of delegating work, for various reasons: 1) "By the time I explain the job, I can do it myself."; 2) "I can do the job faster."; 3) "I want to do the job my way, so I'll do it myself."; and 4) "If I do the job myself, I know there won't be any mistakes."

In response to the above: 1) I have found that it is worth the time explaining the job the first time, and clearly, so that the engineer will be able to handle similar jobs in the future without needing an explanation; 2) Even though the engineer may take longer to do the job, it will free you up to do more important things; 3) There is usually more than one way to do a job and the engineer may have an equivalent (or even better) method; and 4) Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to delegate to someone who has the necessary technical skills to do the job and to establish checkpoints along the way to ensure that the engineer is proceeding in the right direction.

Delegating work can also provide an excellent opportunity for the training and professional growth of a less experienced engineer. However, this depends on the method of delegating. Let's take an example where we would like to delegate the design of a truss in a building that must transfer column loads from several floors above the truss in order to achieve a clear span below. I recall the approach used by one of my colleagues, in which he would ask the engineer to design the truss, but would only provide the depth and span of the truss along with the column loads imposed, with no explanation as to why the truss was needed or where the loads came from. This is like solving a textbook problem and is really the assignment of a task, as opposed to delegating work.

My approach in the above example would be to give the engineer some background about the overall project, explain why the truss was needed (e.g., can't have columns going through the lobby), and ask the engineer to compute the loads that are imposed on the truss from the floors above. Of course, this approach takes more time to explain, but it pays dividends in the long run. The engineer feels more involved in the project, gains experience, and is shown trust and confidence in his/her ability to make decisions. Besides, if there are any subsequent changes affecting the floors above the truss (e.g., floor loadings, column locations, etc.), the engineer would now be able to calculate the new loads and redesign the truss. Of course, I would periodically check on the engineer and roughly calculate the loads to make sure he/she is in the right ballpark.

Delegating work is essential for the efficient operation of a business. No one can complete a large complex project on his/her own. And when the engineer to whom the work is delegated does a fine job, make sure to give credit where it's due. You will get credit for being a good delegator.

Best wishes for the Holidays, and for a safe, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Daniel A. Cuoco, P.E., F.ASCE,
dcuoco@zweigwhite.com

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