Six Keys for Setting Team Priorities and Delegating

April 21, 2022 Jay Campbell


The business world is only going to keep moving faster, which is forcing leaders to become increasingly adept at managing their team’s priorities and delegating tasks. But that can be a tricky undertaking.

The way leaders manage their team’s priorities and delegate runs the spectrum. On one end are leaders who don’t know what their people are working on, can’t set priorities, and have delegated to the point of abdicating their responsibility. This style is obviously dysfunctional. On the other end are leaders who are doing the work of their employees, micromanaging them, and disempowering them. This style denies people the chance to learn and grow on the job. It makes employees dependent on their managers.

You want to be in the sweet spot when managing your team’s priorities and delegating, adjusting the direction and support each person needs in each case. That will balance performance with learning while helping your people develop and be successful. It’s a place where your people truly work as a team and you provide inspiring leadership.

Here are some tips for getting there.

Define Priorities and Goals

Defining goals and objectives with your people is the first step. This might sound obvious until you consider that only 50% of employees strongly agree that they understand what is expected of them at work.

A useful practice is to ask your people to listen to the goals you verbalize and restate them in their own words. It sounds simple, but there are many layers of interpretation, storage, recall, and reinterpretation that can change the meaning of even simple goals. How well can you expect someone to fulfill a goal if they don’t even start out on the same page as you?

Defining goals and objectives shouldn’t be done just at the start of a project. For most of us, goals will evolve along the way as new information becomes available. That means revisiting the goals regularly to keep people on track.

Collaboration is Key

Prioritization should be done collaboratively. Great managers treat their people as intellectual peers, discussing tricky choices with them and debating tradeoffs. This includes empowering them to make their own decisions. Even if people don’t have answers at the ready, they feel highly respected when their leaders treat them as equals.                                                         

The key is to make your people real partners when setting priorities. When you do this, you show you care what they think. This inspires them to be more invested in their work. These exchanges also give you an opportunity to emphasize timelines and stakeholder needs.

Delegation Depends on Follow-Up

Delegation isn’t a one-and-done affair. Assigning a job and not following up on the task isn’t a successful strategy. The better practice is for the leader to check in on the assignment and offer support when needed. Your goal is not to hover or micromanage but to show you are still aware and interested about the assignment. If your people know something is important to you, it will be more important to them.

Praise Regularly

Praising people when they do a good job is one of my favorite practices Ken teaches. It makes the receiver feel good, drives engagement, and brings a host of other benefits. It also plays an important part in delegation.

When you’ve delegated a big project, praising is a great way to sustain a person’s enthusiasm. Think of praising as a way of locking in the best behaviors of your staff to leverage in every future task they take on. You’ll help them be more successful in the future if you recognize praiseworthy behaviors now.

Delegation and Trust

As a leader, delegating a task requires a certain amount of trust on your part. You are trusting people to complete a project without much oversight. But what can you do when your trust level is moderate or variable?

It helps to view trust as an analog variable—ask yourself “how much can I trust them?” rather than “Do I trust them?” 

For most tasks and projects, delegation doesn’t have to be a black or white request. For instance, if the project is to create a final report, you can ask people to complete tasks ranging from small (e.g., pull together some talking points) to medium (e.g., draft some slides) to large (e.g., deliver the final presentation on your own).

It’s also helpful to consider the stakes. Does this task have a high-risk profile? Are the consequences significant? If the stakes of a task are low, little trust is required to delegate. You might decide to hand the task off and make it a learning opportunity for the individual. If the stakes are high, you would more likely need to have considerable trust in the person and may want to check in regularly.

Leading from the Sweet Spot

Managing your team’s priorities and delegating work requires skilled leadership. If you do it well, you’ll empower your people with new skills and confidence. And you’ll have more time to work on other projects.

It might be challenging, but the rewards are worth it.


About the Author

Jay Campbell

Dr. Jay Campbell is the Chief Product Officer for Blanchard, responsible for the development and management of the company’s portfolio of product offerings. He coordinates Blanchard’s research efforts on leadership topics, training effectiveness, and new content areas. Jay has degrees in Engineering and Economics from Vanderbilt University, an MBA from Boston College, and a Doctorate in Leadership and Organizational Change from the University of Southern California.

More Content by Jay Campbell
Previous Resource
Done with Climbing the Leadership Ladder? Ask Madeleine
Done with Climbing the Leadership Ladder? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, I need your professional advice on career goals or growth. I worked in the construction ind...

Next Resource
Are You a Trustworthy, Self-Aware Leader?
Are You a Trustworthy, Self-Aware Leader?

In our new book Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, my coauthor, R...