Law Enforcement Leadership January February 2018

Man's head buried in paperwork

Mike Carpenter

Do you have too much work to do and too little time to do it? You are not alone!

Administrators of all ranks, from sergeant through chief, all have this same complaint. However, the smart ones have found a solution to ease their time crunch. It’s called delegation.

Some of what creates your time crunch is work which could be done by someone with a lesser rank. Even when a project requires your expertise or judgment, there may be background or preliminary work which could be done by someone else. The proper delegation of some of your tasks can get the work done faster, help to develop your subordinates and can get you out of your acute time crunch, but, if you’re going to delegate, do it right!

The delegation of work should be a win-win-win situation. Your subordinates should win because you are delegating important tasks to them to help them learn and grow. Your department should win because delegation helps future leaders to develop within the organization. And you should win because delegation of some of your work to others frees you up to concentrate on other areas of your command.


So, if delegation is such a great management tool, why don’t more police managers use it? To help answer that question, here are a few “excuses” why managers don’t delegate or do so enough. Perhaps you’ve heard them and, maybe, you’ve said them.

1. “I can do the job better.” Perhaps you can and that’s why you were promoted. However, maybe now is the time to show your bosses that the trust they placed in you for your promotion was justified by taking an important step in performing as an effective supervisor. A critical part of a supervisor’s job is to develop future supervisors. Unfortunately, many bosses have either forgotten this or don’t consider it to be their responsibility. Delegation is a way to ease your people into increasingly more intricate duties. Delegation is a part of the job that every supervisor and command level officer should be doing.

2. “They might make mistakes.” Yes, they might make a mistake or two, but so do you from time to time. An effective police supervisor must be willing to underwrite the mistakes of a subordinate. You can prevent some of these by choosing the right person for the right job, giving them adequate authority and freedom to do the job and by properly monitoring their progress. Even with all of that, they still might make a mistake. You can handle it.

3. “I need to be in control.” If you are competent in the art of delegation and do it properly, you are in control. You don’t give away your authority or power when you delegate. You are still the person in charge. Proper delegation, with proper monitoring and follow-up, actually increases your power and authority because you will get more done in less time.

4. “Delegating takes up too much of my time.” If delegating takes up too much of your time, you are doing it wrong. Monitoring a task, by definition, should take less time and effort than actually “doing” the task. One of the things you can delegate is routine tasks, like monthly reports. True, it may take you a little investment in time to teach someone how to do those reports, but you only do it once. Then, those reports get done, month after month, and all you have to do is monitor the progress and review the final report. The overall process will save you a great deal of time (not cost you time) in the long run.

5. “I feel guilty about having someone else do my work.” The only time you should feel guilty about delegating work to your people is if you are “dumping” your work upon them. Delegation is about providing your people with worthwhile tasks to help develop their potential within the department and to free you.

Steps to Take to Do It Right

1. Select the right subordinate. Make certain the employee you select has the knowledge, the experience and the temperament to do the job. Also, be sure that the employee has the time and the ambition to get the work done on time.

2. Communicate well. Define the task well. Give exact details of what you want, how it should be done and the results you expect. Set out the time constraints for the project. Then, be sure to give them the authority they need to get the job done.

3. Control and follow-up. Set up formal reporting times so that you can both
discuss the status of the project and answer any questions. Check the work more closely in the beginning to be sure it is heading in the right direction. Overall, allow your subordinate enough freedom to complete the task as that person sees fit. However, also remember that good follow-up is absolutely necessary for successful delegation.

A Supervisor or Manager Can Delegate Tasks for Any Number of Good, Valid Reasons

A supervisor can use delegation to help develop a subordinate before they get promoted. If an officer is on the sergeant’s list and it looks like he’ll get promoted within the next year, now might be the time to infuse delegation into a “field training program” to let the officer experience some aspects of his new job before he gets promoted. Let the officer begin to get the feel of being a sergeant by learning how to do some of the administrative tasks of a sergeant under the supervision and guidance of a sergeant. And, if it was explained to the police officer that his newly assigned tasks will help him when he gets promoted, I am sure the added assignments would be accepted as a career building opportunity.

However, delegation does not have to be limited to just those officers who are waiting for promotion. It may be hard to believe, but delegation can be viewed as a reward or can be used to motivate other officers. Case in point: When I was a sergeant, one of my duties was to monitor the maintenance of our patrol vehicles. This was not one of my most favorite assignments. However, one of the officers on my shift was a “car guy.” He loved tinkering with cars; he knew all about how they run; and he was always greatly concerned about noises or soft brakes in any of the police vehicles. At one point, I must have been muttering about scheduling a patrol car for maintenance or some such and he said to me, “Sarge, if you don’t want to do that stuff, I’ll be glad to.” He had a certain interest; he wanted to use his knowledge of cars; and he was genuinely happy when I (very quickly) gave him the chance.

Delegation should not be viewed as a punishment. (Just because one of your officers is doing a good job, it should not appear that you are dumping more work on him.) It can be used as a motivational tool.

To Delegate or Not to Delegate…That Is the Question

Of course, there are limitations to delegating. There are certain tasks you perform which you must perform, whether based on your agency’s policies or perhaps a mandate from your boss. However, there are also certain tasks you perform which could be, and for reasons already listed, should be delegated.

In general, the following areas can be delegated:
• Recurring problems which have routine solutions (scheduling problems, procedural problems);
• Routine tasks (monthly reports, inventories, maintenance);
• Time-consuming tasks (studies, statistical reports); and
• Jobs you aren’t good at, but one of your officers would be (projects in
specialty areas).
There are certain tasks you may be responsible for which should not be delegated:
• Disciplinary matters;
• Investigating allegations of department policies or complaints against one of your officers;
• Policy-making issues; and
• Management functions specific to your rank based on agency policies or
orders from your boss (required approvals, monetary decisions, etc.).
Delegating work does not mean dumping your responsibilities onto your subordinates so that you can go play golf. Nor does it mean casting off only the work you don’t want to do.
Overall, delegation should be a positive activity. And you, as a professional police manager, need to master the art of delegation so that it’s a win-win-win proposition for your people, your department and your career.

Note: Police Management Services, LLC is pleased to announce to the readers of P&SN that it is offering a new online supervisory training program. This online training is the equivalent of a four day training program at an academy. For more information, please check their Web page at or you can reach them by E-mail at or by phone at (518)761-9708. Also, see their ad in this edition of P&SN.