Our editor, Lauren Gow, has an issue with other people. Not surprising, but when it comes to the delegation of risky tasks, who can blame her when things can go horribly wrong?

I am having an issue with other people. Specifically, I am having an issue with the outcomes of tasks I have delegated to other people and I believe, I am not alone. But the real question I am struggling with now is: “Who is to blame?”

Former US Senator, Byron Dorgan, once said: “You can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility.” By Dorgan’s definition, I am to blame. End of story. Pack your bats and balls and head home. I would argue, however, it is not as black and white as that.


Using another US politician as an example (I promise these are not my only sources), 40th US president, Ronald Reagan, once said on the issue of delegation: “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”

My most recent issues involve the delegation of specific tasks to people arguably more qualified than I am. Both are tasks which I have hired and paid a significant sum to a qualified agent to manage. Unfortunately, both tasks have now been mishandled at best or are examples of gross negligence at worst.

The reason I am writing about this is because, you as risk managers, must constantly delegate risk responsibility to others. You must place your trust in others on a daily basis and hope that everyone does what they are tasked with doing to the best of their ability.

So, what happens when things go horribly wrong? If, as Dorgan argues, the responsibility is yours alone, then surely the risk of delegation is too high for the price you could ultimately pay? Or should you, as Reagan implies, interfere to ensure the task is being done to your standards?

Be that as it may, this flies in the face of a recent piece I wrote imploring you to protect your firm’s most important intangible asset – you. Without delegation, and by extension, the implicit trust that comes with it, you will burn out.

So, after much introspection, I have decided that it is about delegation, with parameters. It is about handing off jobs to those more qualified, but having a process in place which audits potential results long before they are final. It is about having trust but being realistic about the limitations of others. But ultimately, it is about knowing what you want to achieve when you set out and knowing how to achieve that – with or without the help of others.