What to delegate to your research team

Many research managers find themselves reluctant to delegate jobs to their team. As they are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project, principal investigators can feel obliged to take a hands-on approach to every aspect of their work and may even see delegation as an abrogation of that responsibility .

At the same time, for the project to progress successfully, you need to make sure you have the time and space to become an effective research leader. Well thought out delegation can help in lightening your load to give you time to achieve that.

One way to approach this is to think about all aspects of the project and ask, ‘which of the tasks are ones that only I can do?' Most of the jobs that remain are suitable for delegation.


When you were a member of research staff what were the sort of tasks delegated to you? You might find that force of habit means that you are still doing them when they could be better passed on to your researchers.

Making the right delegation decisions

When deciding which tasks you wish to delegate to your researchers, in addition to your own workload  you will want to consider the capabilities of your researchers and their development needs. Consider the person you are delegating to and the task you are asking them to complete. Your approach to delegation is going to differ depending on how confident you are that they can complete the job independently. Ask yourself:

  • Does this researcher have all the skills and knowledge needed to carry out the task?
  • Are they willing and confident enough to assume the responsibility?

Although playing safe and delegating mundane or time-consuming administrative duties may be very helpful in freeing up your time you need to  be careful not to turn certain members of your team into full-time administrators. Routine tasks should be  distributed evenly (including yourself) and if there is a particularly tedious task that regularly needs to be done make sure the same person isn't always burdened with it.

Delegation is also about allowing your staff to expand their skills and experience. Putting an important part of your research project in the hands of one your researchers can be invaluable in inspiring confidence, motivation and helping their career progression. Talking  to them about their professional aspirations and how their work on the project can help them work towards their goals. In a more formal setting, this can also form part of the appraisal process.