An Important Announcement From OfficeNinjas Founders →We’re Taking a Hiatus

How to Pass Tasks Up the Food Chain (and Avoid Getting Eaten Alive)

Your plate is piled high with a seemingly endless assortment of tasks and to-dos. You’re skipping lunch, working late, and doing everything you can to avoid tearing your hair out. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it—you simply can’t handle this brimming workload on your own.

So, what should you do? Call in sick and hope that all of those pesky assignments are magically taken care of by the time you gather your courage and stroll back into the office?

Tempting—but not exactly effective.You’re a Ninja, so you know deep down inside that there’s got to be a better way to tackle that overwhelming to-do list once and for all. And luckily, there is.

How? By delegating.

Are you allowed to delegate?

Let’s face it—as an Office Ninja, you’re used to being on the receiving end of delegation. Different duties and projects somehow find their way to your desk, because people know you’ll take care of those time-consuming loose ends flawlessly.

So being the one who delegates might seem like a foreign concept. How could you possibly pass things up the food chain (whether to your boss or other colleagues) when you’re the one who’s supposed to be able to handle anything that comes your way?

First, remember that you’re only human. The sooner you can recognize and accept that fact, the better off you’ll be. We all find ourselves needing some extra hands on deck every now and then. That doesn’t mean you’re disorganized or unworthy of your position—it just means you’ve bit off a little more than you can chew at the moment.

Second, you need to realize that yes, you absolutely can delegate. While it’s a concept traditionally meant to pass responsibilities on to someone who’s less senior, there are still ways to delegate upwards. It just takes a little extra thought and consideration.

Interested? Here are four tips to help you delegate up—without seeming like an entitled employee who’s only trying to pass the buck.

1. Approach Your Boss

Perhaps this first suggestion seems a bit like a “cheater”. We’ll own that. But guess what? It can be incredibly effective, while also saving you the potential difficulty or awkwardness of calling the delegation shots on your own.

So, what is this magical method? Have your boss or supervisor delegate for you. When you know it’s obvious that you have way too much on your to-do list, initiate a frank conversation with your manager and then see if there are a few tasks or duties that could be shifted elsewhere.

Yes, it’ll mean admitting that you’re overwhelmed. But it also means that your boss will be the one doling out instructions and extra work—not you.

2. Ask Instead of Tell

Think of the last time someone walked up to your desk and used phrases like “I need you to” or “you have to”. If you’re like most people, those few words are probably enough to make you grit your teeth and immediately feel taken advantage of. But what if the phrase used was a question instead?

When moving tasks off your own plate and onto someone else’s (particularly someone in a more superior role), you’re always better off asking instead of telling. This makes it obvious that you’re requesting help—rather than giving firm instructions.

As Dr. Scott Williams outlines in his research for Wright State University,

People tend to be more committed to decisions when they have participated in the decision-making processes. That commitment will be invaluable since you will be relying on them to be at least somewhat resourceful and to take initiative.

“If you tell people ‘do this’, it doesn’t go over too well,” adds Office Ninja Shawn J. So, use questions and language that make it clear that you’re asking for a favor and aren’t just trying to shirk responsibilities.

3. Be Selective

Effective delegation doesn’t just involve asking for help, washing your hands of that project, and walking away. No, delegating successfully also involves some prior thought—particularly when it comes to finding the appropriate person to delegate to.

Rather than just trying to throw that assignment to anyone who’s open, make an effort to truly find the best person for the job. Maybe it’s someone who has all of the skills and know-how to get the job done well. Or perhaps it’s someone you know would be excited about the challenge.

Office Ninja Melissa S. shares:

Look for the person who you think would be more qualified or simply enjoys the work.

So comb through the potential people who could take that project on, and approach the one who seems like the best fit. Your choosiness will likely pay off in the end, and they might even be flattered that you approached them.

4. Provide an Explanation

If you think you can delegate and run, think again. When passing a particular task along to someone else, you can bet there’s going to be a bit of explanation required. Why are you unable to complete it yourself? Why did you choose this specific person to help you?

Executive Assistant Kiyomi D. says,

I will offer my explanation in case they aren’t aware why I’m delegating. I also loop in the appropriate people on why it left my desk so they know who they should be following up with or if they have any questions about the task they know the right person to ask.

The important thing to remember is that you can’t delegate without providing context. Plus, your reasoning will likely help others sympathize with you and thus make them more willing to take on that extra work without putting up a stink.

When you’re in the role that’s often delegated to, being the delegator can seem like an impossible challenge. However, every now and then, you’ll run into a time when it’s necessary. Put these four tips to use, and you’re sure to clear out some of those to-dos—without any snide remarks, eye rolls, or hard feelings from your colleagues.

Have you ever passed any of your own tasks up the food chain? What strategies did you put into play?


  1. Thank you! This post is very helpful.

Comments are closed.