Situational Leadership

What is Situational Leadership? How do you use it? These are questions that I am commonly asked. This page will summarise key aspects of situational leadership or contingency leadership as it is also referred to.

Situational or Contingency theory of leadership states that the behaviour should be contingent on the organisational situation at the time. There is not one leadership style or approach that is appropriate for every situation. It depends on the following variables: The manager, the subordinate, the situation. There are many different situational or contingency theories however the one that I will discuss here is Hersey and Blanchard (1993) theory. This theory says that the characteristics and expectations of the group members play a key part in deciding what style to use. It looks at the "readiness" of followers or team members.

This theory states that manager’s behaviours can fall into any one of 4 quadrants i.e. Telling, Selling, Participating and Delegating. The leader matches the leadership style according to the readiness of the subordinates which move in stages along a continuum.


The ability and willingness subordinates have to completing tasks. Ability is defined as the knowledge, experience, and skill the person possess.

Willingness: The motivation and commitment required.

In other words, different situations determine where the best way to behave falls.

Based on the level of readiness, the leadership style should be a combination of task and relationship behaviours:

Task Behaviour:

Communicating the duties and responsibilities of the team member including providing the direction, setting goals, defining roles.

Relationship Behaviour:

Involves listening to the team member and provides support and encouragement.

Other contingency or situational leadership theories that you may wish to read up on are (i) Fiedler’s Contingency Model of Leadership which says there are three situational variables to determine the style of leadership to be adopted:

  • Leader-member relations: support of group members; trust, respect that exist
  • Task structure: how well defined the task is and are the outcomes clear to denote as a success or failure
  • Position power: The amount of power the leader can use to accomplish goals and the support of higher management

and(ii)  Path-Goal Theory which states that the leaders should use the style of leadership that is most effective in influencing subordinates’ perceptions of the goals they need to achieve and the way or path they need to achieve them. The dominant factors are:

  • The characteristics of the team or group members: what are their skills; motivation; locus of control; expectations
  • The nature of the task or job and the immediate context in which it takes place e.g. job design; goal clarity (simple or complex); resources (e.g. tools, materials, information); time available.

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Leadership Theories