What is Contingency Leadership?

Osmand Vitez

Contingency leadership is a philosophy that a manager’s leadership style is contingent on the surrounding environment. Three basic factors of this leadership theory include relationships, task structure and positional power. Other factors may be subsidiary to these initial three, although this will depend on the situations found within a business. Relationships deal with the interactions between leaders and team members, project clarity or guidelines and the authority given to a leader to promote or punish workers. Under contingency leadership, leaders do not conform to the situation; companies will match leaders to situations.

With contingency leadership, a manager's leadership style is based upon his or her positional power.
With contingency leadership, a manager's leadership style is based upon his or her positional power.

Leader and team member relationships are critical to the contingency leadership model, as workers must have trust and confidence in the leader. Leaders must work hard to build the trust of workers so each task or activity within the project reaches completion on time. This nuances of relationship will differ, depending on the type of worker involved in the project. Lower skilled workers may need more direction, whereas higher skilled workers will need less direction on completing tasks. When workers experience problems with their projects, strong leaders will need to guide workers through these issues so they can complete projects on time.

Workers must have trust and confidence in the leader, making relationship building critical in contingency leadership.
Workers must have trust and confidence in the leader, making relationship building critical in contingency leadership.

Task structure is also a consideration for contingency leadership. Most leadership models need a structured model to ensure that no worker or task goes without the proper supervision. Leaders may step into projects or programs that do not have a current structure. In order to rectify this, leaders will need a strong ability to gather their team together and create a structure for the project or program. In the contingency leadership model, companies must match leaders to the task at hand. While some managers may be good at creating an initial structure, others may not. Therefore, companies will need to select the former leader for creating a task structure for projects or programs.

Positional power is necessary for leaders to properly promote the correct behavior in employees under the leader’s direction. Leaders who cannot move employees around, such as promoting to supervisory positions or demoting them to lower positions, may struggle to create a firm task structure. Large departments and projects will often have more positional power associated with leadership positions. This is necessary to ensure contingency leaders have all the tools at their disposal for accomplishing required tasks and activities. Delegation is also necessary for large department and projects. Having a strong management team helps the leader to focus on overarching business goals.

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Discussion Comments


@fBoyle-- That's a good question.

These are two different styles of leadership. The basic difference between the two is that behavioral leadership theory says that in order to be a good leader, an individual requires specific characteristics. It's a "one-size-fits-all" idea for leadership.

Contingency leadership theory, on the other hand, says that there is no single leadership type for success. It completely depends on the situation and the environment. While one individual with a set of characteristics might be successful in one environment, another environment will require a leader with different characteristics.

So you can say that the behavioral theory is a rigid style of leadership and contingency, more flexible.


Is there a difference between contingency leadership theory and behavioral leadership theory?


I wish workplaces made more use of this leadership model. I've worked in many environments where the leadership failed to provide the necessary supervision for their workers.

I think some managers are inclined to expect results from their workers without providing direction or building trust. Of course, this doesn't work. Projects are not completed as expected and the employees become frustrated for being held responsible without any supervision from the manager.

I've been in this situation several times personally and I've had to demand direction and supervision from my managers. It would have been nice if they would provide direction on their own, at least until I got the hang of something.

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