Understanding the Contingency Theory of Leadership (Plus Examples)

contingency theory of leadership, contingency theory of leadership examples

Understanding the Contingency Theory of Leadership (Plus Examples)

Good leadership is not a singular trait but rather a combination of key skills and attributes that can be developed with the proper support. The contingency theory of leadership suggests that effective leadership depends on the situation, and leaders can be highly effective in one situation and ineffective in another. However, this theory minimises people’s ability to develop new skills and behaviours.

Good leadership is not just about a leader’s skills but also about their awareness and adaptability in a specific situation. Building self-awareness and understanding different leadership styles can help leaders identify areas for improvement. This article will discuss the contingency theory of leadership, its importance and its models.

What Is the Contingency Theory of Leadership?

The contingency theory of leadership suggests that a situation influences effective leadership, and an individual’s leadership style should be suited to the situation. This theory rejects the notion of being a “good” or “bad” leader and emphasises matching the right traits to the situation. It believes successful leadership often combines the leader’s and the challenge’s attributes.

Austrian psychologist Fred E. Fiedler first developed the theory in the 1960s, and it has evolved into the Situational Leadership® model, the Path-Goal model, and the Decision-Making model. These models offer different approaches to applying the contingency theory of leadership.

Why Is Contingency Theory Important in Leadership?

The contingency theory of leadership is important in leadership for several reasons:

  • Adaptability: According to the contingency theory, leaders need to be able to change their plans quickly. How good a leader is depends on how well they can read the situation and change how they do things based on the relationship between the boss and the team members, how long it will take to finish a job, and other things.
  • Matching Leadership Style to Situation: The theory says a leader should use a style that fits the situation. In other words, a leader can be good in some situations but bad in others. The theory also considers that the qualities of the leader and the qualities of the task often work together to make an effort successful.
  • Diversity in Leadership Models: The contingency theory has led to various models, each offering a distinct perspective on leadership. These models include the Fiedler Model, the Situational Leadership Model, the Path-Goal Model, and the Decision-Making Model. Each model presents different ways to approach and apply the contingency theory of leadership, providing leaders with various options.
  • Realistic Expectations: The contingency theory of leadership encourages leaders to be realistic. It makes them think about the situation and treat each team member as unique instead of using a standard method that works for everyone. This way of doing things lets people be more creative and flexible at work.
  • Recognising Leadership Fit: The contingency theory of leadership stresses how important it is for leaders, workers, and the organization to “fit” together well. It doesn’t just assume that leaders can change their skills and personality to fit the moment’s needs.

The Different Contingency Theories or Models of Leadership

The concept of contingency theory of leadership has been implemented in several different ways. As a manager or team leader, you can use the following model:

#1. Decision-Making Model

The Decision-Making model, also known as the Vroom-Yetton contingency model, is a leadership theory that focuses on decision-making and leader-member relations. It presents five leadership styles: Autocratic (A1), Autocratic (A2), Consultative (C1), Consultative (C2), and Collaborative (G2).

  • Autocratic (A1) leaders make decisions independently without consulting others. 
  • Autocratic (A2) leaders passively consult with team members to gather information.
  • Consultative (C1) leaders make decisions independently but consult individually to understand everyone’s opinions. 
  • Consultative (C2) leaders consult with team members through group discussions to gather suggestions before making decisions.
  • Collaborative (G2) leaders make decisions through a democratic leadership process, often organising group discussions before voting for the final decision.

#2. Fiedler’s Contingency Model

In the 1960s, Austrian psychologist and professor Fred Fiedler developed the contingency leadership model, which suggests that life experiences shape leadership styles. This theory suggests that leadership styles are fixed and nearly impossible to change.

The Fiedler Model is a strategy that consists of two stages. To begin, the leader has to assess their leadership style. Then, to be effective, they need to consider three essential criteria, all of which contribute to “situational favourableness.

The Fiedler Model is unique because it also proposes that leadership styles are immutable. It is necessary to find a replacement for a leader whose management method is incompatible with the circumstances to manage the situation effectively. 

To use Fiedler’s theory, you need to use Fiedler’s model to determine your leadership style and how favourable the situation is.

Leadership Style

To determine your leadership style, identify the coworker you enjoy working with the least and rate them using the Least Preferred Coworker (LPC) scale.

Suppose you score them high on the LPC. In that case, it indicates you are a relationship-oriented leader who sees the best in people. You focus on building healthy relationships and conflict management and consider multiple variables in decision-making. Conversely, a low LPC indicates a task-oriented leader who values efficiency and effectiveness over other attributes.

Also, let’s say you give them an average score—not too high or too low. That means you’re both relationship- and task-oriented, and you need to be more subjective and self-reflective in dealing with things.

Situational Favourableness

Fiedler’s LPC score is a baseline for understanding leadership styles and addressing unfavourable situations, which is the second part of the model. To determine situational favourableness, leaders must evaluate the situation by considering the following three factors:

  • Leader-member relations
  • Task structure
  • Leader position power.

Leader-member relations, which refer to relationship strength, are determined by trust and respect between the team and the leader, with stronger relations leading to more favourable situations. Task structure is the clear and organized organization of a project’s tasks, with a higher task structure leading to more favourable situations. Finally, leader position power is the level of authority a leader has over their team, with higher positions resulting in more favourable situations.

How to Apply the Model

Fiedler’s theory suggests that LPC leaders are needed in favourable situations, while HPC leaders are necessary in less favourable ones. Task-oriented leaders are more productive with a positive leader-team connection and well-structured assignments. Conversely, leaders focused on relationships are more effective in situations with significant distance between leaders and teams and a lack of order in duties. However, some argue that this model needs more flexibility, as it doesn’t believe leaders can alter their leadership styles.

#3. Path-Goal Model

The path-goal model focuses on identifying processes that allow team members to achieve their individual objectives. It suggests that leaders who use this model help employees achieve their goals by working with them to determine their daily, weekly, or career goals. This involves adapting their coaching style to each employee’s needs and goals.

The contingency theory of leadership plays a role in this, as individuals’ leadership styles will vary based on each goal path. This requires flexibility and self-awareness from the leader, as they must know their employees’ goals, skills, and what they need to coach to achieve their goals.

  • Supportive leaders
  • Participative leaders
  • Directive-clarifying leaders
  • Achievement-oriented leaders

Supportive leaders prioritize employee well-being and productivity; this leadership style suits stressful work environments. Participative leaders work alongside their team, often seeking input or feedback before making decisions. According to the theory, the directive-clarifying leadership style is most effective when the employees’ roles and tasks are unstructured or ambiguous, as it involves clear expectations and instructions for specific tasks. Achievement-oriented leaders set high expectations and goals, often encouraging autonomy and independence. These styles are suitable for leaders managing distributed leaders or high-achieving teams.

#4. Situational Leadership Model

The situational leadership model, also known as the “Hersey-Blanchard model,” suggests that leaders should adapt their leadership styles to fit their team members and individual abilities. This model focuses on the maturity level of a team’s members. High-maturity team members are experienced and capable, while moderate-maturity employees need more confidence or are unwilling to complete tasks. Low-maturity employees are enthusiastic but need more skills or experience to complete tasks.

The situational leadership model identifies four leadership styles

A delegating style allows team members to be responsible for tasks or lead subgroups, which is best suited for high-maturity teams. Participating style focuses on sharing ideas and decisions, which is best for moderately mature team members who need one-on-one mentoring. The selling style involves persuasively giving task instructions, which is best for moderate team members but best for confident but unwilling employees. Finally, the teaching style is used by leaders who frequently give explicit directions and supervise tasks closely, which is best for low-maturity followers who are willing but unable to act independently.

Applying the Contingency Theory of Leadership in the Workplace

The contingency theory of leadership can help you understand how leadership styles manifest in the workplace. Ways to apply the theory to make an impact include:

  • Identify where the contingency theory of leadership shows up in your behaviours and mindset. Pay attention to how you react to specific challenges or situations at work and adapt based on whom you’re working with, what you’re working on, and other variables.
  • Determine your leadership style or styles for specific situations early in your leadership role and reevaluate your style regularly as you gain experience, change your team or employer, or invest in coaching.
  • Identify your ideal outcome and the skills needed to achieve it. Your team’s struggle to achieve those outcomes may reflect your leadership effectiveness. A coach can help you adapt and develop the skills you may lack to lead effectively.
  • Work with your coach to develop and grow your leadership skills. A leadership coach can help you become more self-aware and acknowledge the inherent complexity of leadership. 
  • Commit to growing and learning, as every workplace circumstance has no single correct approach or leadership characteristics. Instead, adopt a growth mindset and develop skills that make you an adaptable, open-minded leader.

Contingency Theory of Leadership Examples

The contingency theory of leadership examples is:

  • A leader adapts to the team members’ preferred methods of feedback. This shows he adapts the path-goal model of contingency theory.
  • A leader who delegated authority to team members exemplifies the situational leadership model.
  • An example of a leader who adopts the decision-making model is a leader who makes a final decision based on the responses he gets from team members on the subject.


The contingency theory of leadership can help individuals understand their leadership style and the best style to use depending on the team they are working with. The theory promotes adaptability, matching leadership style to the situation, diversity in leadership models, realistic expectations, and recognizing the importance of fit between leaders, workers, and the organization.


What do contingency theories of leadership emphasise?

The contingency theory of leadership emphasises the importance of ensuring the right fit among leaders, employees, and the organisation rather than relying on leaders adapting their skills to the situation. It suggests that leadership effectiveness depends on the situation’s characteristics.

How to Use the Contingency Theory of Leadership

The contingency theory of leadership involves identifying one’s leadership style, seeking feedback from team members, improving situational favorableness, understanding employees’ goals, and regularly assessing the situation. This approach encourages self-reflection awareness of team members and the situation and guides on selecting the best leadership style for a given situation.


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