The Contingency Leadership

A leadership approach in applying power and influence depends on the leader’s style adapted to fit the situation.  According to contingency leadership theory, no single best leadership style can be identified because the effectiveness of leadership is contingent to the situation.  As stated in Larsson and Vinberg (2010), successful leadership behavior includes “both universal and contingency elements” (p. 329), and the influence of situation is an important variable.

Contingency leadership theories indicate that leadership success depends on situational factors “including the nature of the work performed, the external environment, and the characteristics of followers” (Lussier & Achua, 2010, p. 17), thus leaders should adapt different leadership styles to fit specific situations because there is no one best leadership style in all situations.  Instead of focusing on traits and styles of the leaders, contingency leadership emphasizes on leaders’ effectiveness in the job situations to achieving the leadership goals. According to Amiri, Amiri, and Amiri (2010), a leader’s performance depends on many variables of the situations “with each situation containing driving factors that will determine the effectiveness of that leadership” (p. 1), and these variables include “the leadership structure, the relationship between members and the leader, the power level of leader, the specific roles of the members, the group norms, and the availability of information needed to make the appropriate decisions” (p. 1).

Over the past decades, researchers have developed several contingency leadership theories and models which include Leadership Continuum Theory and Model, Path-Goal Leadership Theory and Model, and Normative Leadership Theory and Models (Lussier & Achua, 2010).   The research of contingency leadership aims to study what situational variables affect leadership effectiveness and how to match between individual leaders and the circumstances for better leadership outcomes (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2010).

These theories and models can guide leaders to assess the situation and adapt a suitable style to lead effectively in complicated social, political, and economic environments.  For example, in today’s dynamic business world, the contingency leadership approach helps leaders implement flexible strategies in responding to different business contexts.  With business globalization, leaders should take culture contingency into consideration because “culture powerfully shapes the way that people interact with one another in social environments, including organizations, because different cultures promote unique sets of values, norms, and expectations” (Shin, Heath, & Lee, 2011, p. 172).  With contingency leadership models, leaders learn to use power wisely to make positive influence on subordinates to achieve organizational goals.  For instance, the same leader may apply highly influential directive leadership to production line staff but place less power and control in R&D projects.  The leader’s approach is contingent to the situation.


Amiri, M., Amiri, M., & Amiri, A. (2010). A dynamic model of contingency leadership effectiveness. Clinical Leadership & Management Review, 24(2), 1-10.

Haslam, S. A, Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2010). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence, and power. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Larsson, J., & Vinberg, S. (2010). Leadership behaviour in successful organisations: Universal or situation-dependent?. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 21(3), 317-334. doi:10.1080/14783360903561779

Lussier, R. N. & Achua, C. F. (2010). Leadership: Theory, application, and skill development (4th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Shin, J., Heath, R. L., & Lee, J. (2011). A Contingency explanation of public relations practitioner leadership styles: Situation and culture. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(2), 167-190. doi:10.1080/1062726X.2010.505121

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