Situational Theories Of Leadership Management Essay

The following essay will demonstrate the author’s ability to understand key theoretical and strategic issues relating to human resource management. The author will take the needs of the organisation and the individual, in order to maximise motivation, workplace practices and culture. These are some examples that are required for effective project management.

Therefore, the author will critically compare three contingency – situational theories and apply these to the authors own experiences within the workplace or outside commitments. The aim is to exemplify high-quality project management skills and identify what is required to become a successful leader.

To begin, when individuals first learn about Fiedler’s contingency theory, ‘they generally think of the more readily used form of the word contingency’ (Envision, 2005). In essence, they assume that contingency is an element that relays upon or caused by another event i.e. leaderships, groups of people or infrequent relationships come into contention. However, at its base, contingency means individuals interacting with each other. This involves the connection or dependence amongst followers and their leaders.

Between 1950 and 1960s, psychologists including Fielder, began to study leadership and behaviour styles of managers. However, before Fiedler’s study, psychologists focused on the characteristics of successful leaders and believed in an ideal science of organisation.

Psychologists believed that there were preeminent methods to run a group or organisation, which had the best decision making and effective business practices. Therefore, Fielder’s contingency theory was a benchmark to all modern management theories, in contradicting, ‘singular ideal organizational approaches’ (Envision, 2005).

The rationale of Fiedler’s contingency is based upon the relationship between a leader’s personality and the current environment in which a leader operates. A leader can be defined as, ‘an individual who is given the task of directing or coordinating task-relevant activities, or an individual who carries the responsibility for performing these functions when there is no appointed leader’ (Envision, 2005).

Therefore, ‘the theory is based on determining the orientation of the leader (i.e. relationship or task) and the elements of the situation (i.e. leader-member relations, task structure, and leader position power)’ (SAC Business, 2007). Although, it’s worthwhile noting that task-oriented styles are more effective when a leader either has or doesn’t has influence upon a particular situation. Relationship-orientated styles are more effective, only when a leader is reasonably favourable to their influence.

In Fiedler’s view, the ‘appropriateness of the leadership style for maximizing group performance is contingent upon the favourableness of group-task situations’ (Fielder, 1967).

While the theory foresees leader effectiveness upon an individual’s characteristics and favourableness of the situation, the significant of effectiveness is anticipated by most variants of contingency theory as choosing the correct style of leader. The style of the leader is anticipated by both external and internal factors within an organisation i.e. a leader’s awareness and agreement with other individuals upon a given task.

In other words, the organization should match up a particular manager and his style to the demands of the situation or alter the variables within the situation, i.e., the power that goes with the leadership position, so that the situation becomes more conducive to the manager’s style of influence.

Fielder proposes that it would be easier and more effective if an organisation engineers a job to suit a leader and not a leader adapting his own leadership style to fit the job. In essence, ‘an organisation should match a manager and his style to the demands of the situation or alter the variables within the situation’ (Dean, 1976) i.e. the power associated with a leadership position, which will make the situation more conductive to a manager’s style of influence.

There have been other contingency theories (situational contingency theory), which agree upon the non-existence of a single correct solution within an organisation. Additional similarities allowed the main principles to be amalgamated into one typical contingency theory i.e. group effectiveness requires cohesion between a leader’s style and situational demands.

Likewise, the theory which Fielder defines as, “situational control,” would demonstrate how a leader can have an influence on a group’s behaviour and actions. Nevertheless, the Fielder theory hypothesises that most situations will have three aspects which will constitute a leaders posture:

The Environment – i.e. the group’s assurance of the leader.

Vagueness or clearness of the group’s task.

A leader’s influence will effect on how the group performs on a given task.

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Therefore, in reference to the author’s experiences, there was time when the author was rugby captain for a local Rugby team. Taking Fielder’s three theory hypothesis into context, the author had the acclaimed respect and confidence from other members of the team. The team were satisfied that they had a leader capable of delivering success and with this in mind; the team were fully focused on the task ahead.

Before a league match commenced, the team were fully aware that they needed to work as a unit. All players knew that both the manager and the captain (author) demanded 100% commitment in a match or training. For whatever reason if a player lacked confidence or commitment, they would be dropped until they proved there worthiness.

As a leader, the author regards himself as a benevolent dictator (Paul, 2004). The author can be ruthless in many respects, due to the hunger for success. The team understands the way in which the author reacts to particular scenarios i.e. the author has a fun side, as well as a serious side. As discussed, the author respects fellow team members and the team respects the author. Therefore, this is regarded as a recipe for success and could be reflected in the team’s outstanding results.

In contrast to Fiedler’s contingency theory, which anticipates that a ‘leadership style is difficult to change’ (Wiley, 2010), Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership model proposes that successful leaders adjust their leadership styles. Therefore, instead of utilising one style of leadership, leaders should change their leadership styles ‘based on the maturity of the people they’re leading and the details of the task’ (Mind Tools, 2010).

In essence, this theory allows the leader to judge both tasks and relationships with individuals more effectively, depending on the requirements that are needed to do the job successfully.

Hersey-Blanchard devised a model map, which relates a particular leadership style to a maturity level. The table below (figure 1 – Mind Tools, 2010), identifies which leadership style Hersey and Blanchard consider the most effective for people with that level of maturity.

Maturity Level

Most Appropriate Leadership Style

M1: Low maturity.

S1: Telling/directing.

M2: Medium maturity, limited skills.

S2: Selling/coaching.

M3: Medium maturity, higher skills but lacking confidence.

S3: Participating/supporting.

M4: High maturity.

S4: Delegating.

Figure 1 – Hersey-Blanchard’s Model Map

In essence, there are essentially four main leadership styles and these are explained in the examples below:

S1 – Telling. A leader will tell individuals instructions on what needs doing and how to complete the task successfully.

S2 – Selling. A leader tends to provide more communication with the individuals, even though a leader will still provide task instructions. Leaders tend to “sell” their message to get the entire team on board.

S3 – Participating. A leader tends to focus more on team relations and less on task direction. A leader will become more involved in a teams task and will have an equal say in decision making.

S4 – Delegating. A leader will become less involved in the decision making process. Although a leader will still monitor team progress, they will pass a proportion of the responsibility onto a follower or the entire group.

In essence, leadership styles are split into two main areas. For example, S1 and S2 leadership styles concentrate upon completing a particular task. However, S3 and S4 leadership styles are more focused upon developing an individual’s ability to work independently within a team.

Likewise, an individual’s maturity level will determine the style of leadership to adopt. A breakdown of maturity levels can be found in the examples below:

M1 – M1 maturity level is at the lowest point of the model map. Individuals who demonstrate at this maturity level tend to lack the necessary skills and knowledge to complete a given task upon their own ability. It’s common to push these individuals to achieve something.

M2 – At this level, followers might be willing to work on the task, but they still don’t have the skills to do it successfully.

M3 – Individuals at this level are well prepared and have the wiliness to complete a given task. However, these individuals still tend to lack confidence in their abilities to achieve something.

M4 – M4 maturity level is at the highest point of the model map. Compared to other levels on the maturity scale, individuals at this level posses the necessary skills and knowledge to complete a given task i.e. high confidence levels and strong commitment to complete a given task successfully.

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Essentially, every team which is created from a group of individuals are not equal. A theory behind Hersey and Blanchard’s situational leadership model argues that a leader will be more effective when they adopt a leadership style that is based upon either individuals or groups they are leading.

In reference to the author’s experiences, there was a period when the author worked within the Information systems department at Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Limited. The author was given the responsibility of being in charge of a new individual within our resolve group. The author assumed the new individual had some of the required skills to reach the department goals, but not all of them. However, to the author’s relief, they had the correct approach and attitude to complete the work.

Therefore, the author believed that the individual was at a M3 maturity level (Medium maturity, higher skills but lacking confidence), which is linked to the S3 leadership style (Participating/supporting). Over the weeks that followed, the author ensured the individual was trained to the best of the author’s ability, pushing and teaching the individual where necessary i.e. training of new systems.

The author’s main objective would be to ensure the individual would eventually make their own decisions and as a result, the author identified that both our relationships strengthen over the weeks and their own individual efforts are successful.

Compared to the two previous contingency-situational theories, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt developed a simple model which, ‘developed a continuum of leadership behaviour to describe a range of behavioural patterns available to a manager’ (Dean, M, 1976).

In other words, the model demonstrates the relationship between the ‘level of freedom that a manager chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the manager’ (Chapman, A, 1995-2009).

The model below (figure 2) is based with Fred Luthan’s Organisation Behaviour (1995). A leaders action identified on the left of the model, typify a manager who maintains a high degree of control. Whereas, a leader’s action identified on the right of the model, typify a manager who delegates authority.

Figure 2 – Tannenbaum and Schmidt – Model of Delegation and Team Development

Tannenbaum and Schmidt ‘felt that a leader should not choose one style and adhere to it strictly but should be flexible and adapt his style to the situation’ (Dean, M, 1976).

Tannenbaum and Schmidt acknowledged that there should be an ‘interaction between a leader and his /her team’. ‘There is usually a trade-off between the control exercised by the leader and the control exercised by the team’.

However, it’s identified that no one usually has 100% control of a situation. Even though a leader may give a direct order, other individuals may retain control over i.e. how eager an individual obeys an order. Tannenbaum and Schmidt highlight four diverse leadership styles:


A tyrannical style, which a leader gives specific instructions and will monitor individuals intimately. Telling style, is useful when individuals cannot deal with a task unaided, are reluctant, are introduced to a new leader or a previous leader who allowed standards to depreciate. This style will only work well, when you monitor key performance indicators closely or be precise about standards and performance targets for example.


‘A manager will make a decision and then “sells” the decision’ (Sherwin, 2009).

Selling is acknowledged as being influential, in which a leader gives a clear direction upon a given task and supervises a situation very closely. Selling is also regarded in explaining decisions, encouraging suggestion and supports progress.

However, this style works well, when team motivation is lacking and more appropriate when a particular task is non-negotiable. It’s also appropriate when a team’s motivation is critical to achieve task success. Although, for this style to be successful, you need to reward positive attitudes, listen to staff more closely and develop team skills for example.


‘A manager will present ideas and invites questions’.

‘A manager will have hesitant decisions that are subject to change’.

‘A manager will present a problem, get suggestions and make a decision’ (Sherwin, 2009).

Consulting, is collaborative in a style which a leader will discuss a task and will listen to a teams collective ideas. A leader will take each idea into consideration and will have to make a key decision.

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Consulting is appropriate when a team has both the competence and sufficient skills to contribute to a particular cause. However, the leader has the desire to retain control of a situation, particularly when a leader feels there is an imbalance between a team’s competency and any associated risks. Although, for this style to be successful, you need to focus on morale, team spirit and encourage team participation for example.


‘A manager will define a team limits and ask a group to make decisions’.

‘A manger permits subordinate to function within limits defined by superior (Sherwin, 2009).

Participation is a facilitating style, which a leader gives a team maximum responsibility. Participation is appropriate when a team can demonstrate competency and has a positive attitude towards a task. A leader can have the confidence in letting a team get on with a task and utilise this as a crucial part of the development process.

Although, for this style to be successful, you need to act as a resource tool, allow individuals to independently develop their learning and identify potential individuals that can show an example to others.

Before the author decided to enrol in higher education, there was a period of time when the author was an apprentice electrician with the local council. The role involved attending a variety of jobs in office buildings, factories, schools, hospitals etc.

Emergency call outs were frequent and there was one particular job which required urgent attention. The nature of the job involved an elderly couple, which experienced severe flooding from their bathroom and it was leaking through light fittings in the kitchen.

When the author and a colleague arrived at the scene, the damage was worse than anticipated. Therefore, the author had been given the authority to contact the depot to ask for additional members of staff including a plumber and a plasterer. When they arrived on scene, the author coordinated the entire job to ensure the power circuits were repaired, damaged pipe work repaired and the ceiling patched where the water was leaking.

Although the author maintained partial authority, the author allowed the team to coordinate some activities amongst themselves. Therefore as the situation changed, the author demonstrated a degree of flexibility, which can be highlighted in Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Model of Delegation and Team Development

If you refer to the model above, the author tends to typify a leader who demonstrates authority. The author tends to gain a range of theories and ideas which are discussed with the group. Once achieve, the author would make an appropriate decision.

In essence, all three contingency theories have unique characteristics that are suited around a particular style. The contingency theory which the author believes will benefit a workforce is the Fielder-Contingency theory and this assumption is based upon the authors own experiences.

In comparison to the Hersey-Blanchard and Tannenbaum and Schmidt leadership theories, the author particularly likes the way which Fielder justifies that leaders are not just successful or unsuccessful. Depending upon the situation at the time, leaders can be either effective or ineffective.

Therefore, any individual can have the potential to become a successful leader if they choose the most appropriate situation to apply their leadership styles. By adjusting certain elements i.e. task structure, relationships; a leader can have a more effective leadership style. Fielder’s scale can be relevant in determining leadership styles.


Chapman, A (1995 – 2009) Tannenbaum and Schmidt continuum. Available at (Accessed: 6th April 2010)

Dean, E. M (1976) Managerial Styles. Available at…/mar-apr/dean.html. (Accessed: 6th April 2010)

Envision Software (2005) Fielder’s Contingency Theory. Available at (Accessed: 31st March 2010)

Fielder, F. E (1967) A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness, McGraw Hill, New York, p. 147.

Luthans, F (1995) Organisation Behaviour, 7th edition, McGraw Hill, New York

Mind Tools (1995 – 2010) The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Theory. Available at (Accessed: 2nd April 2010)

Paul, L. G (2004) Ruthless Strategies for Succeeding in Times of Trouble. Available at (Accessed: 6th April 2010)

SAC Business (2007) Fielder’s Contingency Theory. Available at (Accessed: 31st March 2010)

Sherwin, L (2009) Styles of Leadership Available at (Accessed: 12th April 2010)   

Wiley (2010) What are some additional directions in leadership development and research? Available at (Accessed: 1st April 2010)

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