15 Contingency theory of leadership

Logan McKenzie, K Love


What is the Contingency Theory?     

The Contingency Theory of Leadership states that a leader’s effectiveness is contingent upon with how his or her leadership style matches to the situation (Leadership Theories, n.d). That is, the leader must find out what kind of leadership style and situation he or she thrives in. The Contingency Theory is concerned with the following:

  • “There is no one best style of leadership” (Fiedler’s Contingency Model, n.d)
  • A leader is effective when his or her style of leadership fits with the situation (Fiedler’s Contingency Model, n.d)

History of Contingency Theories   

The Contingency Theory of leadership was developed by Fred Fiedler in 1958 during his research of leader effectiveness in group situations (Fiedler’s, n.d). Fiedler believed that one’s effectiveness to lead depended on their control of the situation and the style of leadership (Fiedler’s, n.d). Unlike the Situational Theory of leadership, leader effectiveness is contingent on the leader’s style matching the situation, not adapting to it (Fiedler’s, n.d). This theory assumes that styles are fixed, and that they cannot be adapted or modified (Gupta, 2009). A leader is most effective when his or her attributes and style of leadership is matched with the situation and environment around them (Gupta, 2009).

How Fiedler’s Contingency Theory Works

The Contingency theory is not concerned with having the leader adapt to a situation, rather the goal is to match the leader’s style with a compatible situation (Gupta, 2009). To make best use of this theory, it is important to find what style a leader has (Gupta, 2009). This is done through the Least Preferred Coworker Scale (LPC) (Gupta, 2009).

The LPC is a list of questions designed to find out what kind of employee a leader would most like to work with, and in turn shows the leaders style (Gupta, 2009). Fiedler’s Contingency Model attempts to match the leader’s style using LPC to the situation in which they would thrive (Gupta, 2009).

  • High LPC Score– leader with good personal skills and relies on relationships with others to accomplish tasks (Fiedler’s, n.d); people-oriented
  • Low LPC Score– leader that accomplishes goals through focus on the task and positional power (Fiedler’s, n.d); task-oriented

Task-oriented leaders are most effective when their positional power is high, as well as the task structure (Gupta, 2009). People or relation-oriented leaders perform their best when the relationship levels between themselves and followers are at their greatest (Gupta, 2009). After finding the style of the leader, Fiedler’s Model states that finding the best situation for the leader, also known as “situational favorableness” (Fiedler’s Contingency Model, n.d).

A situation is defined by three factors in the contingency theory:

  1. Leader-Member Relation- how the leader interacts with employees (Gupta, 2009).
  2. Task Structure- how tasks are set up by the leader (Gupta, 2009).
  3. Positional Power- the amount of power a leader has over followers (Gupta, 2009).

These three factors combine to form the situation in which a leader’s style is effective or ineffective. If the three factors match up to the style of the leader, success is projected (Gupta, 2009). It is important to remember that the opposite can happen as well. If a leader is put into a situation opposite of his or her favored task structure, member relation, and level of power, then failure is to ensue (Gupta, 2009). The three factors of contingency situation have less of an impact on leaders who are task-oriented, or score low LPC’s, than leaders who are people-oriented and score high LPC’s (Fiedler’s, n.d). By using the results from the LPC to find a person’s leadership style, and analyzing their preferred leader-member relation, task structure, and positional power, finding the right job or position for someone can be more accurately accomplished (Fiedler’s Contingency Model, n.d).

Read the following information and watch the video below to become more familiar with Fiedler’s Contingency Model:

Contingent Leadership   (Gupta, 2009)

Fiedler’s Contingency Model      (Contingency Videos, n.d).


Comparisons to other Leadership Theories

Comparing Fiedler’s Contingency Theory to other theories, we see that the contingency theory incorporates some parts of other theories. In many ways, the contingency theory derives from the trait theory (Leadership, n.d). A leader’s traits are directly related to the most effective style and situation in which they lead (Leadership, n.d). The factor of relations with followers related to the transactional and transformational theories (Leadership, n.d). The Contingency Theory states that a leader’s relations impact their effectiveness, which is the basis of these two theories (Leadership, n.d). In transactional leadership, a leader’s ability to influence followers with rewards and punishments for behavior to ensure member goals is the basis of the style (Leadership, n.d). In Transformational Theory, the leader relies on building relationships between themselves and followers (Leadership, n.d). Leaders who are people-oriented rely on these relationships to be effective and have influence over his or her followers (Fiedler’s, n.d).

Strengths of Contingency Theory

  • Used to create leadership profiles for organizations
  • Puts emphasis on combination of leaders style and the situation
  • “It is predictive; there is a well-defined method to evaluate LPC and Situations”

(Gupta, 2009).

The Contingency Theory can be used to create leadership profiles for organizations, in which certain styles can be matched with situations that have proven to be successful (Gupta, 2009). Companies can know what type of person would fit in each position of the organization whenever there is an opening. This theory also helps to reduce what is expected from leaders, and instead puts emphasis on finding a match to the situation (Gupta, 2009). This theory, although complex, is very useful in matching professionals to the right situations and determining the best person for a job (Gupta, 2009).


Contingency Videos and Resouces. (n.d.). Retrieved November 08, 2016, from http://situationalandcontingencyleadership.weebly.com/contingency-videos-and-resouces.html

Gupta, A. (n.d.). Leadership Development – Practical Management. Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://practical-management.com/Table/Leadership-Development/feed/atom.htm

Fiedler’s Contingency Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.leadership-central.com/fiedler’s-contingency-theory.htm

Fiedler’s Contingency Model: Matching Leadership Style to a Situation. (n.d.). Retrieved November 03, 2016, from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/fiedler.htm

Leadership and the Contingency Theory – Villanova University. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from https://www.villanovau.com/resources/leadership/leadership-and-contingency-theory/

Leadership Theories – In Chronological Order. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.leadership-central.com/leadership-theories.html

Practical Application of Five Leadership Theories on a U.S … (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/lao/issue_11/pdf/earnhardt.pdf

Utecht, R. E., & Heier, W. D. (1976). The Contingency Model and Successful Military Leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 19(4), 606-618.