What is Situational Leadership?

Posted by: Margaret Rouse
Contributor(s): Mary K. Pratt

Situational leadership asserts that the characteristics of a successful leader will vary based on the people he or she needs to lead, as well as on the context in which the group is operating.

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This theory stems from the belief that individuals respond differently to particular leadership styles. For example, one worker may respond positively to a leader who gives detailed directives, but another worker may not work well under that approach but instead responds well to a collaborative leadership style.

With this core belief that different workers, or “followers,” require different leadership traits to be successful, situational leadership theory establishes the principle that leaders can and should adapt their leadership styles based on each follower’s needs or abilities. As such, the theory stipulates that the most effective leaders are those who can understand each follower’s requirements, how those requirements fit into the context of the worker’s environment and then adjust their own leadership styles to meet the follower’s needs.

Situational leadership is related to contingency theory in that both state that the effectiveness of a leader depends on matching the leader’s abilities and approach to the situation; however, contingency theory stresses matching the leader (with his or her existing characteristics) to the current situation whereas situational leadership emphasizes the leader’s need to adapt to his or her followers.

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