Contingency Theory

Contingency theories are based upon the belief that effective leadership is contingent upon the leader possessing favourable traits, as in Trait Theories, along with behaviours. Effective leadership is also dependent upon the situation that the individual is in (Seyranian 2012, p. 1) It was influenced by studies done by the Ohio State University in the 1950's, which measured different leadership behaviours in different situations. From these studies researchers found that two types of behaviours were strongly correlated to successful leaders. These were:
1) Consideration - interpersonal relationship skills, caring and considerate behaviour towards others
2) Initiating Structure - providing structures such as planning, assigning jobs in order to meet goals

The University of Michigan Survey Research Center also conducted research in the form of questionnaires and interview data studying group productivity and assessing behaviours of effective leaders. They found similar results but used different terms to describe the behaviours. They called them relations-oriented and task oriented behaviour
(Seyranian 2012).

The focus on leadership behaviour as a predictor of effective group performance however had little support from research. Because of the inconsistent findings the focus on behaviours decreased and researchers developed a different approach to leadership focussing on the situational context along with leader traits or behaviours
(Seyranian 2012).

Development of Contingency Theories
1957 - Georgopoulos, Mahoney and Jones published test of the expectancy theory of motivation which proposed that individuals are motivated to choose behaviors over others based on what they expect the outcome to be of that behavior (Evans, 1974).

1958 - Kahn - leaders may affect the performance of subordinates through affecting subordinates motivation
(Evans, 1974).

1964 - Argyris, Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoeck, & Rosenthal and Vroom all published books about organizational behaviour
(Evans, 1974).

Vroom - published Work and Motivation which was a general model of job choice and motivation, many researchers tested the validity of this theory and expanded it. It outlined choices in a job, of an organization and of the difficulty of the task(s) in organizational settings. His theory was viable and testable - whether important factors of the organization such as type of leadership, structure and job design, impact subordinate behavior through a motivational meditator
(Evans, 1974).

Evans 1968, 1970 - presented a theory of the methods that leaders may use (consideration and initiating structure) on motivation and a test of the theory
(Evans, 1974).

House, 1971 - examined “the contingencies under which leader behavior might affect each element of motivation (Evans, 1996). Expanded upon consideration and initiating structure as motivating factors for subordinates to “directive, supportive, achievement-oriented, and participative (Evans, 1996). Later House found that factors that affected an individuals motivation and leader preferences were job and organization context as well as individual factors. House’s research findings were inconclusive but he based his theory on his research as well as his theoretical insights
(Evans, 1974).

This was further elaborated upon by House and Mitchell (1974) and Evans (1979).

This theory helped to develop other theories such as transformational leadership and charismatic theories
(Evans, 1974).

Testing of the Theory

  • most tests done on this theory were focused on the direct effects on leader behavior on subordinate satisfaction and performance in different situations
  • studies have been very narrow focusing on few leader behaviors and variables. Most were focussed on directive and considerate behaviors
  • although the theory is focused on the role of motivation by leaders and its effect upon the subordinates satisfaction and performance, the number of studies focusing on motivational theories is small
  • lack of studies testing the critical motivational hypotheses of the theory resulting in little evidence to support this theory (Evans, 1974).


Evans, M. G (1974). Extensions of a path-goal theory of motivation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 59(2), 172-178. doi:10.1037/h0036516

Seyranian, Viviane. "Contingency Theories of Leadership." Encyclopedia of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. Ed. John M.Levine and Michael A. Hogg. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2009. 152-56. SAGE Reference Online. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

Ohio State Leadership Theories

Based on the notes of Anna & Sandy:


  • Focused more on what leaders do, versus what traits they have.

Michigan Leadership Studies
Based on the notes of Lauren and Jacqueline:
  • Key Players: Likert, Kahn, Mann & Katz
  • Kahn & Katz's definition of leadership is given in this document which stresses the importance of influencing an organization.
  • Discovered two types of focus of leadership behaviours:
    • Focus on People & their needs
    • Focus on Goal achievement

Theory X & Y
Based on the Greg's Notes:

Here is a slide taken from Greg's presentation depicting the assumptions of the different types of leaders of their constituents:
  • theory x and y differences.png
  • Key Player: McGregor
  • Theory X Type manager: Gives orders, top-down (i.e.,Authoritarian).
  • Theory Y Type manager: Listens, get's everyone involved, invites opinions (i.e., Participative).

Fiedler's Contingency Theory of Effectiveness:
Based on the notes of Morgan & Jake:

  • His focus was on how to get the group to perform effectively.
  • Said that the leaders' traits play a key role + the situation as well.
  • That instead of finding a flexible leader who adapts to situation, Fiedler thinks we should find the right leader to fit the situational demands.
  • He also identified 2 behaviours:
    • Focus on relationships
    • Focus on tasks

Situational Theory
Based on the notes of Angela, Anna & Yadvinder:

  • Key players: Hersey & Blanchard
  • Leaders need to adapt how they behave to their constituents level of competence and willingness
  • Tell -> Coach -> Participate -> Delegate
  • Great information stressing the importance of communicating effectively with constituents based on their level.

Path-Goal Theory:
Based on Lisa's Notes:

  • Key Player: Evans & House
  • Stressing the importance motivating constituents.
  • Focus is on helping constituents reach their goals + the collective goals of the group through both support & guidance is key.
  • As a leader in this theory, in order to move towards the goal, one needs to be aware and adapt to these two variables : 1. the traits of the constituents 2. the environment.

Commonalities & Connections
  1. It seems that many of the theorists & researches in this field of Contingency theory are stressing that great leaders are those that focus on the accomplishment of tasks/goals and also invest time in developing and nurturing healthy relationships with their constituents.

  1. It seems to me that developing emotional intelligence is a worthy endeavour as well as learning how to effectively accomplish goals.