Contingency Theory

in Organisational Communication

Contingency theory is a set of behavioural theory which postulates that there is no single way or the best method to organize and lead an organization in a management set up. Instead, a leader should be appointed who can make decisions based on the situation and relative conditions. This theory was made popular by Fred Fiedler with his famous Contingency model, which paved way for further contingency theories and models with more details and understanding.

Contingency TheorySergey Nivens/dollar photo club

Initiation of Contingency Theory

During the 1950’s, the Ohio State University carried out a study of leadership behaviour via questionnaires. They concluded that good leaders had two specific behaviours. The first is consideration, where the leaders took interest in building confidence and rapport with their subordinates. The second is initiating structure where the leaders took over the management of the unit and handed out assignments and tasks to the subordinates. The University of Michigan termed these as relation-oriented and task-oriented respectively.

Progress of Contingency Theory

Contingency theory came into mainstream academia with the introduction of Fred Fiedler’s Contingency Model in his article, ‘A Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness’, published in 1964. His research was based mainly in the military. Just like the contingency theory, he claims that there is no single way to organize and manage a unit. The two things that are important are the leader’s personality and the situational context. Thus, a leader will lead and manage his unit during a crisis by analysing and evaluating the situation at hand and acting out accordingly.

Types of Leadership

According to him, there are two types of leadership:

  1. Task-oriented leadership – it deals with accomplishment and handling the unit by handing out tasks
  2. Relationship-oriented leadership – it deals with the interpersonal skills and relationship of the leader with his subordinates

These orientations of the leader is measured on a scaled called the Least Preferred Co-worker Scale. The leader is asked to name a co-worker with whom he preferred to work the least. He is then asked to give a description of the character of the co-worker. A positive image of the co-worker means that the leader is relationship oriented and scored high on the LPC scale. A negative image by the leader means that he is task-oriented and scored low on the scale.

Factors of deciding good leader

Fiedler says that the above orientations are dependent on the degree of control that the leader has over the situation. This depends on three factors.

  1. Leader-Member Relations: whether the leader has a cooperative relation with his subordinates, the general atmosphere when interacting with the subordinates, the level of trust, confidence and loyalty between the leader and his subordinates, the ability to communicate with each other etc
  2. Task-Structure: whether the task is well organized and thought-out, the clarity in explaining it and the means to accomplish it
  3. Position Power: the authority the leader has over his subordinates and how much he can reward or punish his subordinates

Improvisation on Contingency Theory

Contingency theories were further developed and improved upon by many other scholars. The Path-Goal theory was introduced by Mark Evans and developed by Robert House. It postulated that a leader should help pave the way for his subordinates and to elucidate the ways to achieve success as a1 group. This is accomplished by a specific set of leadership behaviours such as, other than the two aforementioned behaviours, achievement orientation and participative leader behaviour. The Normative Decision Model was developed by Victor Vroom and Philip Yetton which focuses on giving prescriptions to the leader so as to improve his leadership skills. The Situational Leadership theory developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard postulates that a leader’s skills and effectiveness depends on his ability to mould his behaviour according to what the situation demands, that is, the maturity of his subordinates.

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