What Is Fiedler’s Contingency Model? Fiedler’s Contingency Model In A Nutshell

Fielder’s contingency model argues no style of leadership is superior to the rest evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

ElementDescriptionExplanationImplicationsExamplesApplication in Model
Leadership StyleLeadership style refers to the leader’s preferred way of leading a team, which can be task-oriented or relationship-oriented.Fiedler identified two primary leadership styles: task-oriented and relationship-oriented, each suited for different situations.Implications depend on the situation and require selecting the right leadership style for the specific task and team dynamics.A task-oriented leader focusing on achieving project goals, while a relationship-oriented leader emphasizes team cohesion and harmony.Identified Contingency Factor
Contingency FactorsContingency factors are external variables that influence the effectiveness of a leadership style, such as task structure and leader-member relations.Fiedler identified three primary contingency factors: Leader-Member Relations, Task Structure, and Position Power.Implications involve assessing the situational factors to determine the most appropriate leadership style for the given context.In a situation with poor Leader-Member Relations, a task-oriented leadership style may be more effective due to the need for task-focused direction.Key Components
Least Preferred CoworkerLPC is a measure of a leader’s underlying leadership style, indicating whether the leader is more relationship-oriented or task-oriented.The LPC score is used to identify a leader’s inherent leadership style and is assessed through how they describe their least preferred coworker.Implications include understanding the leader’s natural style and matching it with the situation’s demands for effective leadership.A leader with a high LPC score is more relationship-oriented, while a low LPC score suggests a task-oriented style.Leadership Style Assessment
Situational LeadershipThe Contingency Model proposes that different leadership styles are effective in different situations, based on the fit between leadership style and contingency factors.The model suggests that leaders must adapt their style to match the situation, maximizing the likelihood of achieving team success.Implications emphasize the need for flexibility and situational awareness to select the most suitable leadership style.A leader adapting their style to be more relationship-oriented in situations with strong Leader-Member Relations and task-oriented in complex, high-pressure tasks.Matching Leadership Style

Understanding Fiedler’s contingency model

Fiedler’s contingency model was developed during the 1960s by leadership and organizational performance thinker Fred Fiedler.

After researching the various characteristics of leaders, Fiedler believed that the leadership style of an individual was the result of life experiences and therefore exceedingly difficult to change.

Instead of expecting a leader to display multiple leadership styles, he noted they should first understand their particular style and then adapt it to reflect a variety of different situations.

The general argument that leadership effectiveness is contingent on the current situation gives the theory its name. This effectiveness is the result of two factors which are explained in the next section.

The two factors of Fiedler’s contingency model

Fiedler argues that leadership effectiveness is based on two factors: leadership style and situational control.

Leadership style

To quantify leadership style, Fiedler developed something he called the least preferred co-worker scale (LPC).

The scale asks each leader to consider the person they least enjoyed working with – whether that be in a job, education, or training context.

Then, the leader must rate how they feel about the person based on several factors that exist on a scale from 1 to 8. For example, if a leader rated someone as moderately unfriendly, they may give a score of 3 or 4. 

These factors and their associated scales include:

  1. Unfriendly (1) grading to Friendly (8).
  2. Unpleasant (1) grading to Pleasant (8).
  3. Rejecting (1) grading to Accepting (8).
  4. Tense (1) grading to Relaxed (8).
  5. Cold (1) grading to Warm (8).
  6. Boring (1) grading to Interesting (8).
  7. Backbiting (1) grading to Loyal (8).
  8. Uncooperative (1) grading to Cooperative (8).
  9. Hostile (1) grading to Supportive (8).
  10. Guarded (1) grading to Open (8).
  11. Insincere (1) grading to Sincere (8).
  12. Unkind (1) grading to Kind (8).
  13. Inconsiderate (1) grading to Considerate (8).
  14. Untrustworthy (1) grading to Trustworthy (8).
  15. Gloomy (1) grading to Cheerful (8).
  16. Quarrelsome (1) grading to Harmonious (8).

The scores for each factor should then be added up. Higher scores reflect relationship-oriented leaders who prioritize personal connections and excel at conflict management

Lower scores, on the other hand, reflect task-oriented leaders who prioritize efficiency and excel at task delegation and completion.

Situational control

Situational control depends on three critical factors:

Leader-member relations

Or the level of trust and confidence subordinates have in a leader.

Trust is positively correlated with influence and is categorized as either good or poor.

Task structure

Is the task clear and structured, or vague and unstructured?

The latter scenario is unfavorable, for obvious reasons. Structure is categorized as either high or low.

Leader’s position power

Or the amount of power a leader possesses to direct the group and provide reward or punishment.

The more power a leader has, the more favorable the situation. This factor is categorized as either strong or weak.

Interpreting the results of Fiedler’s contingency model

By examining the aforementioned variables, a multitude of leadership situations can be created which range from highly favorable to highly unfavorable. 

For context, a highly favorable situation is one where leader-member interactions are good, task structure is high, and power is strong.

With that said, let’s revisit the two leadership styles mentioned earlier. Where they do excel, and where are they ineffective?


Task-oriented leaders perform best at opposite ends of the favourability scale. In other words, they are best suited to:

Highly favorable scenarios

When everyone likes each other and the task is clear and structured, the team simply needs a leader that can provide direction. 

Highly unfavorable scenarios

Similarly, a leader that can provide direction is also important in situations with low task structure and poor leader-member relations.


The relationship-oriented leader performs best in situations displaying moderate favourability. 

In these instances, the leader may be reasonably well-liked and uses some degree of power to supervise moderately structured tasks. 

Crucially, a relationship-oriented leader with superior interpersonal skills can increase task structure through clarification, earn more power through respect, and improve their relationship with subordinates.

Fiedler’s contingency model examples

Advertising agency

Leader-member relations

Advertising agencies are creative places where managers work closely with subordinates to shape artistic work.

Since there is less adherence to rules and processes, managers must also understand employee strengths and weaknesses and distribute work to the most qualified staff.

On occasion, employees are asked to provide their opinions or expertise in decision-making.

The above indicates that leader-member relations are favorable and characterized by trust. 

Task structure

Each client of the advertising agency has different needs, which means projects differ in terms of size, form, message, output, and objectives.

This indicates low task structure since the projects have their own requirements and conditions change frequently.

Leader’s position power

Managers with experience in delivering a diverse range of projects are then appointed to each.

It is also important that managers possess relevant industry knowledge and have an established professional network

Each project manager is supported by multiple line managers who are responsible for recruitment, termination, and defining employee salaries.

Since it is line managers and not project managers who deal with underperforming team members, for example, the leader’s position power can be classified as weak.

Interpreting the results

In summary, the project manager’s leadership is characterized by:

  • Favorable leader-member relations.
  • Low task structure, and
  • Weak position power.

The advertising agency then consults Fielder’s contingency model table which analyzes eight different combinations (or scenarios) of the three components. 

Based on Fiedler’s interpretation, the combination of favorable leader-member relations, low task structure, and weak position power is best suited to relationship-oriented leaders.

This is officially known as Situation 4 and we’ll return to this later.

Corrections for task-oriented project managers

Consider a situation where the advertising agency only has task-oriented leaders at its disposal. 

What is the best course of action?

If the agency revisits Fielder’s table, it will note that the task-oriented leader is most effective in these situations:

  1. Situation 1 – favorable leader-member relations, high task structure, and strong position power.
  2. Situation 2 – favorable leader-member relations, high task structure, and weak position power.
  3. Situation 8 – unfavorable leader-member relations, low task structure, and weak position power. However, this is not a situation that is kind to any leadership style, so the agency chooses to omit it from the analysis.

With two situations remaining, here is how the agency may alter both to make a task-oriented leader fit for purpose:

  • Situation 1 – task structure needs to move from low to high and position power needs to move from weak to strong.
  • Situation 2 – task structure also needs to move from low to high.

The agency then determines that both options are unsuitable because the creative client work required for ad campaigns would be ineffective if tasks became highly structured.

One last option

Returning to the model table for a final time, the agency considers transforming Situation 4 into Situation 3 to make task-oriented leadership compatible.

The only change between these situations is that position power shifts from weak to strong.

The agency then finds ways to improve this position of power without altering the reporting system between the project and line managers.

Three initiatives are devised to suit the task-oriented leader which collectively act as a form of compromise:

  1. The project manager takes 50% responsibility for evaluating employee salaries.
  2. Two team members shall receive a bonus at the completion of the project, with the project manager responsible for selection.
  3. Lastly, the project manager will report to the agency CEO to put them at the same hierarchical level as each line manager.

Key takeaways

  • Fiedler’s contingency model argues there is no one-size-fits-all leadership style. Instead, leaders should adapt their prevailing style to suit the current circumstances.
  • Fiedler’s contingency model notes there are two main leadership styles: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. Each can be evaluated against three measures of situational control, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level.
  • In Fiedler’s contingency model, task-oriented leaders perform best in highly favorable and unfavorable circumstances. Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in situations that are moderately favorable, but can improve their position by using superior interpersonal skills.

Key Highlights

  • Introduction and Definition: Fiedler’s contingency model, developed by Fred Fiedler in the 1960s, asserts that leadership effectiveness is contingent on the match between a leader’s style and the situational context. It recognizes that leaders have distinct leadership styles that are difficult to change and that the effectiveness of these styles depends on situational factors.
  • Leadership Style and Situational Control: Fiedler’s model is based on two main factors: leadership style and situational control. Leadership style is determined using the Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) scale, which measures a leader’s preference for working with others. Leadership style is categorized as either task-oriented (low LPC) or relationship-oriented (high LPC).
  • Situational Control Factors: Situational control is determined by three critical factors:
    • Leader-Member Relations: This factor refers to the level of trust and confidence subordinates have in their leader. Trust is categorized as good or poor.
    • Task Structure: It pertains to the clarity and structure of tasks. High task structure means clear and well-defined tasks, while low task structure implies vague and unstructured tasks.
    • Leader’s Position Power: This factor measures the leader’s power to influence and direct the group, including the ability to provide rewards or punishments. It’s categorized as strong or weak.
  • Interpreting the Model: By combining the leadership style and situational control factors, various leadership situations are created, ranging from highly favorable to highly unfavorable. The model identifies where different leadership styles excel.
  • Task-Oriented Leaders: Task-oriented leaders are most effective in highly favorable (good leader-member relations, high task structure, strong position power) and highly unfavorable (poor leader-member relations, low task structure, weak position power) situations. They excel when providing clear direction in both structured and chaotic environments.
  • Relationship-Oriented Leaders: Relationship-oriented leaders perform best in moderately favorable situations (moderate leader-member relations, moderate task structure, and moderate position power). They rely on interpersonal skills to build trust, improve relationships, and enhance task structure.
  • Application Example: Advertising Agency: An example illustrates the application of Fiedler’s model in an advertising agency. The agency’s leader-member relations are favorable, task structure is low due to varying client needs, and the leader’s position power is weak. The model identifies that a relationship-oriented leadership style is most suitable.
  • Modifying for Task-Oriented Leaders: If only task-oriented leaders are available, the agency explores scenarios where task-oriented leaders can be effective. Modifying the situation’s task structure and position power might be necessary for compatibility.
  • Optimizing Situational Control: The agency might modify the situation to align with a task-oriented leader by adjusting position power and other factors while maintaining the reporting structure. This demonstrates how Fiedler’s model guides decision-making to optimize leadership effectiveness.
  • Key Takeaways: Fiedler’s contingency model emphasizes that there is no universally superior leadership style. Leadership effectiveness depends on matching leadership style to the specific situational context, including leader-member relations, task structure, and leader power level. Task-oriented leaders are effective in extreme situations, while relationship-oriented leaders excel in moderately favorable contexts.

Connected Business Concepts And Frameworks

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this type of leadership can lead to increases in work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness of the team.

Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is based on the premise that leadership responsibilities and accountability are shared by those with the relevant skills or expertise so that the shared responsibility and accountability of multiple individuals within a workplace, bulds up as a fluid and emergent property (not controlled or held by one individual). Distributed leadership is based on eight hallmarks, or principles: shared responsibility, shared power, synergy, leadership capacity, organizational learning, equitable and ethical climate, democratic and investigative culture, and macro-community engagement.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although in some cases, this management style might be understood, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Organizational Structure

An organizational structure allows companies to shape their business model according to several criteria (like products, segments, geography and so on) that would enable information to flow through the organizational layers for better decision-making, cultural development, and goals alignment across employees, managers, and executives. 

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Change Management


Agile Project Management

Agile Management
Agile Project Management (AgilePM) seeks to bring order to chaotic corporate environments using several tools, techniques, and elements of the project lifecycle. Fundamentally, agile project management aims to deliver maximum value according to specific business priorities in the time and budget allocated. AgilePM is particularly useful in situations where the drive to deliver is greater than the perceived risk.

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