Situational Leadership: 3 Easy Ways to Adapt Your Approach

Eamonn McGuinness
By | Updated January 4, 2017 | 3 min read
Situational Leadership

The journey to successful collaborative project leadership has so far included key leadership strategies for project managers and suggestions for positive team dynamics.

Another important leadership technique is adapting to the current situation. There are several factors to help you understand the situation and decide what type of leadership is needed. Let’s look at four possible spectrums and three approaches to managing these situations.


Four Situational Leadership Spectrums

  • Capability Spectrum: Sometimes you will find the team members capable, competent, and able to do the job at hand. Other times, they are not capable or trained for the tasks ahead.
  • Willingness Spectrum: There will be days when you will find team members energetic, enthusiastic and very willing. These are often followed by lazy, lethargic, and unproductive days.
  • Time Pressure Spectrum: Project tasks are usually high priority or flexible.
  • Environment Spectrum: Some projects live is a very stable and well-regulated environment whilst others occupy a manic, high growth, unstable environment, sometimes reaching crisis point.




Think of the spectrum as moving from positive behaviors on the right to negative behaviors on the left. Your goal is to move team members from the less desirable behaviors to positive outcomes, for example, training can help a team member become more competent and capable.


Three Situational Leadership Approaches

Your leadership approach will depend on where you and your team are on the above spectrum.

  • Show and Tell: If you are to the left of some or all of the above spectrums, you will very likely need to show people how to do the task or tell them to just do it. You will not be able to hang about and hope it happens. In this situation, you are giving instructions. The situation can demand you to be authoritarian. The preferred outcome is to move people more to the right of the spectrum so your involvement is less invasive.
  • Mentor and Participate: If you are mid-spectrum on some or all of the above, help the person understand how to deliver on the task at hand and participate as needed. You are leaving the person with the responsibility but you are staying close!
  • Coach and Delegate: If you are to the right of the spectrum, you are typically in a great place. You will be talking to someone about the desired outcome. They will be asking questions and coming up with the first set of answers themselves. You will be there to coach them to the best performance but you will be delegating and leaving it to them.


All three approaches are valid. No one is better than the other. You just need to deploy the right approach for each situation.

Learn more about common project leadership styles in this quick video. 


Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from our free book, Collaborative Project Management: A Handbook

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Eamonn McGuinness
Eamonn McGuinness

Éamonn McGuinness is the CEO and founder of BrightWork. From 1995, Éamonn has been involved in the development of commercial software products on Lotus Notes, Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365, with the same basic product mission (process-driven and people inspired collaborative project management).

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