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date: 17 November 2018

Contingency and Situational Approaches to Educational Management

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

In the context of educational leadership, for a manager to be effective, the application of Contingency and Situational theory underlines the importance of analyzing the current situation and the variables affecting the organization's framework. Whichever education system we are referring to, it is virtually meaningless to study leadership styles without recognizing the significance of the school context. School is a complex organization, an open system that appears to be a very uncertain environment. To have an effective leadership in this uncertainty, school should be examined with a holistic approach. Many leaders show high levels of uncertainty avoidance by applying standard operating procedures or by making traditional bureaucratic responses in every case. Contingency and Situational theory could give school leaders the opportunity to further refine management policies and practices.

Contingency theory is based on the assumption that no single leadership style is appropriate in all situations. According to this theory, leadership style is quite inflexible. Organizational effectiveness depends on matching internal organizational characteristics with environmental conditions. Therefore, effective leadership depends on whether a leader's style matches the needs of the individual case. This theory applies better to educational systems where principal selection is done through an open recruitment process. One useful tool of this theory is contingency planning or forecasting, a process of identifying the major contingencies and preparing in advance responses and strategies for future conditions and events. This procedure intends to diminish the levels of uncertainty. However, situational theory dictates that leaders adapt their style to match their staff's characteristics and requirements. In educational systems like the Greek one, where the recruitment and selection of school principals lies with central government, situational theory can be a useful tool for principals. When principals are placed in a new school, they should choose the best course of action based upon the current circumstances. Leaders should consider the readiness/maturity level of their followers by analyzing the group’s willingness and ability. Depending on the level of these variables, they should choose the amount of direction and the amount of socio-emotional support they are going to provide. Flexibility is the key in managing a team effectively. The main difference between the two theories is that, in the first case, we put the right person in the right job, while in the second, leaders adjust their style depending on school context.