Substitutes for Leadership and Job Satisfaction: Is There a Relationship?

Article excerpt


This paper examines the relationship between selected substitutes for leadership (Kerr & Jermier, 1978) and the concept of job satisfaction. Previous research on leadership substitutes focused on identifying and explaining the basic effects of substitutes for leadership on various forms of leadership (Keller, 2006; Fuller, Morrison, Jones, Bridger, & Brown, 1999). In this study, we extend the inquiry into substitutes for leadership by examining potential links between leadership substitutes and job satisfaction. In this analysis, the focus was only on the potential for a main effects model (a substitutes only model) of the relationship between substitutes for leadership and job satisfaction.


According to the path-goal theory of leadership, the role of a leader is the identification of those behaviors which are most likely to result in the attainment of desirable goals for subordinates (e.g., high levels of performance and increased satisfaction). Having defined the appropriate behaviors, the leader then engages in actions (behaviors) which will reduce or eliminate barriers to goal achievement. The relationship between leader behavior and subordinate motivation (path-goal instrumentality) can be moderated or influenced by the characteristics of subordinates and the structure of the environment. In a path-goal sense, the successful leader is the one who matches his or her behavior to the requirements of the situation and to the characteristics of his or her subordinates.

In general, the concept of substitutes for leadership represents an extension of the path-goal theory of leadership (Evans, 1970; House, 1971). The concept sought to identify specific factors or forces, which when present at high levels, act to interrupt the link between the behaviors of a leader and subordinate expectancies regarding desired outcomes. The central thesis of the substitutes for leadership construct is a belief that behaviors associated with traditional hierarchical leadership may not be important determinants of subordinate performance, commitment, and satisfaction in all cases.

Essentially, Kerr and Jermier (1978) argued that there are a series of characteristics which have the potential to either neutralize or substitute for the effects of leader behavior. The characteristics are three types: individual, task, and organizational characteristics. Individual characteristics suggested as potential substitutes included ability, experience, training and knowledge, need for independence, professionalism, and indifference towards rewards. Task characteristics identified as potential substitutes included unambiguous and routine tasks, methodologically invariant tasks, task provided feedback, and intrinsically satisfying tasks.

Organizational characteristics proposed as potential substitutes included the level of formality, inflexibility, highly active advisory and staff functions, closely knit and cohesive work groups, lack of leader control over rewards, and spatial distance between leader and subordinates (Kerr & Jermier, 1978).

The key difference between traditional theories of leadership such as path-goal theory and the concept of substitutes for leadership is the idea that in certain situations, leader behaviors may be unnecessary. Although the concept of substitutes for leadership could be enormously appealing from a management perspective, the research evidence indicates mixed support for the substitutes construct. The initial work of Kerr and Jermier (1978) reported that intrinsically satisfying work and task provided feedback were substitutes for supportive leader behavior when predicting organizational commitment. The authors also found that routine tasks, organizational formality, intrinsic satisfaction, and task feedback significantly reduced subordinate perceptions of role ambiguity. However, these potential substitutes did not significantly reduce the effectiveness of leader task and consideration behaviors that were intended to clarify subordinate roles. …