The 5 C’s of Leadership in Social Work Organisations
Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

The 5 C’s of Leadership in Social Work Organisations

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Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

Leadership is a diverse phenomenon. When it comes to precise definitions, a hundred people would come up with more than a hundred different concepts regarding leadership. Despite its ubiquitous diversity, it can be characterized by someone’s abilities to empower others on an individual, organisational, or community level. In other words, it is a way of directing colleagues or followers in an organization towards specific goals to cope with the customers’ and companies’ needs. Within the health and social service sector, a newly qualified practitioner with no formal leadership position may as well undertake leadership roles, such as in a team or project. They may also be aware of the different, commonly used leadership approaches.

Classical Leadership Approaches

The three classical approaches to leadership in social work organizations are the trait approach, the contingency approach, and the behavioural approach which we will explore first before we proceed with the 5 C’s leadership model.

1. Trait Approach

The trait approach of leadership is based on the theory that leadership skills are congenial and not acquired. Leadership skills and competencies include all those distinguishing characteristics which are differentiating the follower and the leader. Moreover, in the trait approach, leadership is characterised by for example self-confidence, extroversion, and masculinity. Despite all these properties which distinguish the leader from other workers, this theory is free from environmental influences. The trait approach also suggests focusing too much on personal qualities or innate traits of a supposed leader, proposing that leaders are born and cannot simply be made. All those cultural, ethnic, and environmental factors will hit hard an organization and, thus, needs to be flexible in responding to this flocculation (Aibieyi, 2014).

2. Contingency Approach

In the mid-1960s, Fred E. Fielder gave birth to the theory of contingency. This approach considers leadership competence as the function of the social atmosphere in which the leader and subordinate interact. According to this, the leader’s effectiveness depends on the situation and upon the social bond shared by the team members. Moreover, leadership is not the sole outcome of a nominated person’s behaviour but is a combination of potential and interaction among the team members and leader. This theory states the notion that the leader can be either task-oriented or be relationship-oriented. Leaders need to focus much on building positive interactions, mutual respect, and confidence in the organization respectively.

Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard developed a situational leadership model. This approach defines the leader as a passive person just like a manager. This defines the leader as not just the one who is a sum of a series of concepts, but the one who acts like a leader as well. This is so as the leadership is a blend of personality and the social environment. In the Hersey and Blanchard model, the behavioural approach contains both directive and supportive dimensions. Carrying these two dimensions in mind, this approach can be considered as a summary of four essential strategies for leading people which are directing, coaching, supporting and delegating.

3. Transformational and Transactional Approaches

In the 1980s, another approach emerged, known as transactional leadership by Burns (1978): This approach focuses more on the relationship between leaders and followers, where the leader provides rewards, such as status or resources, in return for compliance. In contrary, transformational leadership presumes that leaders act like ‘managers of meaning’ within the organisation. These are sense-makers with visionary capacities and who can motivate and inspire followers. These types of leaders are characterized by their charisma, inspiration, individualised consideration, and intellectual stimulation, as Bass (1985) noted.

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Photo by Preillumination SeTh on Unsplash

The Five C’s of Leadership

In order to run successfully a social work organization with great focus, the whole foundation must be built upon the given characteristics which must be kneaded in the attitude of the leader (Nelson, n.d.):

  1. Clarity: Tosuccessful run a social work organization, all reasoning and decisions must abide by the organisation’s purpose and must be clearly articulated.
  2. Care: Despite fixed rules implemented everywhere, leaders should take care and show respect for the well-being of all team members.
  3. Communication: By effective communication, the whole organization can be turned into a town square. This will, thus, decrease the harmful impacts of communication gaps. Not limited to the leaders, but when communication tools are utilized effectively, the workers will feel free to speak up and share their thoughts whenever it is needed.
  4. Collaboration: One of the foremost peculiarities in a social work organization is that the leader must have the ability to pull workers together and to make them work on a particular task.
  5. Courage: As every commitment you make or the best business deal you want to get done is uncertain, so also a risk-taking attitude is a fundamental pillar for achieving your goals. To put it with Winston Churchill:

“Courage is truly regarded as the foremost of the virtue as the whole organization is dependent upon it.’’

These are just a few approaches to be mentioned. To summarise the Lesson Learned for today:

  • Classical theory explored leadership with regard to certain traits and personality factors, contextualand situational factors as well as transformational vs. transactional approaches.
  • Leadership is the ability of leaders to empower other people and to influence the relationship between leaders and followers. In short, leadership is — to have followers.


Aibieyi, S (2014). Approaches, Skills and Styles of Leadership in Organisations. Review of Public Administration and Management, 3(5), 51–56. URL [03/01/2021].

Bass, B. M. (1990). Bass and Stogdill ’s Handbook of Leadership: A Survey of Theory and Research. New York: Free Press.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. London, New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Nelson, A. (n.d.). How Social Leadership is Changing the Way We Lead. URL [03/01/2021].

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Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.