Leadership in Small Groups

Learning Objectives

Explain the qualities of a leader in a small group setting.

Leaders in groups are members who take charge and manage other members’ activities. In some groups, all members have equal influence and no leader is assigned or emerges. However, leaders are often needed in small groups in order to make effective decisions.

In some cases, a designated leader is assigned or selected by the group. An example of a designated leader is a party planning committee who elects one member to be the leader for the year. In other cases, when a group member has rank or expertise on the group’s topic, group members might defer to them as an implied leader. A member with public health expertise might become an implied leader in a community group as they discuss the upcoming flu season. In other cases, a group member’s personality, abilities, amount of talking, or assertiveness can lead to them being emergent leader. One member of a book club might enjoy organizing and planning and become an informal leader over time as they take charge of coordinating the monthly meetings.

As Stephen Lucas notes, “A group may or may not need a specific leader, but it always needs leadership. When all members of the group are skilled communicators, they can take turns at providing leadership even if the group has a designated or implied leader.”[1]

Whether there are designated, implied, or emergent, what are some qualities of effective group leaders?


Based on the group’s needs and focus, effective leaders are able to switch up leadership styles. Contingency theories are founded on the idea that there is no single best leadership style; rather, the most effective leadership approach depends on the situation, such as the leader’s qualities, the expectations and background of the group, and what the group is actually formed to do.


The most effective group leaders stay focused on the group’s goals and hold both the group members and themselves responsible for meeting their goals.

Intrinsic Power

An effective leader needs group members who trust and follow them. Coercive or manipulative means such as bullying, threats, or harsh criticisms dilute the effectiveness of a leader. Instead, group members will be much more likely to follow and want to follow when a leader’s influence comes from intrinsic appeals, such as constructive feedback, rationality of arguments, and building all team members up positively.


Leaders have vision and an ability to communicate that vision effectively so that others internalize it as their own.


Even if a leader isn’t necessarily personally liked, they need to be seen by other group members as competent, reliable, knowledgeable, and believable.

Addresses Procedural, Task, and Maintenance Needs

Lucas describes three types of needs that leaders take charge of so that the group can reach its goals. Procedural tasks include scheduling space, time and frequency of meetings and preparing an agenda, note taking, and follow-up. These tasks might fall on one member or be assigned throughout the group. Task needs help group members complete their assigned tasks. Leaders help analyze problems, distribute assignments, gather information, make sure everyone is heard from, keep the group focused, and facilitate the group reaching a consensus or final recommendations. Finally, maintenance needs involve leadership in interpersonal relationships. For instance, a leader helps manage conflict or decision-making by reducing tension and encouraging full participation.

Practice Question


  1. Lucas, Stephen. The Art of Public Speaking. United States, McGraw-Hill Education, 2020, p. 375.