Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Situational Leadership Awareness Development In Student Outdoor Leaders Through Training Versus Experience

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Rachel Vannatta Reinhart (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Steve Langendorfer (Other)

Third Advisor

Joyce Litten (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Bryan Cavins (Committee Member)


This dissertation explores the impact of formal staff training and field leadership on the ability of student leaders to correctly discern the appropriate styles of leadership for specific outdoor recreation-based situations. The relationship between the situational leadership model (Hersey & Blanchard, 1980) and group development theory (Tuckman, 1965) was explored through the integration research of Weber and Karman (1991) and was used as a framework for this study. In order to develop an applicable form of this research for this study, the researcher developed an integrated dynamic model to provide a visual representation of the blending of the two theoretical frameworks. In addition to the exploration of formal staff training and field leadership experiences, analyses were conducted to determine if age, gender, race, previous outdoor recreation experience, or outdoor recreation degree seeking significantly affected the students’ awareness or their dominant styles of leadership. The literature study indicated a strong relationship between situational leadership and outdoor recreation (Breunig, O'Connell, Todd, Anderson, & Young, 2010; Shooter, Paisley, & Sibthorp, 2009; Sibthorp, Paisley, & Gookin, 2007; Sutherland & Stroot, 2010), but little, if any, research exists on the development of situational leadership in outdoor leaders. The quantitative nature of this study stemmed from the lack of research in the outdoor recreation field from this approach. As most previous research in outdoor recreation utilized small populations (i.e., a single group of people participating in an outdoor recreation activity), this study examined a larger group of participants utilizing a quantitative approach. In total, 106 student outdoor leaders from various Midwestern United States university outdoor recreation programs participated in a three-part study that tested their awareness of situational leadership through the Outdoor Leadership Survey (OLS), which utilized the Expedition Leader Style Analysis (ELSA; Phipps & Phipps, 2003). The survey was administered prior to the formal staff training, at the conclusion of the staff training, and after a minimum of 7 days of field leadership experience. The results were paired and analyzed for significance. T tests of related samples indicated no significant difference in situational leadership awareness scores (SLAS) and the formal staff training or field leadership experience. Though no significant results were found in the study it was noted that the calculations were unable to control for various presentation styles of leadership development information. The varying structure of the formal staff training and field leadership experiences coupled with the low statistical power due to limited data points could have caused non-significant results. In terms of demographic differences, chi-square tests were conducted to examine relationships between dominant leadership styles and the reported variables. Reported p values were > .05 for all tests, with the exception of the change in dominant leadership style when compared to gender in post-training results, p = .049. Of the many demographic areas studied, gender was the only factor with a significant difference in the dominant leadership style of a student leader and the difference was only seen after the formal staff training. Though the aspects of the formal staff training that caused this difference are currently unknown, the study recommended that directors of outdoor recreation programs examine the content and presentation of material during staff trainings to determine if the training is being presented in such a way that a particular style of leadership is preferred instead of a balanced approach, when related to gender. And finally, although not significant, the effect of prior participation showed a difference in dominant leaderships styles compared to the general college student trend from pre-training scores. These results were attributed to the newer staff being more open to various leadership approaches while senior staff had settled on a particular dominant style that they would use in most situations as a reflection of their formal leadership as a college student (Haber, 2012). The study recommended that those directing programs to continually observe senior staff members to ensure the use of a well-rounded leadership approach based on these findings. In doing so the director can work toward a staff consisting of both new and senior members who all utilize a well-rounded leadership style approach instead of reliance on a single dominant style.