What is Participative Leadership And How Does It Work?

Looking to improve communication, collaboration and employee engagement within your organisation? Then Participative Leadership could be the way to go!

Participative Leaders involve their teams to take an active role in decision making and shaping processes around the organisation. Whilst this can lead to higher job satisfaction amongst employees, it’s important to note that participative leadership can also have its drawbacks.

Within this blog, we’re going to look at the definition of Participative Leadership, how it works, and the pros and cons of the model.



What is Participative Leadership?

In our Management Training we often get asked what is the best way to increase employee engagement. One such way is adapting a participative leadership style.

The participative leadership style is an approach to leading that prioritises collaboration and encourages team members to work together to solve problems. The team supersedes any individual contributor — including the leader. Everyone gets a vote and is able to have their voices heard.

Participative leaders also urge employees to take accountability for their individual contributions instead of pointing fingers at and assigning blame to others.

Types of Participative Leadership

There are a few different participative leadership styles that someone might fall under. The following are the most well-known ones:


Consensus leadership requires unanimous agreement. The group leader is the facilitator only and doesn’t get any special decision-making power.

When teams use this approach, groups will typically change any goals as many times as it takes for everyone to agree.

Consensus leadership encourages team members to compromise and openly express their views. However, it can also be time-consuming and cause frustration for some employees.


Collective leadership involves a leader coordinating and facilitating the decision-making process. However, the leader still does not have any additional decision-making power.

Collective leadership doesn’t require a unanimous consensus, but the majority of team members must agree on the decision. It’s helpful for larger teams and organisations, which may struggle to get everyone to agree.


Democratic leadership takes everyone’s views and suggestions into account. However, the leader gets the final say in the group’s decision.

When leaders take a democratic approach, they often allow all team members to vote on the decision. They generally go with the option that gets the most votes. Still, there’s also an implicit understanding that the leader can override the group’s decision if they have a different opinion.


Autocratic leadership gives the leader the most authority and the team members the least authority. With this approach, the leader gathers input from team members, but they also get the final say.

Leaders may vary in the amount of information they seek from team members, too. Some are more committed to evaluating everyone’s thoughts and opinions before making a decision, whereas others only consult a few people before announcing their chosen solution.

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How Does Participative Leadership Work?

Every leader’s approach to participative leadership will look a bit different depending on their personal preferences, their team members, and the type of work they do. However, the following principles typically apply across the board:

The Leader Listens to Team Members

In all styles of participative leadership, the leader actively seeks employee feedback and equally listens to team members. They value their employees’ ideas and trust them to offer suggestions that are in everyone’s best interests.

The Leader Encourages Accountability

Participative leadership encourages all team members to take responsibility for their decisions. Because everyone contributes and must agree on the best solution, it’s harder for team members to blame one person if something goes wrong.

Everyone Makes Decisions Together

Participative leaders don’t make decisions alone. Even in democratic and autocratic leadership, where leaders have more power, they still seek counsel from their team members and work with them to come to a final conclusion.

Interested in finding out about your own leadership strengths and weaknesses? Try our FREE Leadership Assessment Test.



Advantages of Participative Leadership

Like every leadership style, participative leadership has benefits and drawbacks. It’s crucial to consider participative leadership advantages and disadvantages before deciding if this is the correct type of leadership for you and your team.

Here are some of the most significant advantages of participative leadership:

Encourages Collaboration

Participative leadership is one of the best approaches for employers that want their team members to work together. Because everyone must offer input and, in many cases, vote on the best solution, there’s no way around communicating with one another, sharing ideas, and compromising.

Promotes Team and Company Unity

Similarly, participative leadership can lead to a greater sense of team and company unity.

What happens when leaders practice participative leadership correctly and their team members feel encouraged to speak their minds? In short, it’s easier for everyone to get to know one another, trust one another, and remember that they’re all on the same team and working toward the same goals.

Increases Employee Retention

If employees feel that they’re part of a strong, united, and collaborative team, there’s a good chance they’ll want to stay with the company long-term.

Increasing employee retention rates can help companies save money, increase productivity, and bolster their reputation. It also attracts more qualified candidates in the future since most people want to work for employers with high retention rates and a positive company culture.

Improves Morale

Increased team unity and employee retention can also lead to better morale among the team (and potentially throughout the entire company). When employees are happy, they’re more engaged in their work and committed to doing quality work that moves the company closer to its goals.

Increases Policy Adoption and Adherence

Say a group of employees vote on implementing a new rule or policy at the company. If everyone gets a say and gets to vote for this rule to go into effect, they’ll be more likely to adhere to it after the fact.

Promotes Creativity

Participative leadership can also contribute to a more creative and innovative work environment.

Because team members know they’ll be heard if they share an idea or make a suggestion, they’ll be more inclined to do so and won’t worry about being shamed or criticised for speaking up. These feelings, in turn, encourage people to think outside the box and come up with new solutions.

If you are looking to improve team morale and encourage collaboration and creativity then check out our Team Building Training.



Disadvantages of Participative Leadership

Participative leadership comes with plenty of pros. However, there are also some downsides to keep in mind, including the following:

Can Be Time-Consuming

One of the most commonly cited concerns about participative leadership is that it can be more time-consuming than other approaches. Naturally, if all team members provide input and vote on a solution, it will take longer to reach a decision than if one person decides for everyone.

Can Be Difficult for Large Groups

Because of the time-consuming nature of participative leadership, it can be difficult for large groups or entire companies (particularly large companies) to implement it.

It’s not realistic, in most cases, for hundreds of people to share feedback and vote on a particular problem. A different type of leadership will likely be more practical and effective in these situations.

May Contribute to Information Leaks

Another potential challenge of participative leadership in large companies is that it can contribute to information leaks.

When a greater number of people are aware of an issue and have been asked to give feedback on solving a problem, it’s easier for details about the situation to get leaked to people who aren’t supposed to know about it.

Not Immune to Social Pressure

Ideally, when participative leadership is used, all employees feel empowered to share their opinions. However, in practice, this type of leadership is not immune to the effects of social pressure.

Some team members may still feel pressured to vote the same as their colleagues, even if they don’t necessarily agree. When people constantly feel this way, it counteracts many of the positive effects of participative leadership.



How to Implement Participative Leadership

Do you think participative leadership could work well for your team?

Implementing change as a manager doesn’t have to be difficult – especially if you understand the types of change you could face in the workplace. These tips can help you implement a participative leadership style correctly and set everyone up to see the best results:

Initiating group discussions

The first step to implementing participative leadership among your employees is to encourage open discussions.

Bring your team together and explain the objectives of the gathering. Let everyone know that they’re welcome and encouraged to provide feedback and share their views.

Providing information

The more information team members have to work with, the easier it is for them to come to a consensus about how to solve a particular problem.

When groups are gathered to make decisions, the leader should set the scene and explain the current situation in detail. They must also provide essential data to ensure employees can make informed decisions.

Sharing of ideas and insights

After everyone has received relevant information, it’s time to invite team members to share their thoughts and offer potential solutions.

For this stage to be effective, employees must feel safe to speak up and share their thoughts.

If only a couple of people are talking, that’s not encouraging collaboration and contributing to a more united team. It also leaves room for blame and shifting responsibility later on.

Processing the presented information

Once everyone has been able to share, it’s time for the group to evaluate and organise the ideas that have been expressed and summarise them effectively. Doing so makes it easier for employees to understand their options.

Evaluating the ideas presented

Next, team members will weigh the value of different ideas presented. They’ll consider the pros and cons of each potential solution and, if needed, seek additional information to determine whether or not it’s the right approach.

Agreeing on a decision

After the evaluation stage, employees can vote on a final decision.

Depending on the type of participative leadership the employer uses, this stage may require everyone to agree (consensus leadership) or a majority to agree (collective leadership).

If they practice democratic or autocratic leadership, the employer can also weigh everyone’s input and make a final decision on their own.

Listening to all views

In some cases, there will be a few hold-outs who don’t agree with the majority’s decision. When leaders practice consensus leadership, they must work with these hold-outs to either persuade them to agree with the group’s decision.

It’s more effective to listen to these people and find out what their concerns are. Then, the leader and other group members can offer counter arguments and help the hold-outs change their minds. They may also need to provide a compromise that is more appealing to the voters who are on the fence.

Applying the decided action

After everyone has given input and voted on a final decision, it’s time to implement it. The leader may need to assign tasks to various team members to execute a plan, or they may deliver the team’s decision to someone else who has the power to implement the solution.

When Does Participative Leadership Work Best?

Participative leadership works better in some situations than others. The following are some sample situations and examples of participative leadership positively affecting teams and companies:

Low-Pressure Environments

Participative leadership typically works best in low-pressure environments. Because this approach can be time-consuming, it’s helpful to utilise it when there’s plenty of time and employees are pressured to make decisions quickly.

No Need for Quick Turnarounds

Participative leadership also works well in situations with flexible deadlines or without the need for a quick turnaround. If you and your team need to solve a problem as quickly as possible, participative leadership may be too time-consuming, and you may need to switch to a different style.

Smaller Businesses and Teams

Generally, smaller teams and businesses have better luck with participative leadership. When there are only a few people on a team or a few dozen employees at an organisation, it’s easier for everyone to share their insights and reach a conclusion together.

Multiple Solutions Are Needed

Participative leadership can also be helpful in situations where multiple solutions are welcome. If you and your employees are trying to brainstorm lots of potential fixes, you can use the participative style to ensure everyone is heard and gets a chance to share their perspectives.


Participative leadership is a collaborative leadership style that gives everyone a chance to share their views and contribute to the decision-making process. It works well for businesses of all types and helps team members build trust with each other and their leader.

Do you want to learn more about becoming an effective leader? If so, check out our Essential Management Skills Course and Team Leader Training to help you be the best, and to bring out the best in your employees as their leader.

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Updated on: 13 July, 2023

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