Decisions in the SNP are being taken by too few people, Kate Forbes said after the party was rocked by the resignation of its longstanding chief executive.
Peter Murrell, who is Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, quit with immediate effect on Saturday following a row over the party’s membership numbers.
His departure came shortly after that of media chief Murray Foote, who said there had been a “serious impediment” to his role.
Mr Murrell said he took responsibility after misleading information was briefed to the media over membership numbers, but said there was no “intent to mislead”.
Ms Forbes, who is on maternity leave from her Government role as Finance Secretary, is facing Health Secretary Humza Yousaf and former community safety minister Ash Regan in the contest.
She told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “I think at the heart of this is the fact that the decisions within the SNP have been taken by too few people.
“I think that’s well recognised across the political domain.
“SNP members want to know that our institution is democratic, that they can influence it, that they can shape policy.”
Ms Forbes also said the SNP needs to improve its ability to listen and deliver.
Referring to the trunk road as Scotland’s “backbone”, she said: “We said we would dual that, we haven’t done it. We need to be able to deliver.”
She also said she would rule out further tax rises if she becomes first minister.
Ms Forbes said there has been “quite a stunning level of scrutiny and perhaps backlash from some quarters” around her religious views.
She said other people of faith have held high office in the UK and she vowed to ensure Scotland is a “tolerant and pluralistic nation”.
In another interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday show, which was recorded before Mr Murrell’s resignation, she said she had confidence in the integrity of the election process.
In response to Ms Forbes’ Sunday interviews, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “Kate Forbes is at it again – claiming she is the ‘change candidate’ to put right the failings of the SNP Government, despite having been one of the most senior members of it.
“She had some brass neck publicly lamenting the SNP’s failure to dual the A9, as if she was a helpless bystander. As a Highlands MSP, she ought to have been banging the drum for this since 2016; while, as finance secretary for the last three years, she’s been in charge of the purse strings and could have made this happen if it was that important to her.
“Similarly, she talks of the need to keep taxes down, while blithely ignoring the fact that she’s made Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK.
“Her slogan is ‘Continuity won’t cut it’ – and that’s right. The only problem is that Continuity Kate’s fingerprints are all over the SNP’s dismal record in government, just as much as Humza Yousaf’s are.”
The leadership contest is due to conclude on March 27.