Dr Alasdair McDonnell is thought to be a front runner to replace Mark Durkan
The SDLP executive has decided that Mark Durkan should stay on as leader until February when the party's annual conference is due to take place.
The decision was taken on Thursday at a specially arranged meeting to discuss the timetable for his departure.
The executive also backed his proposal to bring the date for nominations for a new leader forward to 1 November.
Meanwhile, veteran SDLP MP Eddie McGrady has confirmed he plans to stand again at the next Westminster election.
There had been speculation that the 74-year-old, who has been South Down MP since 1987, would stand down in favour of his party colleague Margaret Ritchie.
Mr Durkan's announcement on Sunday that he intended to step down as leader had led to tensions within the SDLP.
He made the announcement during an interview on BBC Radio Ulster, which took many of his party colleagues by surprise.
Although the SDLP Assembly team agreed on Monday that he should stay on until after the Westminster election, expected in May, others within the SDLP felt this was impractical.
It is thought party members wanted a new leader in place before voters go to the polls.
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Martina Purdy said there is friction between supporters of Mr Durkan and supporters of the deputy leader Alasdair McDonnell
"An early transition would have favoured Alasdair McDonnell - some people see him as the natural successor," she said.
"The longer you leave it there's time to mount an alternative candidate. There are some in the party who want somebody but Alasdair, in fact anybody besides Alasdair."
Mr Durkan left Thursday's meeting without making any comment but it is understood that he outlined his reasons for not seeking re-election as SDLP leader.
Party Chairman Joe Byrne said Mr Durkan proposed bringing the process to appoint his successor forward because "he had given an earlier than anticipated public indication of his intention not to seek re-election".
He added: "Mark Durkan will continue to play a key role in the party both as leader now and as the MP for Foyle in the future".