Provider perspectives have been overlooked in efforts to address the challenges of unmet need for family planning (FP). This qualitative study was undertaken in Tanzania, using 22 key informant interviews and 4 focus group discussions. The research documents perceptions of healthcare managers and providers in a rural district on the barriers to meeting latent demand for contraception. Social-ecological theory is used to interpret the findings, illustrating how service capability is determined by the social, structural and organizational environment. Providers' efforts to address unmet need for FP services are constrained by unstable reproductive preferences, low educational attainment, and misconceptions about contraceptive side effects. Societal and organizational factors--such as gender dynamics, economic conditions, religious and cultural norms, and supply chain bottlenecks, respectively--also contribute to an adverse environment for meeting needs for care. Challenges that healthcare providers face interact and produce an effect which hinders efforts to address unmet need. Interventions to address this are not sufficient unless the supply of services is combined with systems strengthening and social engagement strategies in a way that reflects the multi-layered, social institutional problems.