If you aspire to work in a leadership role, start by earning a leadership degree. This degree is useful for those who already know how their industry works, and have the skills to do a specific job, but lack the leadership knowledge required to create strategic plans, lead teams, and execute projects. A Ph.D. in organizational leadership can be the most effective path to the leadership position you want.

Leaders have vision. They understand how organizations change, and they can shape their development. They are well-paid for their jobs, too: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for management occupations stands at $102,590. BLS experts project that the field will grow by 8% by 2026. If you have the confidence, entrepreneurial skills, and innovative spirit to steer an organization to success, you may be the ideal candidate for a doctorate in organizational leadership.

Should I Get a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership?

Every company in every industry relies on leadership to accomplish its mission effectively and efficiently. Leaders come from a broad range of backgrounds, and can take many different roles in a company or field. Some leaders build teams, while others manage projects or lead strategic planning efforts. Leading in a corporate, nonprofit, or public service environment requires skills that inspire and enable followers to accomplish needed tasks.

In most cases, a Ph.D. in organizational leadership requires applicants to hold at least three years of relevant experience. Few people coming from traditional undergraduate programs meet that qualification, whereas many students finishing their master's degrees after some time in the workforce do. Due to the working lifestyles of many students, leadership doctorates are usually available online. Some are hybrids, and a few exist as on-campus degrees. Students who plan to serve as leaders or teachers in higher education may find that on-campus programs are their best choice, since they create opportunities for research, teaching, and networking in higher education.

Doctoral programs in organizational leadership are similar to degrees in management, educational administration, and business administration. Organizational leadership is a relatively broad field, which makes it a valuable choice for those looking to change careers. Organizational leadership programs often focus on big-picture issues, while other programs emphasize specialized details.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership?

Organizational leadership is a broad, multidisciplinary degree. It mixes leadership theory with coursework, plus research into solving the practical problems facing companies, nonprofits, and schools. Students from many different academic and professional backgrounds choose to pursue doctoral programs in organizational leadership, usually because they are looking to improve their skills in analytics, personnel leadership, strategic planning, and intercultural communication. A leadership degree is a great choice for professionals who want to advance their careers or plan to move into consulting, teaching, or a company's top leadership role. People with diverse personalities and interests can succeed as organizational leaders.

Top Executive

Top executives are responsible for ensuring an organization meet its goals. These professionals must have deep knowledge of strategic planning and a broad sense of organizational development. Top executives may serve as CEOs, or may lead a single branch of a company, such as marketing, finance, or product development.

Median Annual Salary: $104,700

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Serving as provosts, deans, and vice presidents at colleges and universities, postsecondary education administrators lead departments such as academic affairs, student life, or the registrar's office. Duties, responsibilities, and income vary widely depending on the size of the institution, and nearly all postsecondary education administration positions require a doctorate.

Median Annual Salary: $92,360

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Public Relations & Fundraising Manager

Public relations managers are responsible for the image their company presents to the public. Fundraising managers have a similar role, but their primary objective is to bring in money for a nonprofit organization. Many of these professionals work in nonprofit or educational organizations, while some serve in scientific companies and business enterprises.

Median Annual Salary: $111,280

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Financial Manager

Financial managers oversee an organization's financial health. Many work long hours in banks, insurance firms, and other financial institutions. These professionals forecast income, model financial plans, make investment decisions, and create financial reports. Financial managers need analytical skills, which come with a Ph.D. in organizational leadership.

Median Annual Salary: $125,080

Projected Growth Rate: 19%

Training & Development Manager

Charged with training company employees, these managers create curriculum, instruct groups, assess knowledge, and help determine how new knowledge can apply in-context. Many of these professionals work in management, or in scientific and technical firms. Most training and development leaders hold graduate degrees or other post-baccalaureate training in their field.

Median Annual Salary: $108,250

Projected Growth Rate: 10%

How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Organizational Leadership

The road to a Ph.D. in organizational leadership is long, challenging, and costly. Students must pay tuition and buy books, and attend on-campus sessions. Before committing up to seven years of time and thousands of dollars to this undertaking, students should take care to choose the right program for them. They should ask: How long will it take to complete this degree? Are part-time study options available for people who want to remain employed? What about any prerequisite coursework? Will students who lack certain courses need to take extra time to meet those requirements? What does the dissertation or final project require? Is it congruent with the applicant's expectations for the largest academic process most students will ever undertake?

Cost is a major consideration for most applicants, too. Prospective students must look carefully at their personal budgets to determine what they can afford before choosing a particular program. An online doctorate in organizational leadership may allow students to remain employed. However, few of these programs offer financial aid packages on par with those from on-campus doctoral programs. Location also helps determine education costs and potential internship or job placements. Students should examine the pros and cons of both on-campus and online doctorates in organizational leadership before deciding which is right for them.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D.?

Both Ed.D.s and Ph.D.s in organizational leadership are available. Some Ph.D. programs require up to 33% more credits than Ed.D. programs, but this is not universal. In general, the Ed.D. emphasizes the practical application of leadership skills and theories. In the Ed.D., student research leads to new applications of current theories, whereas students doing Ph.D. research may work on developing new theories. For students concentrating in educational leadership, the Ed.D. tends to focus on school and classroom leadership, while the Ph.D. emphasizes policy or research in the larger education sector. Most Ph.D. students want to do research, serve as consultants, or work as professors of leadership, but many Ed.D. candidates plan to remain in organizational leadership positions rather than move into teaching or research. Popular careers for Ed.D. holders often pay more than those for professionals with a Ph.D.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Organizational Leadership

Accreditation is critical to the value and utility of a doctorate in organizational leadership. In the U.S., accreditation is a private, voluntary process, and schools elect to undergo the accreditation process to show that they meet established quality standards. University teaching jobs, financial aid, and academic opportunities are more available to students at accredited schools than to those at unaccredited ones.

Accreditation is available on both institutional and programmatic levels. Regional associations offer institutional accreditation, which is the gold standard of excellence in education. For a Ph.D. in organizational leadership, programmatic accreditation is less important than in some other fields. Students seeking an Ed.D. in organizational leadership may want to look for programmatic accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and those seeking to teach business might want to attend a school accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International.

Doctorate in Organizational Leadership Program Admissions

Graduate school admissions policies vary between institutions, but many have similar standards. Some doctoral programs in organizational leadership have hard-and-fast application deadlines, while others accept applications on a rolling basis. Most students apply to at least three graduate programs, which gives them a better chance at obtaining admission and financial aid. Applicants usually complete 6-8 applications, since graduate school admissions can be expensive and time-consuming. Usually, prospective students rank their program choices depending on the school's reputation, financial aid offerings, concentrations, and program format. Some students also seek out particular philosophical perspectives, or the opportunity to study under a particular professor.


  • Degree: Students must hold a master's degree in any subject to receive admission to a Ph.D. in organizational leadership program. Some schools admit students with degrees from a nationally accredited schools, while others only accept degrees from regionally accredited colleges.
  • Professional Experience: Many schools require students to show three to five years of leadership experience before accepting them into a Ph.D. in organizational leadership program. Some admissions committees consider volunteer or community leadership while others look only at paid positions.
  • Minimum GPA: Admissions committees need to determine applicants' academic skills, and one of the best indicators is GPA. Some schools require a minimum GPA.
  • License: Doctoral programs in organizational leadership do not require students to hold any kind of license. However, in some fields, such as healthcare or religion, licensure may prove helpful in career development.

Admission Materials

  • Application: To complete an application for a doctorate in organizational leadership, students should budget 30 minutes to an hour, but the essay portion often takes much longer.
  • Transcripts: Applicants need to submit official transcripts showing that they hold both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. The rules and fees for requesting transcripts vary by school, though usually these requests are accompanied by a fee.
  • Letters of Recommendation: To apply for a Ph.D. in organizational leadership, most students need to submit three letters of recommendation from a graduate professor, a professional supervisor, and a leader in their chosen concentration.
  • Test Scores: Typically, schools expect to receive scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Most admissions committees expect students to score in the 50th percentile range or higher.
  • Application Fee: Application fees for doctoral programs in organizational leadership typically fall between $50 and $100. Some schools apply the fee to tuition once an applicant has received acceptance into the program.

What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Organizational Leadership?

Students earning a Ph.D. in organizational leadership can choose a multidisciplinary, general approach to study, or focus on an individual concentration in business, church leadership, healthcare, education, or another field. The concentrations below represent a cross-section of options available at different schools.

Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership
Concentration Description Careers
Missional Leadership Focused on ecclesiastical and missional organizations, this concentration prepares students for leadership in faith-based roles. Learners examine spirituality, community, and faith in an organizational context throughout their coursework. Courses include macroeconomics and developing countries; theories of ecclesial leadership; and cross-cultural leadership, empowerment, and team dynamics. Senior pastor, organizational consultant, nonprofit CEO
Global Consulting This concentration teaches students to equip others to transform teams and structures using cultural understanding, team building, leadership, and communication. Coursework covers the role of the consultant, how to complete assessments, and how to appropriate intercultural communication skills. Courses include consulting principles, leadership and innovation, ethical interventions, and global consulting. Executive coach, military leader, consultant
Healthcare Leadership Students learn to meet organizational challenges in the healthcare industry through team leadership, self leadership, and business forecasting. In their coursework, learners examine trends and issues in the healthcare sector, explore healthcare leadership models and theories, and prepare publishable articles. Courses include healthcare issues, trends, and forecasting; healthcare team leadership and engagement; and healthcare theory and practice. Healthcare executive, consultant, professor
Entrepreneurial Leadership Students explore the nexus of creativity, global economics, business, and personal mission. This concentration prepares learners to understand risk, international innovation, and learning and orientation in a business context. Courses include theoretical foundations of leading entrepreneurial ventures, theories of the firm in developing economies, and entrepreneurial strategies to lead technological and innovational change. Executive leader, university faculty, researcher
Educational Leadership This concentration prepares professional educators to serve as leaders in colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and curriculum development organizations. Students look at issues of organizational management, public policy, and educational theories of learning and change. Courses include leaders of learning, evidence-based learning leadership, and race and gender in educational contexts. School superintendent, principal, university professor

Courses in a Doctoral Program in Organizational Leadership

Leadership programs have commonalities, but also differ in emphasis, style, and outcomes. The field is broad and multidisciplinary, meaning that its core components vary from school to school depending on each school's mission and desired impact. Listed below are sample courses from doctoral programs in organizational leadership.

Leadership Analytics

The introduction of powerful digital tools and mountains of data gives leaders new challenges and opportunities to lead change through data acquisition and analysis. In this course, students learn to use the tools of data analytics and business intelligence to make thoughtful, evidence-based decisions. The course includes interactive exercises and case studies.

Global Leadership, Systems, and Policy

This course examines leadership through a social justice lens. Students critique policies and political decision-making processes in gender, food supply, globalization and world poverty, education, and health care. At the end of the course, students complete a research assignment on a critical issue.

Leadership Theory

Students study the history of leadership theory in organizational and cultural contexts. The course will help learners assess their own leadership styles in light of these theories, enhance understanding and appreciation of other leadership approaches, and propose improvements in their personal and organizational leadership.

Strategic Foresight

Students assess emerging changes within organizational, industrial, academic, and global contexts. Working in teams, students determine how to identify and respond to threats and opportunities within an organization's external environment. They also learn to anticipate changes in resources, determine the impact of social and political shifts, and prepare for technological disruption.

Intercultural Behavior, Worldview, and Communication

Modern leadership structures must take into account global and intercultural perspectives on leadership, followership, organizational behavior, and communication. This course examines the socio-cultural and critical perspectives of worldview, culture, and leadership in a multinational, multicultural perspective. Students learn how worldviews translate into behaviors and perceptions of leadership when people with disparate cultural values interact.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership?

Doctoral programs in organizational leadership usually require between 45 and 60 credits to complete, and most students need four or five years to earn their degrees. In the typical doctorate in organizational leadership, students can take no more than seven years to earn their degree from start to finish. Sometimes, an Ed.D. in organizational leadership takes less time than a Ph.D. because an Ed.D. operates on a cohort model, in which students take all their coursework together in a prescribed sequence. Students not in a cohort model may take additional credits to complete their degrees faster, but this approach is more challenging at the doctoral level than at the master's level. Alternatively, students who need to take time off can do so more easily in a non-cohort model. The best way for students to complete their doctorate in a timely fashion is to take a disciplined, organized approach to writing their dissertation or final project.

How Much Is a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership?

Per-credit costs for a Ph.D. in organizational leadership usually vary from $450 to $850. Students should anticipate paying between $20,000 and $51,000 in total tuition. Some schools offer significant financial aid to veterans, military personnel, or people serving in other qualifying professions. Other institutions provide research or teaching assistantships that cover the cost of tuition, plus a living stipend. Some faith-based schools provide discounts to clergy members of their supporting denomination. Many factors besides tuition per credit-hour affect the overall cost of the degree.

Online learners may have to pay additional technology fees per course. Some online programs also require residencies, which mean students must take off work, travel to the university's campus or another defined location, and pay for housing and meals while on site.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership Prepares For

Certified Analytics Professional

The top certification for analytics professionals, CAP requires applicants to hold a bachelor's degree and five years of experience, or a master's degree and three years of experience, to take the exam. CAP holders can advance their careers in business intelligence, analytics, machine learning, data science, or optimization.

Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Six Sigma is a management technique that reduces the probability of error and improves overall business processes. Its five basic phases are define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. Six Sigma characterizes leaders according to the color of the belt they earn, with Master Black Belt being at the top. Master Black Belts earn an estimated $80,000 per year.

Certified ScrumMaster

Scrum is a team work methodology built on the ideas of Agile work. This methodology provides a framework for solving problems and delivering high-value products. A certified ScrumMaster can manage the information exchange process for a self-organized team. Certification requires attending a two-day course and passing an exam.

AMA Certificate in Leadership Development

Offered by the American Management Association, this certificate comes in two levels: one for aspiring leaders and one for those with more experience. The curriculum for experienced leaders includes strategic thinking, strategic planning, and achieving results. Upon completing the certificates, students should be able to identify trends, inspire teams, and form strategic initiatives.

Certified Business Process Leader

The CBPL is the highest certificate offered through the Association of Business Process Management Professionals International. To qualify for the 130-question exam, applicants must show 10 years or more of business process management. The certificate indicates mastery of the business transformation life cycle and strategy execution.

Resources for Organizational Leadership Doctorate Students

Global Leadership Summit

An annual event sponsored by the Willow Creek Association, the Global Leadership Summit brings together nearly 450,000 leaders to learn from world-class faculty at technology-enhanced locations around the world.

Journal of Organizational Behavior

The Journal of Organizational Behavior focuses on the theory and research of behavior in organizations at the individual, group, and organizational levels. The publication is especially relevant to human resource and education leaders.

Journal of Applied Christian Leadership

A publication of Andrews University, JACL comes out twice annually. The journal's topics include a variety of topics on leadership such as biographies of Christian leaders, concepts of leadership in aging, and designing leadership training.

Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

This peer-reviewed, quarterly journal publishes scholarly articles on leadership topics such as human resource management, strategy, entrepreneurship, international management, and organizational behavior. Articles include theory, research, and application.

Harvard Business Review

Published by Harvard Business Publishing, a subsidiary of Harvard University, HBR covers topics related to business, management, leadership, and organizational change. The magazine is published in 13 languages.

Professional Organizations in Organizational Leadership

Leaders and students join professional organizations to network with other leaders, continue their education, and take the opportunity to engage in global leadership discussions. By joining a campus organization, students can beef up their resumes even before graduation. Once in the work world, membership can mean access to the latest information and ideas in the world of leadership. Some organizations focus on the broad topic of leadership while others emphasize a specialty such as futuristics or church leadership.


Founded by leadership specialist John Maxwell, EQUIP is a nonprofit organization focused on networking and equipping leaders in the faith community. EQUIP offers trainings, volunteer opportunities, and events around the world.

World Future Society

The largest and longest-lasting community of futurists, the World Future Society includes members from the education, entrepreneurship, technology, and transportation industries among others. Members can attend online events, network with each other, and access a library of resources about the future.

The National Leadership of Leadership and Success

More than 883,000 students at 650-plus colleges make up the largest leadership honor society. Student members can take advantage of scholarships, trainings, awards, and discounts. Members join by nomination.

International Leadership Association

A global network of members from more than 70 countries, ILA offers online access to newsletters, webinars, and magazines. The organization hosts numerous conferences, publishes the Journal of Leadership Studies, and maintains an online job board.

American Leadership Development Association

An international network of people who study, teach, and practice leadership, ALDA members attend conferences, share publications, and award honors. The organization emphasizes directive communication psychology, situational leadership, and the fifth discipline.