Online Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership

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What You’ll Learn with a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and Career Potential

Executive leaders pride themselves as resilient and courageous risk takers in effecting organizational change. Many leaders enjoy applying strategy to solve complex problems and build strong teams. An online doctorate in organizational leadership equips business managers and supervisors to take on higher levels of responsibility at for-profit or nonprofit organizations. This degree also prepares business professionals to conduct research in the field at a university, nonprofit, or other relevant organization.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects overall job growth for top executives to reach 8%, about average compared to all other occupations. Over the next half decade, new and expanding organizations across industries will spur job growth in this field.

Featured Online Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership Programs

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Reasons to Pursue an Online Doctorate in Organizational Leadership

While the two share a similar scope, a master’s in business administration (MBA) and a doctorate in organizational leadership typically result in different career paths. Both master’s and doctoral programs equip students with the advanced knowledge and skills needed to assume a top leadership role or serve as a professional consultant in any organization.

Professionals who aim to teach at the postsecondary level must also earn a Ph.D. Many online Ph.D. in organizational leadership programs also require students to first complete a master’s degree before starting an advanced study. A master’s degree often suffices for students who have no desire to conduct research or teach at the postsecondary level.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Organizational Leadership?

Potential career paths for those with an online doctorate in organizational leadership vary, depending on past professional experience and career goals. Graduates may decide to apply their past management experience toward teaching postsecondary students and conducting research. A Ph.D. also prepares professionals to assume specialized leadership roles in education administration, healthcare institutions, and government agencies.

Other Ph.D. graduates may apply their extensive knowledge of business systems to serve as management analysts or consultants in government or private industry. A management analyst designs and implements studies to help solve organizational problems, as well as assisting to redesign company structures that allow an organization to function more efficiently. Individuals with a Ph.D. serve in director-level roles, such as a finance or planning director, where they focus on the highest levels of strategy to make significant organizational improvements.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Though career paths in upper-level management vary across industry and level of experience, an online Ph.D. in organizational leadership opens doors for the highest leadership positions in the private, public, and nonprofit spheres. Those with a doctorate are also qualified to teach and conduct research as professors at postsecondary institutions. The following job profiles offer candidates an idea of the positions typically in demand for individuals with this degree.

Top Executives

Median annual salary: $104,700

Top executives, such as CEOs and operations managers, create and lead strategic plans that help an organization achieve specific objectives. They also direct or oversee an organization’s operations to hit these goals, including finance and human resources.

Organizational Development Director

Median annual salary: $117,679

An organizational development director formulates an organization’s goals and the strategic plan to meet those goals. The director often serves as a liaison between top executives and employees, helping to ensure that each team has the resources to turn strategy into action and complete stated objectives.

Salary Progression

Salaries vary by location, level of experience, industry, and employer. Top-paying industries for chief executives include insurance companies, pipeline transportation of natural gas and textile furnishing. Levels of pay also differ by state, based on job competition and cost of living. The highest-paying states for chief executive and management positions include California, Florida, and Illinois. Industries with the highest employment levels for chief executives include company and enterprise management, local government, and school administration.

Requirements and Outcomes of Online Doctorate in Organizational Leadership Programs

Many online doctorates require a minimum of 2-3 years of professional experience, along with a master’s degree earned in administrative management or a related field. Other admission requirements may include a professional resume, a personal essay or stated plan for research, and copies of transcripts for all undergraduate and graduate programs completed. Admission for doctoral candidates typically requires a minimum 3.0 GPA earned in all other graduate work. Applicants pay an average $50 fee for each application submitted.

Programs may require one or more in-person residencies, which typically include course instruction, dissertation preparation and defense, or an experiential learning opportunity in the field. Most online doctoral programs in organizational leadership require anywhere from 60-100 credit hours and take an average of three years to complete.

Common Courses

  • Ethics in Leadership
    Students in this course consider how moral choices affect decision-making at the highest levels. By the end of the course, students grasp the ethical challenges facing leaders, including those related to power and politics, and obtain insight into developing an organizational culture based on integrity and respect.
  • Research Methods
    In preparation for completing their doctoral dissertation, students learn how to conduct, evaluate, and present research. Course content may include research design, qualitative research methods, and quantitative analysis. Students observe theory and hands-on applications, as well as how to design studies that apply both types of research methods.
  • Organizational Behavior
    In this course, students build a deep understanding of the dynamics among specific employees, as well as between employees and the organization itself. Leaders study theory and real-world case studies, applying these strategies to teams and whole organizations. Organizational behavior aims to equip students with the ability to make decisions that shape a more effective organization.
  • Managing Organizational Change
    Students explore the ways change and restructuring happen at an organizational level. Curriculum often begins with a foundational understanding of how systems and structures operate and function together. With this background knowledge, students then build their capacity to promote and manage change through creativity and innovation. This course also emphasizes how to communicate changes with key stakeholders.
  • Human Resources Development
    In this course, students explore the development and implementation of human resource policies and practices. Learners observe fundamental components like professional development and training, employee law, and discrimination policies. Course content also includes human resources oversight and effectively communicating policies to employees.

Other Requirements


Earning a doctorate requires completion of a dissertation, a formal research study that showcases a student’s synthesis of academic learnings and professional experience and interests. Students choose a topic of study related to organizational leadership and apply formal research and cognitive skills to find answers to their initial inquiry. Dissertation research may also result in the contribution of new insights to the field.


Some online doctorate programs require an in-person residency component. The residency experience sometimes occurs at the beginning of the program and then again during the final semester, though specific length requirements vary by school. These may take place on campus, another central location within the United States, or abroad. Residencies also provide a chance for students to gain a familiarity with their peers and faculty.

Comprehensive Exam

Often referred to as “comps,” this exam measures a student’s understanding and synthesis of organizational leadership content and skills. Doctoral students typically complete this exam before completing their dissertation, but after finishing most other core and major course requirements. Comps often consist of both a written and oral section that take place at different times, usually within consecutive semesters.

Skills and Competencies

An online Ph.D. in organizational leadership allows students to master crucial skills for both scholarly research and the highest levels of management. Read on for a list of these important abilities.

  • Strategic Research and Evaluation
    Graduate students learn how to perform a literature review, evaluate research inquiries, and conduct a systematic study that may provide new insight into the field.
  • Project Management
    Organizational leaders require excellent project management skills, including the communication of a clear strategic vision and ensuring that a final set of outcomes meets these objectives.
  • Systems Thinking
    A holistic skill set, systems thinking involves finding solutions to issues within dynamic and multifaceted systems. Systems thinking also includes close attention to detail and responding to feedback from employees and clients.
  • Growth Management
    Growth management may involve overseeing the development of a new organizational department or growth of a specific product. This skill also focuses on developing policies that yield sustainable and equitable output over time.
  • Team Building
    Students explore the creation of organizational rules and expectations to establish trust and earn respect from their employees.

Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization provides benefits for both Ph.D. students and organizational leaders. When deciding on a professional organization, it helps to consider your area of expertise or industry. Several business and leadership organizations span industries and bring together experts from different backgrounds, while others provide resources and services to professionals in a specific niche, such as finance or healthcare.

Different organizations also offer varying benefits, so decide which resources and opportunities may further your academic or professional goals. Many professional organizations publish specific research journals and host one or more formal conferences. Others may provide professional development opportunities and training or career services.

Graduate students might look for organizations that offer reduced membership fees and opportunities to present their dissertation research at conferences. Most professional organizations also offer opportunities for member involvement. Options may include helping to organize an event, establishing and leading a local chapter, or serving on a supervisory board.

  • American Management Association
    The AMA provides a variety of professional development resources, including training in the classroom, blended learning, and assessment tools, in addition to industry articles and case studies.
  • Association Management Professionals
    The AMP, a network of for-profit businesses, provide associations with administrative and management services. Experts receive assignments according to client need at a reduced priced, based on a shared-cost model with other association clients.
  • Academy of International Business
    Members of the AIB include scholars and experts from different business fields around the world. The academy produces research-backed publications and conferences, in addition to offering members a dedicated career center with professional workshops.
  • Strategic Management Society
    The SMS includes a diverse group of professionals from over 80 countries who network and focus on sharing research and insight into the strategic management process. Members have a variety of ways to get involved, such as joining a local interest group, organizing a workshop, or taking part in a conference.
  • Financial Management Association International
    The FMA joins academics, business professionals, and students from around the world to promote sound financial decisions, based on time-tested strategies and emerging insights from the field. FMA publishes research-backed journals and hosts a variety of professional research conferences, including some with panel sessions geared toward doctoral students.

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