What Can You Do With an Organizational Leadership Degree?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

An organizational leadership degree will equip you with the skills to be a leader aware of the human challenges of running an organization.

[Featured image] A woman in organizational leadership speaking with authority in front of audience of organizational leadership degree students.

A degree in organizational leadership—a form of management that emphasizes the human elements of running an organization—teaches students both the technical and human needs of running an organization.

What, for example, is the best way to organize a company during an acquisition? How can you make your employees more productive while creating a good work culture? Studying organizational leadership will give you the knowledge to tackle these questions.

It’s a degree that can be especially useful for jobs that are responsible for organizing and overseeing groups of people, like managerial, executive, or human resource positions. The degree can be applied to a variety of industries, including the business, health care, government, or nonprofit sectors.

Read on to find what exactly an organizational leadership degree is, what you can do with one, and other information to help you decide if it’s the right fit for you.

What is an organizational leadership degree?

An organizational leadership degree is an academic degree that develops a student’s understanding of how organizations run by focusing on human elements of leadership. Students in this degree program may take coursework that focuses on leadership skills—like communication, team building, and ethics—and hard skills like data analysis and human resource knowledge. A graduate should be prepared to lead by understanding both the larger goals of an organization and the needs of the individuals that compose it. 

Courses might dive into the following topics to build workplace skills in leadership:

  • Human behavior

  • Leadership theory

  • Business ethics

  • Decision-making

  • Conflict management

  • Cross-cultural communication

  • Holistic thinking

Courses may include some of the hard skills necessary to lead organizations like:

  • Regulation in human resources, such as equitable employment laws

  • Research methods and data analysis

Some programs may offer concentrations, like global business, health care management, or business technology, enabling you to hone in on a specific interest.

Organizational leadership degrees are offered as bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Abbreviations you might see for these degrees include MSOL (Master of Science in Organizational Leadership), or MAOL (Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership).

What can you do with an organizational leadership degree?

Many graduates of organizational leadership degree programs go into management positions at public and private companies, nonprofits, or the government. A health care manager with an organizational leadership degree, for example, might oversee a hospital facility by laying out its goals, managing its budget, and supervising its hiring process.

Jobs for organizational leadership degree graduates can include:

  • Business and management consultant

  • Human resources manager

  • Project manager or coordinator

  • Medical and health service manager

  • Sales and marketing manager

  • Leadership coaching or development

  • Business or organization executive

  • Non-profit administrator

There’s some good news for those who are interested in management. Management positions are expected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030 in the United States, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual wage for such a position was $102,450 in May 2021 [1].

Organizational leadership degrees vs. MBAs and other degrees

If you’re still considering your options, here are a few other types of degrees for you to consider.

Undergraduate degree options

Business management or administration: A degree in business management or business administration will likely emphasize quantitative business skills like accounting or sales, in addition to including courses that teach leadership qualities. If you want a broad base of understanding on the technical and workplace skills of how to run a business, this could be a good option.

Economics, finance, accounting: These fields will give you a solid foundation in the nuts-and-bolts quantitative skills that can help you understand the monetary aspects of running a business, and the world of finance beyond. They’ll also be transferable to work in several different industries.

Post-graduate degrees

MBA (Master of Business Administration): MBA programs, like organizational leadership degrees, teach leadership skills like fostering teamwork, communicating effectively, and motivating employees. MBAs, however, put a stronger emphasis on the technical parts of running a business. This typically means more coursework in finance, economics, accounting, and marketing.

Graduates often go on to work in managerial or executive positions in a business. You can find many MBA options online as well.

Which should you choose?

Organizational leadership degrees focus more on the human elements of leadership than MBAs do. Students who enter a master's program in organizational leadership might not necessarily be interested in knowing, for example, how best to market a product or the larger economic trends of the day. If you’re more interested in building out leadership skills, organizational leadership might make more sense for you.


HR Management: A Master of Human Resources Management will dig into HR-specific topics. These might include compensation and benefits, recruitment and training, ethics, or legal issues. Like organizational leadership degrees, a human resource management degree can focus on aspects of behavioral psychology and leadership. If you want to delve more specifically into HR, a master's in human resource management could be a worth looking into.

Get started on a degree

An organizational leadership degree can bring many benefits into your life—and not just monetary ones. Sharpening yourself into a leader in your field can help your organization grow intelligently, motivate your workers, and be personally gratifying. 

See if organizational leadership is for you through Northwestern University’s Organizational Leadership Specialization. If you’re still new to management practices, check out the Google Professional Certificate in Project Management.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Management Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/home.htm." Accessed May 20, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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