Earning a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership Online

Become Team
Become Team
November 20, 2020

Organizational leadership is the cross-disciplinary study of management, change theory, and individual and corporate ethics. Students interested in creating change on the individual and corporate level by understanding diverse needs and developing shared goals may excel in organizational leadership.

Earning an online Ph.D. in organizational leadership offers students flexibility and the opportunity to find a program that fits their needs without relocating. The skills developed in a graduate organizational leadership program prepare students for careers in business and research, including executive-level employment in public and private sectors, nonprofits, and start-ups. Many Ph.D. graduates work in consulting or in research to advance the field of organizational leadership. This guide can help you decide if a Ph.D. in organizational leadership is right for you.

What Can You Do With an Online Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership?

Sought after by top employers, graduates of doctorate organizational leadership online programs pursue careers in many fields. Graduates work as directors and executive officers in governmental organizations, nonprofits, and companies. By applying their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills, organizational leaders help steer their workplaces through change. A Ph.D. also provides opportunities in research for students interested in analyzing data and contributing to change in the field.

Human Resources Director

Annual Median Salary: $110,120
Projected Growth Rate: 9%

Human resources directors work with employees to make effective use of their skills. They develop recruitment strategies and oversee employee development initiatives. Directors work with managers, employees, and officers to address personnel problems. Advanced degree holders often oversee multiple departments and contribute to developing an organization's goals.

Chief Operating Officer

Annual Median Salary: $104,700
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

As the second-in-command of a company, COOs work directly with the CEO and directors to oversee all daily operations. COOs work with human resources to ensure adequate staffing levels and provide employee training opportunities. They oversee all company resources and develop operating policies. An advanced degree and several years of experience are usually required.

Training and Development Director

Annual Median Salary: $108,250
Projected Growth Rate: 10%

Training directors work with staff and upper management to develop training goals that contribute to company growth. They implement those goals through staff training and development opportunities. Advanced degree holders are often employed by companies to develop opportunities that attract and retain top talent.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

The Top-Paying Industries for HR Managers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Traits of a Successful Organizational Leadership Graduate

Organizational leaders must have knowledge of business management, human resources, law, and training development. Successful leaders must be able to communicate clearly and effectively while employing problem-solving skills. They must have excellent time management skills to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Active listening, social perception, and a willingness to learn helps leaders work with others. They must utilize oral and written comprehension and employ deductive reasoning to solve problems. An accredited doctorate in organizational leadership online helps you develop these leadership skills.

The skill of listening at full attention without interrupting. Active listeners ask appropriate questions with the intention of fully understanding the other person.
Requires skill in motivating personnel, understanding diverse needs and goals, and working well with others. It also involves identifying talent and directing staff to achieve organizational goals.
Effective communication skills are crucial for leadership, such as communicating strategy and goals to all levels of personnel. Public speaking may be required; many directors lead stakeholder meetings.

Salary by Experience Level

Earning an online Ph.D. in organizational leadership sets you on the path to higher earning potential. However, there are many factors affecting salary; experience is one such factor. In the first years of your career, you gain experience and benefit from training opportunities. As your career trajectory continues, experience is rewarded with higher salaries.

Source: PayScale

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership Online

While every school is different, most online doctoral programs in organizational leadership share the same basic steps to earn a degree. It is important to research each potential program's application guidelines. You should find out if an internship, capstone project, or thesis is required.

Find the Right Program for You

Online programs follow different formats. Some programs are offered entirely online, while others require on-campus attendance. Courses may be offered synchronously, at the same scheduled time as on-campus classes, or asynchronously, at any time. Exams may need to be proctored, which is an additional expense, or completed at a set time online. You may need to complete group projects that require scheduled online meetings.


Applying for an online Ph.D. in organizational leadership is a detailed process; set aside several hours per application. You need official transcripts from your master's and bachelor's programs. A resume and recommendations from professional and academic sources are typically required. You will submit a scholarly essay detailing your background, leadership theory, and why you want to pursue the degree.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Graduating from a doctorate program requires the completion of a final research project, typically a dissertation. A dissertation is longer than a thesis and requires more thorough research. Students begin their dissertation in the final year of study and continue until the dissertation is complete; this may two or more semesters, depending on your subject and time commitment. Once written, students present an oral defense to a committee. The dissertation then becomes official research in the field.

Fellowship or Internship

Internships typically take place during an undergraduate program and focus on gaining professional experience. Fellowships are usually reserved for graduate students and provide opportunities for academic research and development. Fellowships are often competitive; a limited number are available and they are considered prestigious opportunities. Fellows receive a stipend during the program, and research costs are typically covered. Obtaining a fellowship may be a part of completing your dissertation and earning your Ph.D.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership

  1. Organizational Theory: Provides an examination of macro-level organizational theory. Students examine various organizational structures and how they contribute to behavior. Theories of systems change and applied research are discussed. Students develop skills to address organizational culture by modifying structures, in preparation for careers in consulting and business development.

  2. Global Leadership: Coursework explores cross-cultural leadership, usually with an emphasis on diversity in communication and leadership styles. The course includes discussions on theories of global leadership and the importance of developing international business relationships. Students learn how to develop training in a cross-cultural context and how to be skillful leaders in global organizations.

  3. Ethics: Students examine their personal ethical foundations to better understand how it informs their leadership style. Ethical frameworks for leadership are discussed prior to testing various ethical theories. Strategies for ethical decision-making are practiced. Students learn how to address cultural ethics and develop ethical organizations. Corporate stewardship programs are also discussed.

  4. Research: Programs typically require multiple research courses in preparation for the dissertation. Research skills improve critical thinking and deductive reasoning, which are important skills for leadership. Qualitative research includes interviews, focus groups, and case studies; these skills are useful for HR and marketing directors. Students apply various methodologies to research design and data analysis.

  5. Organizational and Adult Learning: Students learn how to build organizations that learn and grow. Theories and systems of learning are explored, and students learn how to implement best practices. Students also learn how to build collaborative organizations that support knowledge-based workers. Coursework covers systems design and knowledge management, preparing students to work as training directors.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

Latest Posts