Question: What Is an MSOL (Master of Science in Organizational Leadership) Degree Program?

Answer: An MSOL, or Master of Science in Organizational Leadership degree program provides instruction in the science of management. MSOL programs are typically designed to offer specialized professional training to students who already have careers in business fields and who want to develop and refine leadership skills in areas like corporate communication, organizational psychology, decision-making, and strategic planning.

The Science of Organizational Leadership

Organizational leadership is by definition a multi-disciplinary field in which behavioral and social science theories are applied to the challenges of running a business and managing an organization. Business leaders rely on quantitative data to make decisions about investments, marketing, and the allocation of various assets. But the effectiveness of a business plan is also contingent upon qualitative human factors, which may include convincing others within an organization, motivating staff, resolving potential conflicts, and anticipating the reactions of parties involved in negotiations and/or transactions. Organizational leadership takes a scientific approach to addressing these qualitative issues and provides a framework for strategic business planning that draws on theories of social psychology, principles of management, and case studies of business successes and failures.

Master’s Programs in Organizational Leadership

MSOL programs are typically designed for students who have completed an undergraduate degree in business or a related discipline, and have cultivated some knowledge of business practices in areas like accounting, economics, finance, and/or marketing. Many of these students have prior professional experience in business and are looking to advance into leadership positions. In fact, MSOL programs are generally structured to accommodate students who have embarked on a professional career. There are online MSOL programs, programs that offer a mix of online and campus-based instruction, as well as traditional campus-based programs. Students who attend these programs full-time can usually graduate in 18-24 months, while part-time students may take two or more years to earn an MSOL degree. It important to note that MSOL is shorthand for a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, but there are a number of other designations for MSOL programs, including:

  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
  • Master of Science in Organizational Development and Leadership
  • Master’s in Strategic Leadership
  • Master of Professional Studies in Psychology of Leadership
  • Master of Science in Management, Strategy and Leadership

The MSOL Curriculum

Students in MSOL programs build on their understanding of business operations and practices. They study the psychology of decision-making processes; learn strategies for anticipating and defusing interpersonal conflicts; and examine different types of organizational structures and their impact on performance. Unlike MBA programs, which may include some coursework in organizational leadership as part of a broader business and management curriculum, MSOL programs focuses primarily on the human side of leadership. For example, creating a business plan based on an analysis of markets is a business function; the challenges of selling such a plan to others within an organization and implementing that plan are concerns specifically addressed in the field of organizational leadership.

The cross-disciplinary curriculum in organizational leadership cuts across four major areas of study. These include:

  • Organizational Theory: Methodologies for analyzing organizational issues, including divisions of labor, setting and attaining goals, hiring and training employees, and reporting procedures within hierarchical structures.
  • Behavioral Science: The psychological factors that impact decision-making, motivation, conflict, and other interpersonal dynamics within an organization.
  • Leadership Practices: Theories of successful leadership, including methods for instituting organizational change, strategies for managing diverse organizations, and the use of performance management systems to optimize efficiency.
  • Organizational Communication: How messages are communicated within an organization, the art of persuasion, the projection of power through words, and the use of communication technologies to further organizational goals.

Many MSOL programs include a capstone project that challenges students to integrate and apply what they’ve learned to a real-world organizational leadership situation. In addition, some MSOL programs offer students the option to further specialize within the field, in areas like healthcare management, human resource management, public service/non-profit leadership, and global strategic leadership. Even in programs that do not have defined specializations, there may be elective coursework in some of these specialized areas, and capstone projects typically give students the opportunity to explore a specific area of organizational leadership.


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