Executive Leadership Degrees: Certificates, Associate & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in an executive leadership associate degree or certificate program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate degrees and certificates and potential careers.
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Studying Executive Leadership: Degrees at a Glance

Executive leadership positions typically require a substantial amount of experience and a bachelor's degree, although a master's degree is preferred in some fields. An associate degree in leadership or management may help you qualify for lower-level supervisory positions, but you'll usually need experience and additional education to move up the career ladder.

Graduate certificates in executive leadership are usually designed for individuals who already have substantial experience in a particular field and are grooming themselves for executive positions. Certificates are also available at the associate and bachelor's levels, but these alone will not qualify you for many careers. In general, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects slower-than-average job growth in the number of top executive jobs between 2010 and 2020; however, pay is exceptionally high for those who make it to the top of their fields.

Associate's Certificate
Who is this degree for? Those who want to learn basic leadership and management skills for career advancement to supervisory positions; students hoping to transfer into 4-year degree programs Those who want to enhance their leadership skills without earning a degree
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Experience is usually required for the following positions, and a degree is not always necessary:
- Administrative supervisor ($49,000)*
- General or operations manager ($95,000)*
Associate- or bachelor's-level certificate holders with relevant experience and/or eduction may hold the same positions listed for associate degree holders. Those with graduate certificates may work in those same careers, as well as the following:
- Executive ($167,000 - significant experience is required)*
Time to Completion Approximately 2 years full-time Varies - usually several months part-time
Prerequisites - High school diploma - Varies depending on academic level of the certificate
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Associate Degree in Executive Leadership

Since the requirements to become a top executive typically include a bachelor's or master's degree and substantial industry experience, there are no associate degree programs designed specifically for executive leaders. However, it is possible to earn an associate degree in a related area like business administration, organizational management or leadership studies. Completing a program like this may help you rise to a supervisory position in an industry in which you already have experience. You may also be able to transfer into a 4-year business management or administration program after completing your associate degree.

Pros and Cons


  • Earning an associate degree in leadership can help you qualify for first-line supervisory positions
  • You may be able to transfer into a bachelor's degree program upon completion of your studies
  • Leadership skills are valued across many industries, so what you learn may still be applicable if you decide to change careers


  • An associate degree isn't enough to qualify for most executive positions - you'll usually need a bachelor's degree
  • Even for entry-level supervisor positions, an associate degree may not be enough - it's likely that you'll need work experience as well
  • Earning your associate degree takes about 2 years full-time - this means you'll lose 2 years' worth of income and experience

Common Courses and Requirements

In an associate degree program in leadership or management, you'll combine liberal arts studies with courses on organizational and leadership theory. You may also take some practical business courses in areas like information systems, accounting and economics. Your liberal arts coursework will typically include math, communications and social science, and sample management courses include the following:

  • Business ethics
  • Organizational behavior
  • Project management

When selecting an associate's program in executive leadership, it's important to verify that the academic institution is accredited by the U.S. Department of Education (or by an accrediting authority approved by the Department of Education). This is important especially if you plan to transfer credits to a bachelor's degree program in the future.

Online Degree Options

Some associate degree programs in management and leadership can be completed remotely. You'll typically take the same courses that on-campus students do, and because this degree doesn't require a great deal of hands-on practice or equipment, you can get a learning experience that's comparable to what you'd get if you attended classes on campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

What you'll need to do to get ahead depends on your chosen career path. If you're already employed and you want to move up to a supervisory position, earning an associate degree is an important first step. If you want to eventually make your way up to a top executive position, though, you'll need to do a lot more than just earn your 2-year degree. In most industries, you'll need a bachelor's degree, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is preferred in some cases. More importantly, though, you'll need substantial industry experience. Once you meet the basic qualifications for employment as a top executive, then you can begin taking steps to stand out. These may include completing training and development programs offered by your company or earning a certification such as that offered by the Institute of Certified Professional Managers.

Executive Leadership Certificate Programs

Certificate programs in leadership and management are available at the associate, bachelor's and graduate levels. At all levels, certificate programs differ from traditional degree programs in that they only require you to take subject-specific courses - no 'breadth' or liberal arts courses are required. Some leadership certificates can be earned on their own or in conjunction with a degree program, while others are only available to students who are already enrolled in a degree program at the school offering the certificate. Applicants to certificate programs usually need to meet similar admission requirements as students enrolling for full degrees at that same level. Graduate certificate programs are typically designed for students who already have substantial management experience in their chosen fields.

Pros and Cons


  • Certain leadership certificates may enhance career prospects
  • Leadership certificate programs allow you to gain a qualification without committing to a full degree program
  • Certificate programs in leadership and management can help you build 'soft skills' in areas like ethics and decision making


  • A certificate alone usually won't qualify you for any particular career - in general, certificates can't be substituted for a full degree to meet employers' education requirements
  • You'll typically need to meet the same admission requirements as students who are pursuing a full degree - for example, you'll need a bachelor's degree before you can earn a graduate certificate
  • Some leadership certificate programs are only available to students who are already pursing a degree

Common Courses and Requirements

Requirements depend on the particular program and academic level, but there are usually none outside of coursework. The typical leadership certificate program comprises 5-6 classes. Some programs are geared toward executives in specialized fields, like non-profit management or educational administration, in which case the program's required coursework will reflect that. However, general courses for executive leadership and related certificate programs often include the following topics:

  • Ethics
  • Decision making
  • Strategic planning

Online Options

Certificates in executive leadership, management and other related areas of study are available online at most academic levels. Coursework is generally similar to what on-campus students take, and online students can usually interact with professors via email and/or phone. Courses typically include online class discussions, video lectures and online assessments.

Getting Ahead with This Certificate

The steps you'll take to stand out will depend on the type of certificate you get and the career goals that you have. If you're earning your executive leadership certificate in conjunction with your associate, bachelor's or master's degree, or if you've already earned a postsecondary degree and you're adding a leadership or management certificate to your credentials, you're already taking a step that can help you stand out. For those with management experience who are looking to further their careers, earning the Certified Manager credential from the Institute of Certified Professional Managers can give you an edge.

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