Why a Ph.D. in Strategic Leadership?

A Ph.D. in Strategic Leadership will serve you well if you are seeking to advance your career in higher education, the nonprofit sector, or the corporate world. Program participants are instructed in the broader visionary perspectives necessary for effective leadership roles as well as practical applications grounded in sophisticated research skills. The Strategic Leadership program prepares adult learners to be effective leaders and organizational change agents through rigorous theoretical study and practical application coupled with experiential learning, and a strong emphasis on innovation and evidence-based decision making. 

Curriculum and Degree Requirements


The School of Strategic Leadership Studies utilizes a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to equip adult learners with theoretical knowledge and applied skills and concepts necessary for effective and visionary leadership. Program participants enroll in courses across a variety of disciplines including statistics and methodology, business management, and core leadership theory and ethics in organizations. Elective credits allow students the flexibility to explore topics specific to their concentration of study and relevant to their future career goals and research interests. The Ph.D. in Strategic Leadership Requires students to complete a total of 54 credits of coursework and 12 credits of dissertation research (66 credits total).

Required courses include:

Statistics and Measurement Courses (0-12 credits)*

PSYC 605. Intermediate Inferential Statistics
PSYC 606. Measurement Theory
PSYC 608. Multivariate Statistical Methods in Psychology
LEAD 705. Advanced Research Methods in Leadership Studies

Business Management Courses (0-9 credits)*

MBA 617. Corporate Financial Decision Making
MBA 620. Accounting for Decision Making and Control
MBA 691. Strategic Management

Leadership Theory in Organizations & Research (12 credits)

LEAD 700. Introduction to Leadership Studies and Ethics
LEAD 740. Foundations of Postsecondary Education
LEAD 750. Organizational Science Theory and Change
LEAD 760. Proseminar in Principles of Nonprofit Organizations

Electives (12 credits)

Students choose 4 electives in consultation with academic advisor.

LEAD 703. Special Topics in Leadership
LEAD 710. Advocacy for Change Leadership
LEAD 711. Effective College Teaching
LEAD 751. Organizational Behavior and Leadership
LEAD 752. Organizational Change and Strategic Human Resource Management
LEAD 761. Civil Society
LEAD 762. Organizational Governance
LEAD 763. Philanthropy & Resource Development
LEAD 780. Policy Development & Analysis
LEAD 790: Postsecondary Dynamics
PSYC 830. Structural Equation Modeling
PSYC 836. Hierarchical Linear Modeling
PSYC 840. Mixed Methods

Organizational Accountability (3 credits)

Students take 1 course in organizational accountability relevant to their emphasis of study.

LEAD 754. Strategic Leadership Decision Making (for Organizational Science & Leadership)
LEAD 764. Leadership & Accountability for Nonprofit Organizations (for Nonprofit & Community Leadership)
LEAD 770. Assessment and Public Policy (for Postsecondary Analysis & Leadership)

Advanced Coursework (18 credits)

LEAD 890. Advanced Leadership Dynamics
LEAD 891. Externship in Advanced Leadership
LEAD 900. Doctoral Dissertation (12 credits)

Complete curriculum details are listed in the JMU Graduate Catalog. The SSLS Curriculum Chart provides a visual overview of course requirements.

*Denotes variable credit courses eligible for waiver or transfer per University policy described in The Graduate School catalog

Externship (LEAD 891)

Program participants are required to complete a 100-hour externship for an applied learning
experience. The experience represents the culmination of the student’s formal course of study
where the student will have an opportunity to witness and evaluate some of the leadership and
management issues facing their externship organization. The externship/LEAD 891 and LEAD 890 are typically taken concurrently during the summer semester. 

Examples of past externship sites include:

Blue Ridge Community College

Compassion International

Shenandoah Community Foundation

State Council for Higher Education of Virginia

Innovative Leadership Institute

Plaid Consulting

College Promise Campaign

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators  

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

United Way Harrisonburg Rockingham

Center for Creative Leadership

Comprehensive Exam

Upon completion of all coursework, students are required to sit for a comprehensive exam. The comprehensive exam is a written exam covering program topics for breadth and depth based on the following four major areas of study:

  1. Leadership theories and research as well as the role of leadership in strategic change;
  2. Statistical analysis literacy with respect to study design, analysis, and assessment/evaluation strategies;
  3. General knowledge of business practices as applied to case analysis
  4. Concentration area themes as designated by your advisor

The SSLS Comprehensive Exam is typically offered three times a year (September, January, and May). Students are allowed 5 hours to complete the exam. Grades of Fail, Pass, and Pass with Distinction are awarded by consensus of the examiners utilizing the comprehensive exam rubric.


Program participants are required to propose, defend, and submit a dissertation under the direction of their dissertation committee. The purpose of a dissertation is to create a theoretically-grounded, scientifically rigorous, and tangible contribution to scholarship within a particular field of research. For a dissertation by a SSLS student to be successfully proposed and defended, dissertation committee members must unanimously deem that the student’s work has sufficiently met this purpose. In addition, dissertations successfully completed through SSLS must incorporate a leadership perspective. That is, the student must establish the relevance of leadership to the problem, constructs, and variables under study, or vice versa, as well as clearly describe the theoretical and/or practical implications to leadership that the dissertation findings pose.

The Dissertation excerpt from the SSLS Student Handbook explains the dissertation process in complete detail. 

Links to completed SSLS dissertations are featured on alumni profiles. SSLS dissertations are also listed in chronological order on the JMU Scholarly Commons.


Program Outcomes

Around 20% of our students receive promotions before graduating. Over 90% of our alumni hold leadership positions within their organizations or have achieved career advancement within months of completing the program. The Strategic Leadership program currently has 30 alumni working in higher education, nonprofit organizations, and the public school system. Learn more about our alumni, their research, and current roles on the Strategic Leadership Alumni page

theresa reimbold testimony

"I specifically sought an innovative PhD program that would refine my skill set in Non-Profit Management and Business so I could become an effective founder, fundraiser, and researcher for a NonProfit organization promoting Thyroid Cancer research and prevention. As a “Double Duke,” I was  well aware of the outstanding quality of the JMU’s faculty, and their unwavering commitment to empower students to change the world."

- Theresa Reimbold, Ph.D. (2020)

Concentrations of Study Include:

For careers in nonprofit management, public administration, academic instruction and research, consulting, and leadership

Nonprofit & Community Leadership Alumni Titles Include:

  • Consultant
  • Tenure-track Professor
  • Lecturer
  • President/CEO
  • Researcher

For careers in human resource management, academic instruction and research, management consulting, and organizational leadership

Aspiring Roles for Current Students Include:

  • Human Resource Consultant
  • Tenure-track Professor
  • Management Consultant
  • Researcher
  • CEO/President

For careers in college and university administration, academic instruction and research, consulting, and policy

Postsecondary Analysis and Leadership Alumni Titles Include:

  • Provost
  • Vice President
  • Professor
  • Director
  • Ombudsperson

Back to Top