Your Guide to Careers in Management Consulting with an Online Degree in Organizational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

management consulting careers

Management consultants are the people who get the call when leadership has broken down in an organization. When the executives can’t figure out what to do, when communications are snarled, when there’s no plan, when profits are plummeting and staff are leaving in droves… that’s when your phone will start ringing.

Consulting is a demanding job but it’s never dull. You’ll either be the hero who turned everything around or the scapegoat that it will all be blamed on as soon as you’re out the door.

You need to be able to size up companies as soon as you walk in the door. You need to be able to talk to everyone on site, from the CEO to the janitor. And you have to have ideas—the kind of groundbreaking stuff that will so clearly make a difference that everyone you tell will be scratching their heads wondering why they didn’t see it first.

It’s never enough to just have business cards printed up and to get your phone number into the hands of prospective clients, though. You also need the industry expertise, the business acumen, and the hard-hitting ability to talk about hard truths without making enemies.

If that sounds like a familiar job description, there’s a reason. It fits right together with the kind of skillset and poise that every industry expects of leaders.

Consultants Have To Have Leadership Qualities by Default

consultant in conversationManagement consulting is a job that demands leadership skills, even if they don’t tell you that on the job description. As a consultant, you’ll usually have absolutely zero authority to make your ideas stick. You won’t control anyone’s paycheck or promotions. Everything that you do, you’ll have to do on the strength of your own ability to inspire and convince.

The golden gift of management consultants is one that is already supposed to be central to organizational leadership: perspective. Coming in from outside, with a broad experience of different organizational styles and standards, a management consultant can see things that aren’t always obvious to leaders within their own organizations.

Consultants also tend to be independent by nature. It’s not the kind of job you fill for the long-term if you enjoy stability and showing up at the same water-cooler to chat with the same folks every day. Like other leaders, consultants have their own ideas and tend to go in their own direction.

Getting your clients to go in that direction too takes leadership skills. And gaining leadership skills is something you can count on from a degree in organizational leadership.

What Kind of Degree Can Prepare You for Management Consulting Leadership?

consultant talking to managementOrganizational leadership degrees that offer the right skillset for management consulting don’t always advertise as much on the label. You’ll have to dig into the specifics of each program to see if the curriculum delivers the kind of training you need.

But there are some trends to pay attention to in the field that offer some clues. For example, it’s quite common for MBA degrees to have a more consulting-oriented flavor. So a typical Master of Business Administration in Organizational Leadership may give you a great management consulting education, and even come with an internship as a consultant, even though the actual word “consultant” is nowhere in the title.

What Level of Degree Do You Need To Become a Leadership Management Consultant?

Although you will occasionally find a leadership degree with a consulting focus at the bachelor’s level, such as a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness, the reality is that management consulting is the domain of the master’s degree. When big corporations are bringing in top talent to advise them on organizational leadership, they want to see the credentials on your resume to prove your chops.

You need to be more knowledgeable and more experienced than everyone in the room when you walk in on day one of your management consulting gig.

So if you’re serious about a career in management consulting, that means looking for advanced degrees like a Master of Science in Talent and Organization Development with a Management Consulting concentration, a Master of Business Administration in Management and Organization, Consulting concentration, or a Master of Science in Leadership, Leading Change Management Consulting concentration.

Each of these can take anywhere from a year to three years to earn. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), you will shell out anywhere from $12,410 on average at public universities up to $26,597 per year for private schools for the privilege.

In return, you get a deep dive into professional management skills and advanced leadership techniques, not to mention that critical chunk of sheepskin that future clients or big consulting firms will want to see.

Another path to shine up your management consulting professionals in organizational leadership is certificate programs. Although you can find these at all levels of college, it’s also probably best to look toward graduate or even post-graduate certificates for consulting work. Like degrees, they may not always proclaim their consulting potential. On the other hand, you can find programs like an Executive Certificate in Organization Development Consulting and Change Leadership, which is a pretty sure bet for management consulting.

A certificate is a lot faster to complete and costs considerably less than a full master’s degree. In return, you get a handful of classes and a very focused set of lessons in leadership and consulting practices. That can make certificates the best choice for someone who has already accumulated some genuine leadership experience in the field, but needs to burnish their academic credentials.

It’s also possible to study organizational leadership at the doctoral level, and many PhD graduates make good money in management consulting. But the degrees themselves have little to do with consulting work and are more about developing high levels of academic and theoretical expertise. So pretty much any PhD in Organizational Leadership should suit you if you decide to go that path. You’ll spend between four and five years earning it, paying the same graduate tuition rates as a master’s degree.

Where an Organizational Leadership Curriculum Brings Value to Management Consultants

talking in the officeThere’s really nothing different or surprising about leadership skills that you will learn in a degree that focuses on management consulting practice. After all, management consultants are really just passing along the core skills that are taught in any degree program in business leadership. If there is secret sauce to consulting, it’s getting paid to teach people stuff they should have learned in college themselves.

What degrees that teach leadership management consulting really offer you is perspective. You are supposed to see the things that regular employees can’t, and then come up with ideas that wouldn’t occur to them.

Engaging your creativity is a must. But innovation is only half the job; you also need a firm command of standard leadership skills in areas such as:

Strategic Management

Strategy is the big-picture stuff in how organizations are put together and run, and the big picture is what consultants have to excel with. So you’ll spend extra time developing your understanding of strategic management and learning a wide range of strategies and methods that you can fit into situations as needed.

Organizational Assessment

Consultants may only get a few days to get up to speed on new assignments, so their assessment skills have to be top-notch. You’ll want to stay awake for the coursework you’ll get in evaluating organizational structures, talent, and processes, because you’ll be doing it a lot and with no room for mistakes—spotting tendencies and issues that management doesn’t is what you are getting paid for.

Managerial Psychology

Consultants actually have a leg up in the field of general behavioral psychology—you’ll get a constant, recurring education in all the various ways people react in social and work settings to a wide variety of conditions. But you’ll need to start off with a firm command of the theories of behavioral psychology in order to make sense of what you are seeing. You’ll also need to have a bag full of tricks ready to beef up the authority and presence of managers to make your efforts stick.

Training and Development

Management consultants are famous for parachuting in, dropping a plan off on the CEO’s desk, and stealing away in the night without actually doing any of the tough work required to implement it. But good management consultants, like other good leaders, not only tailor their plans to the skills and capabilities available within the organization, but take the time and trouble to train up staff to execute them successfully. So training and development courses are important in your preparation for management consulting.

Change Management and Conflict Resolution

Management consultants aren’t always brought on board for the most noble of reasons. In fact, it’s common for companies to outsource the dirty work of implementing big and disruptive changes in their operations to management consulting firms. So your studies in change management and conflict resolution are likely to get a workout. You have a limited amount of time to build a rapport and you will often come bearing hard news, so mastering the techniques to smooth over disruption will be key.

Since most of this will be taught at the master’s level, you can expect it to come with research opportunities and chances to engage in active projects for real-world organizations. That brings valuable expertise to your resume before you even graduate.

And many programs also offer internship opportunities, often with big consulting firms. These placements give you a chance to get your feet wet while still practicing under the supervision of experienced leaders and mentors. You can dip into their wealth of experience while you are still working with a safety net.

Choosing the Right School To Earn an Organizational Leadership Degree for Careers in Management Consulting

grads celebrating Consulting opportunities exist in every management field in every industry, so there is no shortage of organizational leadership degrees you can pursue if that’s going to be your jam. Your key will be finding a program that aligns best with the field you want to go into. OL programs are offered by departments as diverse as communications, business, or nursing. Clearly future clients are going to want some alignment between what you have studied and the business they are actually in.

Beyond that, the steps involved in choosing the right school have some common threads. You’ll want to find a university where:

For some organizational leadership programs, ensuring the academic quality and industry connections for a particular college can be as simple as checking to see if they hold a specialty accreditation. These are offered by independent associations with strong connections in their industries and backing from universities that are recognized centers of excellence in their fields. They offer a more focused look at academic preparation from the perspective of their professions, whether it’s business or nursing.

Not all OL programs are offered by colleges that are eligible for specialty accreditation. But if you are building in a career in a field that has specialty accreditors, that should be your first consideration.

Online Degree Programs Can Make a Lot of Sense for Busy Management Consultants

online management consulting degreeThere’s one more thing to think about when choosing a school for studying organizational leadership for management consulting, and that’s whether or not they will allow you to earn you degree online.

Consultants are often on-the-go, clocking thousands of air miles between engagements in the average year. For many, that makes a conventional approach to a university education challenging if not impossible.

Online programs turn it all around. Suddenly, you can study what you need to from wherever you are, and usually whenever you have time. Most online degrees are offered asynchronously, which means you don’t have to be doing class work at any particular time. You can stream lectures in a cab on the way to the airport, and finish up your coursework at 30,000 feet. Catch up with correspondence with classmates while you’re taxiing to the gate.

And because you don’t have to be in the same area as the school, you have a much wider variety of universities to choose from. There’s no reason not to pick the perfect fit for your career goals, even if it’s only offered halfway across the country from your home base.

Finding Leadership Jobs in Management Consulting

mentoringManagement consulting jobs generally fall into two different buckets.

First, and most common, are regular jobs working for big consulting firms. In these roles, you do all the same work as other leadership management consultants, but you have a steady paycheck, probably a regular office, and you report to and work on what you are assigned to. You will have different client engagements, but you may not pick and choose what they are—you’re taking your marching orders from consulting firm management.

Of course, consulting firms need leaders in their ranks as well, so you can also ascend to a traditional leadership role at a consultancy!

Next is the independent management consultant. These are individuals who strike out on their own, offering expertise and assistance in similar types of engagements, but with more flexibility. They are entrepreneurial, starting up their own business, handling marketing, billing, and all the other ins and outs of running a going concern.

It’s not uncommon for consultants to start off in the first category and move to the second when they have accumulated more experience and made more connections in their industry.

What Kind of Salary Can Management Consultants With Leadership Expertise Make?

presenting consultantThe go-to place for official statistics about salaries for American jobs is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Since consulting is more of a business style than an actual job description, you won’t find management consultant in their list of tracked categories. Instead, the closest position is probably that of Management Analyst.

The median salary level for all management analyst jobs in 2021 was $93,000 annually. But that’s not necessarily reflective of consulting salaries.

Instead, you can get a slightly better picture by looking at management analysts employed in the industry of professional, scientific, and technical services, which is where many consulting firms are categorized. For those positions, a median of $100,170 represents a bump for management consultants.

But that still doesn’t really represent the full potential of a management consultant with organizational leadership chops. With the extra training and expertise an OL degree will bring you, you can expect better than just a median salary level. In the top ten percent of all analysts, earnings jumped above $163,760 per year.

That’s all just base salary levels, too. The most successful consultants often negotiate for bonuses or other incentives which can boost the total compensation considerably.

There’s a good chance you are already primed for leadership roles before you start thinking about a career in management consulting. Consultants are the cream of the crop. They are individuals who have a bright future regardless of what path they pick for their career.

Leadership training helps you hone and enhance all those skills. And jobs in management consulting allow you to use them and shine in many different environments. If independence and action appeal to you, then management consulting with strong leadership training is the right choice.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Management Analysts reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed February 2023.