Love them or hate them, public leaders are essential to a functioning society. We're talking about your mayor, your senator, your nonprofit manager, your fire chief: in times of crisis, these are the people who promote stability and prevent chaos.
It's impossible to provide one definition of a public leader because so many jobs fall under this umbrella term. Public leaders do share particular traits in common, however. They all must be able to manage groups of people, for one. They need a thorough understanding of how organizations, businesses, and governments operate, for another.
Public leadership is a field in which continued learning is a must: even those with years of experience and a master's degree in public administration have room to grow. Earning a certificate in public leadership can help even the most accomplished professionals improve skills like:
If you're wondering whether you can optimize your leadership potential by pursuing a certificate in public leadership, read on. In this article, we discuss:
Public leadership certificate programs are typically designed for current professionals who have already achieved some success in their careers but are looking to advance further. While few programs actually require specific professional experience, most discourage novices from applying.
Cornell University, for example, says its program is geared toward aspiring and current public affairs leaders, their staff, and pretty much anyone who works alongside them. Students often arrive from:
Even upper-level executives from private companies enroll in certificate programs. The Harvard University Kennedy School, for example, reports that "though the programs do not have formal education requirements, participants are typically senior executives and skillful public leaders with more than 10 years of experience."
Washington University in St Louis offers a program through the Brookings Institute, a well-regarded center-left think tank. This program is "open to all US federal, state and local government employees," and its goal is to create "opportunities to establish important networks to leverage learning across government."
A leadership certificate is not a substitute for undergraduate or graduate education. Certificate programs are designed to bring current professionals up-to-date on the latest trends and innovations in their fields and are supplemental to degree programs. They typically do not require a specific undergraduate degree to register, which makes sense considering the diversity of the public leadership field.
However, most professionals do earn an undergraduate diploma of some kind. The federal government even keeps a list of jobs that you can obtain with a bachelor's degree, and the major you should earn to get the position you want. Common degree choices for those working in government include:
The requirements for entry into certificate programs are often intentionally vague because there are so many ways to find work in the public sector.
You don't necessarily need a master's degree to qualify for a public leadership certificate program. However, having a graduate education is common among those in senior and executive leadership roles, so you might end up having one when you apply.
Three of the top graduate degrees for those in the public service are:
These three degrees are similar; some would argue that they are interchangeable. However, there can be differences, depending on which school or online program you attend. If you want to continue on to earn a PhD in public policy, for example, the Pepperdine University MPP might be your choice. Though the specifics may vary, what is certain is that each of these degrees can help advance your career in the public sector.
The Master of Public Administration is one of the most popular graduate degrees for public servants. It prepares graduates to work at any level of government (local, state, or federal) in a wide variety of roles, including: - Administrator
Many world leaders have MPAs, including former Mexican and Columbian presidents and high ranking leaders in the UN.
MPA curricula can vary greatly. Core courses often include topics like:
Students sometimes need to complete a capstone or thesis project to graduate.
Most programs offer several specializations, which can vary from local to global focuses. The University of Georgia, for example, offers specializations in:
Any of these education paths will qualify you not only to pursue a career in the public sector but also to attend a leadership program. Just remember that a public leadership certificate is not going to take the place of graduate school—however, it can enhance your education and push your resume to the top of a stack.
According to the US News and World Report, top public affairs programs (their terminology includes public administration as well) include:
The US News and World Report's list of top public policy analysis programs includes:
The most effective leadership programs are not designed to teach students how to become leaders, but rather to improve and build upon their existing leadership skills. That's why they typically attract current professionals who have already achieved some level of success in their field. Having a certificate might not be the reason you qualify for a raise or a new job. However, the skills you learn may make you a better executive and leader, which can be a deciding factor in why you get promoted or hired.
Harvard's website includes an illustrative success story. It's about an executive at Volkswagen named Falk Bothe, who earned a public leadership certification. He then applied the skills he cultivated through the program in his role as Director of Digital Transformation. He led the development of a Digital Transformation Simulation to "build a foundation for mindset change and transformation projects." The tool has been used by over 1,400 employees at Volkswagen since its inception.
Completing a leadership development program will help maximize your own potential so you can help others maximize theirs. It can change the way you see your job and those around you.
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