Doctor of Philosophy in Complex Systems Leadership


  • East Falls Campus
  • Continuing & Professional Studies

Degree Earned

  • Doctorate

Program Type

  • On Campus

We thank you for your interest in the PhD in Complex Systems Leadership program. At this time the program is not accepting new applications while we reenvision the program with the support of the program director, Dean and the Provost.

We look forward to relaunching with an exciting program soon. Please check back for updates.

About the Program

The Jefferson School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers the PhD in Complex Systems Leadership which is a distinctive second-level doctorate and an extension to the Doctor of Management in Strategic Leadership. The PhD is designed for those who wish to further develop their careers as leadership researchers, scholars, administrators, and thought-leaders.

The PhD in Complex Systems Leadership (CSL) is a new model of higher education. Learners admitted to this unique program enter as a cohort of scholars and practitioners to devote 12 to 16 months (full-time or part-time) to research and seminar-format study to expand their intellectual and research portfolio. The CSL program promotes rigorous and expansive inquiry into and discussion about the significant challenges of leadership including: implications of systems approaches; theories of complexity and operating in complex contexts; approaches to complex situation (problem) formulation; and the approaches of complex systems leadership. Courses and research address new thinking about mindsets, methodologies, and tools for those in senior leadership positions functioning in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous contexts.

Complex Leadership Challenges

The PhD in Complex Systems Leadership (CSL) program holds a systems mindset the implications of which promotes systems-based frameworks, and design-based interventions, methodologies, and tools for addressing complex challenges. This distinctive doctorate is directed toward executive and emerging senior leaders and consultants with substantial professional experience and academic qualifications working in health care, education, finance, government, nonprofit, and other complex organizational systems.

The conceptual and academic impetus for the PhD is informed by the increasing challenges of environmental, situational, and dynamic complexity affecting organizations and organizational leadership, and the minimal educational resources available to address understanding and navigation. The PhD is distinctive in that it addresses how our increasing exposure, understanding, and efforts to intervene and lead through complex challenges and complex systems – based on research across multiple disciplines – can be integrated to provide a rich source of research inquiry the results of which can improve the lives and performance of people, processes, organizations, and our planet.  That the challenges of organizational complexity have been increasing is well-documented. 

IBM Global Business Services issued a report based on face-to-face interviews and survey responses from 60 countries, 33 industries, and more than 100 major universities around the world. Results showed an overarching concern with the rapid escalation of “complexity” confronting leadership and the difficulty adjusting to it.

World Economic Forum (2016) Future of Jobs reported that in 2015 (and anticipated for 2020), the rapid escalation of complex issues and problem solving remain and will continue to be the primary challenges of the workplace. The report demonstrated that businesses should work closely with governments, education providers and others to get ahead of the increasing curve.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2017) Complex System Governance  reported the current and future landscape is characterized by ambiguity, emergence and interdependence which result in dynamically interacting systems and behavior difficult to predict.