Join our Postgraduate Open Day - Saturday 22 June

Register now

MSc Systems Thinking and Leadership Practitioner

Start date
April 2024
30 - 36 months part-time
Course Type

Fees for 2023

MSc £12,150 (UK)
MSc £21,150 (International)

Also available as a Level 7 Apprenticeship and PGDip.


Audio described version available*

This programme develops the skills, capabilities, and theoretical knowledge needed to support middle to senior leaders and project managers to become effective Systems Practitioners capable of leading systemic change. It is available as a standalone MSc, a Level 7 Apprenticeship and PGDip.

Systems approaches and the leadership needed to implement them have become crucial to the success of organisations working with complex internal and external challenges. This course teaches systems theory and methodology alongside supporting your development and leadership practice. It is designed to support you to gain knowledge and competency in the theory and practice of systems thinking whilst also developing you as a leader.

The programme combines the extensive knowledge and experience of the Birmingham Leadership Institute with the expertise of a network of professional systems thinking practitioners and leaders, to create a unique Systems Leadership qualification.

Why study this programme?

  • As part of the Birmingham Leadership Institute you will gain insights from research, leadership and systems practitioners, and public debate to inform your learning experience. The combination of theory and learning through work-based practice will allow you to make real time progress on systemic challenges and/or to work across organisational and professional boundaries, benefitting your organisation’s learning as well as developing you professionally. 
  • You will be part of a small cohort, giving you the opportunity to develop closer networks with experts, staff, and fellow participants. Your employees will engage with alumni working across all sectors and the Birmingham Leadership Institute's inclusive network of Honorary Fellows who have extensive leadership experience in their sectors.
  • The delivery is part-time to suit both the learner and employer needs through a blend of online and in-person delivery. 
  • This degree is ideal for middle to senior leaders and project managers to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours necessary to understand, design, and deliver systemic interventions. 

Study as an Apprenticeship

In addition to the MSc Systems Thinking and Leadership Practitioner degree, we offer the Level 7 Systems Thinking Practitioner Standard apprenticeship. This represents a new and exciting opportunity for learners to gain a PGDip funded by an employer’s apprenticeship levy. This route requires the support of employers and brings together university study and the invaluable on-the-job training typical of an apprenticeship.

Upon successful completion of the apprenticeship we will offer the opportunity for learners to achieve a full Masters level qualification via completion of a 60 credit dissertation. Discounts and scholarships may be applied in certain circumstances for the top-up fee, please contact us to discuss.

*Watch an audio described version.


Module 1 - Systems Theory & Systems Leadership in context 

This first module gives an overview of the whole theoretical basis of the programme starting to build your systems literacy, introducing foundational concepts, theories, and models. You will be introduced to multiple methodologies through a historical lens, so you will come to understand the development of the field and the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology relative to each other. At the same time you will look at the historical development of leadership practice and parallels between that and systems thinking. You will be introduced to personal and group reflective practices, beginning to build your capabilities as a systems practitioner and leader, able to effectively draw on multiple approaches. 

Module 2 - Perspectives, boundaries and relationships, internal and external 

As a systems practitioner you will need to use different approaches to effectively engage with, diagnose and intervene in a system. Additionally, you will also require exceptional interpersonal and reflective capacities.

In this module, we will develop these capabilities together. You will deepen your understanding of methodologies such as Critical Systems Heuristics and System Dynamics for inquiry into both the ‘external’ world and the ‘internal’ perspectives of other people and ourselves. You will explore ethics and power and how to work effectively to address them. You will build on the reflective practices in Module 1 to explore your own ‘internal’ perceptual aspect of systems perspectives. This will support your personal development making you not only a good systems thinker but a leader capable of effectively engaging others in a systems process. You will continue to build your learning through working in your reflective group, exploring real-world case studies and applying theory and practice to your own organisational context. 

Module 3 - Exploring and integrating perspectives in system design, theory and practice 

In this module, we will continue to explore systems methodologies, considering how each one can be used for diagnosis, design and intervention. You will look at Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), developing capabilities in applying the approach and inquiring into how it relates to, and might combine with, other methodologies to support a successful intervention. You will also investigate complementary theories such as the anticipatory view of systems and systemic intelligence, and how they can inform and complement adaptive leadership practices. You will have the opportunity to develop the necessary facilitation skills, techniques, and personal insights so you can effectively engage with multiple stakeholders and create a context for good decision making and collaborative, participatory working. 

Module 3a - (Apprenticeship route only) Systems Practice: Skills, Behaviours and Professional Development 

This module provides an opportunity for students taking the Apprenticeship route to further develop their skills, knowledge and behaviours associated with the Level 7 Systems Practitioner Apprenticeship. It will support you to understand the broader requirements of the Apprenticeship including the End Point Assessment process, helping you focus on the wide-ranging knowledge and skills that Systems Practitioners need and the qualification requires. The module is designed to be highly participative. By the end of the module you will appreciate the formal evidence needed for both on and off-the-job learning, and the development of the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for the Systems Practitioner Apprenticeship. The module is non-credit bearing, however there are two summative assessments.  

Module 4 - Organisation, strategy, and dialogue 

As a systems practitioner you will engage with organisations, institutions and/or multi-agency groups. To support this, the module will continue to build our multi-methodological approach with the introduction of the Viable System Model (VSM) with relevant complementary approaches, looking at how they can work in tandem with theories of mind and perspective, and the practice of leadership. You will build on the knowledge and skills developed in previous modules, working with more in-depth leadership practices and techniques. You will continue to explore relationship dynamics and how to work with difference. You will use the reflection and learning groups during this module to support your own development and investigating your resistance to change to help understand others. The group work from previous modules will, by now, have built solid dynamics to support your development as a leader and systems practitioner, exploring your understanding of yourself, others, and systems in more depth.

Module 5 - Systemic Evaluation and deepening leadership practice 

Having developed your skills and knowledge as a systems leader and practitioner, able to diagnose, design and intervene, this module will develop your capacities and knowledge of systems evaluation. It will introduce you to how to design systemic evaluation approaches, able to both measure impact and feed into further intervention development. You will explore specific evaluation methodologies and methods alongside relevant theory, research approaches and case studies. As in previous modules, you will be encouraged to apply theory to practice by exploring cases from your own work. We will continue to develop your skills as a facilitator and leader, able to work effectively to integrate multiple perspectives and inquire into systems in innovative ways.  You will continue to be encouraged to challenge your own mental models and those of others, including understanding the basis of our assumptions, biases and blind spots. 

Module 6 - Systems and leadership practitioner 

Having developed your skills and understanding as a systems leader and practitioner this module will give you the opportunity to apply everything you have learned to a Systemic Intervention project of your own with the support of your peers, using feedback and action learning. You will critically reflect on which systems methodologies and methods to apply to diagnose, design, intervene in and evaluate your real-world project, working effectively with multiple stakeholders within an organisation or across multiple agencies. You will apply your capacities for feedback (giving and receiving), reflection, perspective taking, engaging with power, appreciating opposing views and sensemaking. You will reflect on your own practice, including your leadership and facilitation capabilities, how they have developed, and where your personal development priorities now lie. 

Module 7 - (Msc only) Systems Thinking Thesis

The dissertation module forms the key personal research element of the programme, and as such complements and provides the opportunity for exploring further and putting into practice some of the ideas and methods covered in the previous taught modules. It will be particularly focused on an aspect of research related to the field of systems practice and leadership. You will select your own dissertation topic at an early stage in the course, albeit subject to the approval of the Programme Director, and progress work on it over the period of their registration with one-to-one supervision provided by a dissertation tutor who has been assigned because of their specialist knowledge of the chosen topic. In addition to one-to-one supervision, you will be required to attend 15 hours of taught provision - focusing on research methodology, generic skills and techniques for dissertation design and writing of a dissertation. The dissertation aims to provide a learning opportunity for specialism in a distinct field of systems practice and leadership and to address the role of research in these contexts.

Please note: The modules listed on the website for this programme are regularly reviewed to ensure they are up-to-date and informed by the latest research and teaching methods. On rare occasions, we may need to make unexpected changes to compulsory modules; in this event we will contact offer holders as soon as possible to inform or consult them as appropriate.


Fees for 2023 

  • MSc £12,150 (UK)
  • MSc £21,150 (International)

Start date: April 2024 (fees for 2024 TBC).

How To Apply

Find out more about how to apply for one of our courses.

Our Standard Requirements

A first- or second-class honours degree or equivalent. Alternatively, a lesser qualification together with appropriate work experience may be acceptable.

Level 2 Maths and English will need to be evidenced prior to end-point assessment (EPA) for the apprenticeship route.


International Requirements

As a Russell Group University our programmes are developed with research-informed teaching at their heart, bringing together world-class research and cutting-edge facilities to produce exceptional learning outcomes.

This part time programme will be delivered through a mix of face to face and distance learning. On site teaching will be based in The Exchange, our newly refurbished building in the centre of Birmingham and close to New Street Station. You will be supported by experts and peers to develop as a system thinking practitioner and leader, embedding your learning and practice in your own live work based issues as you complete the qualification.

The Birmingham Leadership Institute 

The Birmingham Leadership Institute was officially launched in 2021 as a University of Birmingham flagship initiative to understand, research, practice and develop leadership at all levels, enabling progress on complex issues including our most pressing organisational, social, political, environmental, commercial, and economic challenges. 

Its staff combine both academic expertise and many years of practical experience working with large organisations and complex problems. The Institute draws on a global network of experts and practitioners in systems thinking and leadership. In addition to its own staff, the Birmingham Leadership Institute works with the University of Birmingham’s specialist research centres, international research community and communities of practice to ensure that the most up to date thinking and the most skilled leadership development practice is made available.


This programme is designed for leaders, middle and project managers, and those preparing for leadership roles. It is ideal for public, private, and third sector organisations seeking to deliver systemic change in a wide variety of areas, for example achieving net zero and adapting to the challenges of climate change, increasing health and wellbeing in populations, thriving commercially in rapidly changing markets, or leadership of interconnected challenges in cities, counties, and regions. The Birmingham leadership insitute has also made Leadership Exchanged: The Podcast where expert Professor Christopher Pietroni discusses with guests what kind of leadership is needed if you want to make real, lasting change.

You will gain insights from research, leadership and systems practitioners, and public debate to inform your learning experience, and the combination of theory and work-based practice will allow you to better conceptualise systemic challenges and apply systems methods across organisational and professional boundaries. Professor Carolyn Wilkins OBE shared her experience as a public sector leader in the Leadership Exchanged podcast