Executive Certificate in Higher Impact Leadership

A Practical Course for Government and Public Leaders

Fairfax County Public Safety Agencies
(Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department, Fairfax County Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, and regional public safety partners)
Fairfax County Organizational Development & Training
Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

Virtual Information Session

Please join us for a virtual information session with our esteemed instructor team and program managers on Wednesday, June 12th, at noon.

The session will last approximately 30-40 minutes. To obtain the login information, please email ExecEd@gmu.edu.


Hybrid (primarily virtual, with the in-person conference at the Fairfax County Government Center)

Program Dates

Thursday, Sept 12th – Thursday, November 14th, 2024; Ten weeks, totaling 20 course hours.

  • Nine weeks of asynchronous study sessions:  Thursday, Sept 12th – Thursday, Nov 7th; The program is self-paced, with sessions released each week on Thursdays by noon.
  • Conference day on November 14th: Elevate your experience by participating in our engaging conference, meticulously crafted to foster meaningful social networking. Immerse yourself in insightful discussions while indulging in delightful refreshments at the FFX County Government Center. This event offers valuable insights and a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals in a convivial setting.
  • Additional four weeks self-study period:  This extra period empowers participants to delve deeply into the material, reinforcing their learning and allowing for more thorough completion of their assignments, ensuring a truly enriching educational experience.

Program Summary

The Executive Education Program, housed within the Schar School of Policy and Government, introduces the state-of-the-art Executive Certificate in Higher Impact Leadership. This program empowers individuals with essential skills and knowledge, cultivating excellence in the fields of risk management and strategic leadership. Committed to advancing principles within the public sector, especially in public safety, it’s tailored to deliver high-quality training that spans the entire workforce. It aims to equip individuals to effectively harness the power of collective thinking and intentional collaboration in the public leadership domain.

Application and Qualifications

This program is crafted exclusively for seasoned leaders in management roles and those holding positions at the supervisory level or above. It is ideal for individuals with a wealth of management experience.

Preferably, applicants should hold a bachelor's degree. However, we understand that exceptional talent often comes with diverse educational backgrounds. Therefore, equivalent degrees or significant work experience in relevant fields will also be considered.

A group of people and a dog stand smiling in front of a fire engine

Program fee


Registration deadline

August 23rd, 2024 

Certificate and Credentials

Upon completion, participants will be awarded an “Executive Certificate in Higher Impact Leadership” from the Schar School of George Mason University; and will earn 2.0 CEUs (Continuing Education Units). For the CEUs application, kindly reach out to ExecEd@gmu.edu via email.

Admissions Benefits

Participants opting to pursue a graduate certificate or master's program following the successful completion of the Higher Impact Leadership Program can avail themselves of the following advantages for Spring and Fall 2025.

  • Application fee waiver for Schar School graduate certificate and master’s programs.
  • A $500 tuition discount applied to their initial Schar School class if admitted within one year of completing the Higher Impact Leadership Program. Additionally, master's degree students may be eligible for extra merit aid up to $10k based on the strength of their application.

Who will benefit from this program? 

  • This program primarily caters to Fairfax County Public Safety personnel, Fairfax County Government, and interested private and public professionals.
  • This program welcomes individuals who wish to pursue a master's degree, but equivalent work experience is also a suitable qualification.
A group of police officers stand in front of a helicopter

Schedule and of the Content Program

Week 1: Thursday, September 12

  • Budgeting: An introduction to budgeting in the public sector, covering principles, processes, and the importance of effective budget management

Week 2: Thursday, September 19 

  • Project Management: Explore project management principles and practices, a contemporary approach to efficient project delivery. Emphasizing the role of experience and insights from peers in various agencies, a shared concern among numerous county agencies.

Week 3: Thursday, September 26

  • Cross-Sector Collaboration: Strategies and challenges of collaborating across sectors to address complex issues.

Week 4: Thursday, October 3

  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Explore the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in public organizations and strategies for promoting them.

 Week 5: Thursday, October 10

  • Effective Negotiations and AI Tools for Negotiation.

 Week 6: Thursday, October 17

  • Crisis Communications/ Crisis Management: Gain insights into crisis communication and management strategies.

 Week 7: Thursday, October 24

  • Leadership Strategy:  Leadership strategies and practices for effective management in public administration.

Week 8: Thursday, October 31

  • Influencing Policy: How to influence policy-making processes and drive change.

 Week 9: Thursday, November 7

  • Strategic Communications: Explore the principles of strategic communication in public administration.

 Week 10: Thursday, November 14​​​​​​

  • Conference and Social Event: Change Management and Managing Organizational Communication; Explore how leaders can make not just technical changes but also long-term cultural shifts.
A group of people stand on balconies and in front of a building

About the Instructors

*The composition of the instructor team is subject to change based on their availabilities.

Karla Bruce, Chief Equity Officer, Fairfax County Government. A dedicated public servant with over 20 years of experience leading efforts to address the most challenging social issues facing communities. Proven success in bridging the policies and practices of local government with the collective action of partners from the civic, nonprofit, philanthropic, faith, and business sectors to affect positive change for youth, families, and communities. Bruce successfully championed the adoption of the One Fairfax Racial and Social Equity Resolution and Policy. She provides overall management of the One Fairfax strategic framework, advising and supporting the Board of Supervisors and Executive Leadership in shaping and directing policy and practice to foster equitable opportunity for all Fairfax County residents. With over 20 years of local government management experience, Bruce is known as a driver of innovation in public service delivery, bridging the efforts of local government with the collective action of residents and broad networks of partners to strategically address issues facing vulnerable populations and neighborhoods.

Michelle Casciato standing outside in an orange shirt and smiling

Michelle Casciato, PhD, is an adjunct professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government. Her research interests include public policy, bureaucracy, budgets and organizations. Casciato served as Deputy County Executive for Prince William County, Virginia, following earlier positions as Director of the Office of Management & Budget and Neighborhood Services Division Chief. Prior to entering the public sector, Casciato was vice president of a large real estate management firm in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Casciato earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and both her master’s in public administration and PhD in political science from George Mason University.

Terry Clower stands smiling while wearing a black suit, light blue shirt, and tie.

Terry Clower is Northern Virginia Chair and professor of public policy in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He is also director of Mason's Center for Regional Analysis. The Center provides economic and public policy research services to sponsors in the private, nonprofit, and public sectors. Prior to joining Mason, Clower was director for the Center for Economic Development and Research at the University of North Texas. He also spent 10 years employed in private industry in logistics and transportation management positions. 

Craig Fifer is a Strategic Communicator and an Adjunct Professor of Ethics, the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.  Senior Advisor to the Commissioner, Virginia Department of Social Services.

William N. Flagler Jr. stands smiling while wearing a black suit, blue shirt, and tie.

William N. Flagler Jr. is the Director of the Arlington County Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management (DPSCEM). Previously, Director Flagler served as the Deputy Director of DPSCEM where he took the lead in directing the immediate operations of Emergency Management, overseeing strategic planning, providing policy guidance for the development and implementation of the budget, administering and coordinating the management of grants related to homeland security, and monitoring the implementation of the County’s emergency plans in County departments and with resident groups and other organizations and was responsible for emergency operations and public safety situational awareness.

Director Flagler's previous experience includes being the founding Director of the Department of Emergency Management and Safety at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) which is the largest institution of Higher Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. During his time at NOVA, he successfully coordinated the response and recovery associated with an active shooter in 2009 and other complex emergency incidents. He was also an Assistant Coordinator for Loudoun County Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Management.

Director Flagler has nearly 20 years of progressively responsible executive leadership experience. He’s earned master’s degrees in Public Administration and Homeland Security. Mr. Flagler holds a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM®) designation as well as the Virginia Professional Emergency Manager designation (VaPEM). He is also a Certified Public Manager (CPM). He is a graduate of the Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, Executive Leadership Program, and Leadership Arlington c/o 17. He also received training from the Harvard University, Crisis Leadership Program.

Director Flagler received the Meritorious Service Award from the Arlington Chamber in 2017. He is also an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University and served as a Visiting Scholar at Virginia Tech University. He has also held leadership positions in the Virginia Emergency Management Association (VEMA) to include 1st VP and Chief Financial Officer for two separate consecutive terms. Director Flagler has also been recognized by the Leadership Center for Excellence and the International Association of Emergency Managers as a 40 under 40 honoree.

Anne Holton stands smiling outside while wearing a gray shirt.

Anne Holton is back as a faculty member after serving as Interim President of George Mason University from 2019-20. She is a professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government and in the College of Education and Human Development, and a Senior Fellow at EdPolicyForward. She is a lifelong advocate for children and families in Virginia.

With an AB from Princeton and a Harvard law degree, Holton has worked as a legal aid lawyer serving low-income families, a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge, a child welfare reformer, and Virginia’s Secretary of Education.

She helped integrate the inner-city schools of Richmond, Virginia, as a child when her father was Virginia's governor in the early 1970s. As Virginia’s First Lady when her husband was governor in 2006-10, Holton championed foster care system reform. As Virginia’s Secretary of Education in 2014-16, she worked to increase Virginia’s investment in public education, to promote innovation and the joy of teaching and learning in our schools, and to ensure every student has a successful pathway to the future, especially those in high-poverty communities. Her life’s work has focused on children and families at the margin, and the crucial role education must play in helping young people escape poverty.

Holton currently serves on the Virginia Board of Education. She and her husband, now a U.S. senator, live in Richmond, Virginia. They have three adult children, all of whom attended Richmond Public Schools.

Dr. Jill A. Rough stands smiling while wearing a black suit and yellow shirt.

Dr. Jill A. Rough is an Adjunct Professor and Distinguished Visiting Fellow at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

Dr. Rough brings nearly 30 years of national security and defense-related policy and practice. She most recently served as Director of Research and Analysis for the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, which released its Final Report to Congress and the President in March 2020. She has previously conducted security and defense related research with the Center for Naval Analyses, RAND Corporation, and the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

Additionally, she served over 7 years as an active-duty Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy before transitioning to become an Information Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. She has completed five command tours and is currently serving as Commanding Officer, Naval Information Force Reserve Region Minneapolis where she leads a nation-wide enterprise of 26 units and over 850 Sailors in support of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Dr. Rough teaches advanced qualitative methods, program evaluation, public speaking, and applied leadership. She has been invited to speak to a wide variety of academic, military, business, and civic organizations.

Cathy Schafrik County Administrator, Greene County Government, Stanardsville, VA. Equipped with more than 15 years’ experience driving successful operations and programs across the Human Resource function, Cahty Schafrik possesses the valuable skillset required to not only improve employee satisfaction and performance but also effectively lead data-driven, informed strategies and decisions. Her expertise encompasses all aspects of human resource management, including recruitment, employee benefits, equality, diversity/inclusion program management, budget management, and staff training/induction.