What are the Differences Between a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Last Updated October 19, 2023
Black Belts, Master Black Belts Hold Key Positions In Lean Six Sigma Development & Implementation
Lean Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology that promotes an environment of continuous process improvement with a focus on eliminating defects, variation and waste. Proficiency in practicing Lean Six Sigma is measured by a long-established belt system.
The Six Sigma belt ranking system is modeled after those used in the martial arts. Each color signifies the level of expertise the earner has achieved in Six Sigma tools, techniques and strategies. The first three belt levels are as follows:
- White – Basic level; individuals learn vocabulary and most common techniques
- Yellow – Training includes learning jargon, tools and techniques; holders may participate in a limited capacity on Six Sigma projects
- Green – Individuals take a major leap forward, as they develop a higher level of expertise and learn how to play a central role in projects under the direction of a Six Sigma Black Belt leader.
The final two belt levels are Black Belt and Master Black Belt. Both signify mastery of Lean Six Sigma, but there are important differences between the two designations.
Black Belt and Master Black Belt Overview
Six Sigma Black Belt professionals lead projects, ensuring that they are completed in a way that supports organizational strategic goals. They mentor other managers in Lean Six Sigma and guide the work of Green Belts and Yellow Belts.
A Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt is the pinnacle of achievement in developing expertise in Lean and Six Sigma. Those who become a Master Black Belt “are reflecting what the future of your organization needs to be,” said Steven Babb, MS, a Master Black Belt and instructor in Villanova University’s Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt course.
“People will look at you and act like you, they’ll learn from you. You’ll be their best example. How you operate as a Master Black Belt is going to have a big reflection on the organizational culture you are trying to achieve,” Babb teaches.
Both belt designations can lead to more challenging roles and higher earning potential. In 2018, the average annual salary for full-time Black Belts in the United States and Canada was $110,442, according to the Quality Progress Salary Survey from the American Society for Quality (ASQ). For Master Black Belts, the average annual salary was $134,981, nearly $25,000 more than a Black Belt.*
Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Duties
Black Belts achieve mastery of Six Sigma tools and techniques. They lead project teams, develop expertise in data-driven Lean tools and understand which ones to apply to situations.
Requirements to earn a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification from Villanova University include completing the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt course, successfully completing a required, simulated project, and passing a separate 150-question multiple choice exam.**
The knowledge gained in the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt course can help position practitioners to manage projects that improve an organization’s bottom line and make business operations more efficient and productive.
“The importance of being able to lead a team and team concepts is essential to a Black Belt,” said Angela Lahr, an Associate Vice President of Clinical Operations who earned her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification in February 2020.
Leadership skills are key for Black Belts. Practitioners not only guide teams, but they also can serve as liaison between the project team and executives. Excellent leadership soft skills are also required to mentor Green Belts and other managers.
“I wanted to be able to lead improvement initiatives and help teach and guide teams to continue to improve on their own,” Lahr said.
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Duties
Those who earn a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt achieve the highest level of Lean Six Sigma expertise. They mentor Black Belts, lead company-wide projects and become an in-house consultant and advisor for executives.
“As a Master Black Belt, you are able to motivate more people and are seen as an internal consultant,” said Tina Agustiady, a Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, award-winning author and Adjunct Professor in Villanova University’s College of Professional Studies.
“High-level leaders and stakeholders will come to you for advice and guidance. You will be able to utilize your data analytical skills to drive them towards making the right decisions that can be backed up with statistics,” she said.
Requirements to earn a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification include completing Villanova’s online Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt course, successfully completing a required, simulated course project, and passing a separate 50-question multiple choice exam.***
Students who complete the course and become certified are prepared to take the lead on developing Lean Six Sigma efforts within an organization. Topics covered in the course include industry leadership and professionalism, optimizing process efficiency and advanced inferential statistics. The course ends with a review of the relationship between industry, customer and supplier.
A Master Black Belt also takes the lead in changing company culture through strategic quality planning, ensuring that company culture and projects support organizational objectives. They continuously evaluate the effectiveness of both and realign tactics and strategy when necessary.
*ASQ, Quality Progress Salary Survey 2018, on the internet at http://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ASQM/ASQM1218/index.php#/42 (accessed February 18, 2020). Salary by highest level of Six Sigma training for U.S. and Canadian respondents.
**To be eligible for the Black Belt course and certification exam, candidates must complete Villanova’s Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma Green Belt courses as a prerequisite. Candidate who can prove comprehensive understanding of Lean and Six Sigma Green Belt may be eligible to take the Black Belt courses as a standalone with University approval.
***To be eligible for the Master Black Belt course and certification exam, candidates must complete Villanova’s Lean Six Sigma Black Belt course as a prerequisite. If a candidate holds a Black Belt credential from another organization, this may be considered as a prerequisite with University approval.
National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Certificate and degree program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.