ITIL certification guide: Costs, requirements, levels, and paths

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) offers best practices for delivering IT services using a systematic approach to IT service management (ITSM). ITIL certification is near the top of almost every list of must-have IT certifications, and for good reason. As an IT management framework, ITIL can help businesses manage risk, strengthen customer relations, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale, and change.

The ITIL 4 was updated by Axelos in February 2019 to include a stronger emphasis on maintaining agility, flexibility, and innovation in ITSM, while still supporting legacy networks and systems. As of 2023, ITIL 4 has been fully rolled out and Axelos announced the discontinuation of ITIL 3 at the start of 2022.

ITIL 4 certification paths

The ITIL 4 certification scheme has been streamlined to offer three main designation paths, each with their own modules to complete. You will progress from the Foundation level to either the Managing Professional (MP), Strategic Leader (SL), or Practice Manager (PM) paths. You can stop at either path, or if you choose to complete all three, you’ll be eligible to earn the ITIL Master designation.

ITIL Foundation

No matter which path you choose, you’ll first need to pass the ITIL Foundation module, an entry-level certification that covers the basics of ITIL 4. Candidates for the ITIL 4 Foundation exam should have a basic understanding of creating valuable products and services for customers and stakeholders, the basic principles of ITIL 4, the four dimensions of service management, best practices of ITIL 4, and key concepts of Lean, agile, and DevOps.

The ITIL Foundation course takes place in a classroom over two and a half days. At the end of the course, you’ll take a one-hour exam consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions and you’ll need 26 correct answers to pass. Courses are offered through accredited training organizations and can be found on the Axelos website. You can also choose to self-study using practice exams and other material from Axelos or third-party providers.

ITIL Practice Manager (PM)

The ITIL Practice Manager (PM) certification offers practice-based modules that allow for a more flexible training schedule, allowing you to “bundle, mix, and match the modules,” according to Axelos. It’s designed for those who want to validate and demonstrate skills and abilities in specific ITIL 4 management practices. To earn the ITIL 4 Practice Manager certification, you’ll need to complete five individual practices offered through day-long training, or the three-day bundled course, along with the ITIL Specialist: Create, Deliver, and Support module.

The courses include practical assignments that allow you to use your knowledge and skills in real-life scenarios. Axelos currently offers five practices under the PM certification:

Service Desk – including the key concepts, principles, values, and challenges. This module validates your ability to measure, assess, and develop the Service Desk practice capability using the ITIL Maturity Model.

Incident Management – covering skills around coordinating incident handling, resolving incidents, conducting incident reviews, and improving incident management practices.

Problem Management – completing this module validates that you have the skills and abilities to reduce the impact of potential incidents, reduce technical debt and losses, and identify relevant IT support resources.

Service Request Management – covering concepts including reducing costs around request handling and fulfilment, identifying realistic fulfilment expectations, and improving the service consumer experience.

Monitoring and Event Management – covering proactive and early detection of incidents and problems, understanding service health, boosting performance, reducing the cost of outages, and managing assets impacting the service value stream performance with a focus on IT service availability.

ITIL Managing Professional (MP)

The ITIL MP certification is for IT practitioners who work with technology and digital teams across the organization. It covers the knowledge necessary for running IT projects, teams, and workflows using practical and technical skills. To complete the ITIL MP certification, you’ll need to pass a series of exam modules:

ITIL Specialist Create Deliver & Support: This module covers core service management techniques, service performance, and service quality and improvement methods. It’s aimed at ITSM practitioners responsible for end-to-end delivery of IT services and products.

ITIL Specialist Drive Stakeholder Value: This module covers engagement and interactions among customers, users, suppliers, and partners with the service provider. You’ll cover SLA design, multi-supplier management, communication, relationship management, CX and UX design, and customer journey mapping.

ITIL Specialist High Velocity IT: In this module you’ll learn how to integrate methodologies such as agile and Lean with other technical skills, including cloud, automation, and automatic testing, to deliver rapid delivery of products and services.

ITIL Strategist Direct Plan & Improve: The fourth module covers the practical skills necessary to “create a learning and improving IT organization with a strong and effective strategic direction.” You’ll focus on leveraging agile and Lean to plan and deliver continual improvements quickly.

ITIL Strategic Leader (SL)

The ITIL SL certification is for all digitally enabled services in the organization, not just IT operations. This certification focuses on how IT influences and informs business strategy. To earn your ITIL SL certification, you’ll need to pass two exam modules:

ITIL Strategist Direct Plan & Improve: This is the same module offered in the MP certification, covering the necessary skills to create a “learning and improving” IT organization. It’s considered a universal module for both paths because it’s designed for “managers of all levels involved in shaping direction and strategy, or developing a continually improving team.”

ITIL Leader Digital & IT Strategy: In the second module, you’ll learn how to align business and IT strategy and how to handle disruptive technologies. It covers topics such as how to remain competitive in a fast-changing market, maintaining flexible and adaptable environments, and how to effectively build and implement successful IT and digital strategies. 

ITIL Master

If you complete all modules required for both the MP and SL certification paths, you’ll qualify for the ITIL Master designation. To become an ITIL Master you need at least five years’ experience working in ITSM in a leadership, management, or advisory level.

The ITIL Master designation requires a strong background in ITSM and extensive hands-on experience working with ITIL, but there’s no training course or fixed syllabus. You’ll be tested on a situation of your choosing, so the material will be personal to your experience. The certification requires hands-on experience, and you need to “justify how you have personally selected and applied a range of knowledge, principles, methods, and techniques from the ITIL framework and supporting management techniques to achieve desired business outcomes,” according to Axelos.

ITIL Extension Modules

Axelos also offers four ITIL 4 Extension Modules to help navigate the impact of emerging technologies. These modules address topics such as cloud, sustainability, and IT asset and business relationship management. Training courses vary depending on location and are offered through Axelos accredited training organizations.

ITIL 4 Specialist: Sustainability in Digital & IT – focused on creating sustainability in IT and digital services, especially around procurement, products, and practices. It covers challenges around volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) and how to conduct a full cost benefit analysis to identify potential risks and opportunities.

ITIL 4 Specialist: Acquiring & Managing Cloud Services – covers how cloud procurement and technology can support broader business goals, strategies, and functions. This module covers the benefits of a vendor-neutral approach, identifying effective cloud services, and adopting a customer-focused end-to-end cloud procurement user journey.

ITIL 4 Specialist: Business Relationship Management – covers topics including defining business relationship management roles, applying metrics and practice success factors to improve performance, and identifying operational requirements.

ITIL 4 Specialist: IT Asset Management – learn here how to define IT asset management roles, responsibilities, knowledge, and skills. It covers planning and managing the lifecycle of IT assets, automating IT asset management, and improving overall performance.

ITIL certification training

If you’re familiar with ITIL 4 and feel comfortable self-studying for the exam, you can download study materials and practice exams through Axelos’ website. Organizations can also opt to have ITIL trainers come train people at the organization and get certified in-house. If you’re new to ITIL or want a refresher, accredited training providers can be found through the Axelos website. Several companies offer training and courses both online and in person. Companies that offer self-paced learning, online course, hybrid classes, and flexible learning paths include:


Global Knowledge

Good E-Learning

ITSM Academy

Learning Tree

Pink Elephant


Stanford University IT


ITIL certification salary

The ITIL 4 certification can increase your earning power in several positions. Those in relevant positions using ITIL 4 earn an average annual salary of $99,000 per year, according to data from PayScale.

PayScale also offers data on how an ITIL 4 certification can boost salary across several specific IT positions:

PositionAverage SalaryCIO$192,583VP of IT$167,281IT director$139,315Senior IT manager$130,885Service delivery manager$103,979IT project manager$100,934IT business analyst$76,844

ITIL certification cost

Registration fees for the various ITIL 4 exams vary by location, ranging from around $150 to $500. While you can self-study for ITIL exams, coursework is strongly recommended, and fees for classes, whether completed online or in a classroom setting, vary by location and institute. Training can run from $500 for an online course to well over $1,000 for classroom-based intensive instruction, and training may or may not include exam registration fees.

Careers, Certifications, CIO, IT Leadership, IT Strategy, ITIL, System Management