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5 qualities of an effective supply chain manager

Role requires both analytical and people skills to succeed

Read time: 4 minutes

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The supply chain is at the heart of your company’s operations. Your supply chain manager is in charge of your product’s journey, from sourcing materials to ensuring it meets customer demand.

The position has evolved from being the company’s buyer, or purchasing manager, working in the back room to being part of the company’s backbone. It now requires a diverse set of skills that include:

  • using data
  • planning, financial and contract management
  • building relationships
  • solid understanding of manufacturing, transportation and warehousing

“Astute small and medium-sized companies are winning off the supply chain by hiring people who can do more than purchase goods faster and cheaper,” says Christian Buhagiar, president and CEO of the Supply Chain Management Association of Canada.

“This is a key, strategic hire for the entrepreneur. The combination of education and experience means today’s supply chain managers can create value, mitigate risk and deliver a competitive advantage—and yes, source goods and materials to optimize market conditions and demand planning.”

5 essential qualities in a supply chain manager

It’s not just one quality or skill that will make an effective supply chain manager. It takes the right balance of hard and soft skills, which can be a challenging combination to find.

Here are five qualities to consider when hiring:

  1. math skills combined with strong analytical and statistical capabilities to understand supply and demand issues
  2. ability to use data to track orders and shipments, sales trends, demand and any weaknesses and inefficiencies
  3. understanding of technology—artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, analytics software and apps
  4. soft skills to negotiate and build relationships with suppliers, customers and team members
  5. attention to detail to understand the business and the environment in which it operates
You’re developing relationships with customers, suppliers, legal, accounting. So you do have to be a good relationship builder. I think that skill is often overlooked.

Technology is inescapable

A 2018 study by BDC indicates that digitally advanced companies have higher sales and profit growth. These companies are also more likely to export and innovate. This trend is also having an impact on supply chain professionals.

“There’s not a new technology that isn’t crashing up against the supply chain,” Buhagiar says.

The use of data is unavoidable. Supply chain managers need to understand how to plan for customer demand with the use of data. They’ve also got to build relationships with customers and suppliers to be able to find ways to share data to make your company’s supply chain work smoothly.

Your supply chain manager is an asset

Buhagiar says you eventually won’t have the time to take care of the supply chain. At some point in the company’s growth, you will need to hire someone.

The right candidate will give the company a competitive edge. A supply chain manager should be able to give customers what they want, when they want it and without breaking the company’s bank.

“Entrepreneurs probably didn’t go into their businesses thinking their company was built on a supply chain. If you are bringing in a procurement manager or a supply chain manager, whatever you want to call it, you bring somebody who is astute and you’re saying to them: create a competitive advantage,” Buhagiar says.

Buhagiar also notes that a supply chain manager understands the risk in procurement and is able to mitigate it. For example, when there is a natural disaster, the supply chain manager has alternative sources for materials.

Education needed for the job

Many colleges and universities have programs that grant diplomas or degrees in supply chain management or purchasing.

Professional certifications, such as the Supply Chain Management Professional or SCMP designation from the Supply Chain Management Association, require work-based experience, a number of courses and a final exam.

“I would encourage entrepreneurs to look for people who have actually been both educated and certified in this field,” Buhagiar says.

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