GOOD QUESTION: What’s One Underrated Skill in Supply Chain Management?
From composure to the ability to handle objections, these skills may not be part of curriculums but they make for great supply chain managers.
Intrinsic motivation, the desire to continuously improve for self-fulfillment. This creates a continuous improvement mindset. A result of intrinsic motivation is curiosity, which is insanely important. Ask questions about everything; just because your organization has done something the same way for 20 years does not mean it’s the best way to do things now.
Empathy. Seeing and listening through the eyes and ears of your supply chain partners speeds the pace of negotiations, trust building, and handling crises. And if empathy isn’t reciprocated, it’s a good signal it’s time to consider looking for a new partner.
–Dr. Darren Prokop
Professor Emeritus, Logistics, College of Business & Public Policy
University of Alaska Anchorage
Composure. Circumstances can turn on a dime and require not only quick, but also clear, thinking when it feels like all options are lost. Those with composure—who can collect themselves, stay calm, and rely on the processes and tools they’ve put into place to handle the unexpected—will excel in managing their supply chain.
SVP & Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer
SAP Business Network
Resilience. Changes and setbacks are inevitable. It’s important to know how to anticipate, deal with, and recover from those challenges. Resilience requires the commitment to stay the course, keep a positive attitude, and forge a path even when the future is uncertain.
Chief Human Resources Officer
The skill of patient listening. A wise person said, “I never learned anything while talking.” Listening to the needs of the entire supply chain ecosystem and comprehending the issues before reacting improves the decision making process. Communication is improved and solving problems becomes inclusive, allowing for intelligent solutions.
Director, Consumer Markets
Customer service skills are underrated. Those include empathy, clear communication, problem solving, patience, active listening, and adaptability, and allow people to excel in supply chain management.
Perspective. When I can shift my perspective to the point of view of my customers, stakeholders, or employees, that is how I can understand and meet their expectations. And that helps to build trusted and sustainable relationships.
Quality Systems Engineer
Check and Doublecheck
Checking to see what shutdowns are going on all over your destination cities and countries is the most underrated thing. Although the pandemic has all but gone in the United States, it’s not the same around the world. To be able to re-route a transshipment or notify the customer of a possible delay is crucial in the oil field business.
As a shipper, I constantly have equipment on the water. Many of my shipments are time sensitive to meet launch dates of platforms. Keeping my customer abreast of what is happening in transit is vital. I also make sure my company is always listed as a “notify” party on all bills of lading (BOLs).
With all the vessel sharing there could be multiple BOLs: an in-house BOL with the freight forwarder, a BOL with the ship line they booked with, and the vessel it is being carried on. If you are not listed with all of them as a “notify” party, you would not be able to communicate directly with the ship line.
–Ronnie T. Evans
International Logistics Coordinator
Oil States Industries
The ability to forecast strategically. With the daily obstacles that one will face in the management of supply chain functions, it can be difficult to see 3 to 6 to 9 months down the line. But being able to solve for future problems with solutions that also impact today’s business is imperative to success.
Strategic Account Executive
Creativity. People think managing a supply chain is analytical and focused on managing the minutiae. And it is, at times. But when problems occur, the individual who can think outside the box and devise innovative solutions will be the unsung hero.
Understanding the seasonality of each customer’s business. Depending on factors that include time of year and business climate, demand may ebb and flow. By becoming more attuned to this, we can do a better job of filling gaps and meeting customer needs.
Regional Account Manager
The ability to quickly analyze short- and long-term impacts. Overanalyzing wastes time and money. In operational excellence models, it’s called overprocessing. To analyze quickly, use data, your inner experience circle, ask for full opinions and full judgment, then go. Stop wasting time.
–Ann Marie Jonkman
PMP, Senior Director, Global Industry Strategies
The capacity for product innovation. This involves channeling relentless curiosity into problems, having meaningful dialogues with users—warehouse managers, last-mile delivery folks, or suppliers across the globe—and implementing hardware and/or software solutions that solve those problems.
Client Partner and Industry 4.0 Vertical Lead
Resourcefulness, the ability to find creative solutions and make the most of available resources to overcome challenges and optimize supply chain processes. It fosters problem-solving, adaptability, and collaboration, helping you thrive during disruptions and difficult market cycles.
SVP, Enterprise Operations
Being comfortable with discomfort. Being able to ride the ups and downs without hitting the panic button is a common trait of those who love and thrive in this industry.
Taking a long view of your organizational strategy and grounding your decision-making in data. Too often, organizations make emotional or anecdotal decisions and respond reactively to short-term shifts in the supply chain, losing sight of their long-term goals.
Product Marketing Manager
Risk management. This skill turns uncertainty into an asset and optimizes resource allocation, in turn improving efficiency and maximizing output. Elevated efficiency inherently creates a more resilient supply chain.
Founder and CEO
Resilience. The changing post-COVID-19 supply chain landscape has no playbook and, to a certain extent, defies conventional wisdom surrounding trends and markets. Resilience is the ability to continuously bounce back in the face of unknown and changing conditions, viewing failures as learning opportunities instead of calamities.
GEODIS in Americas
Adapt or Be Trapped
The ability to take charge of a problem and make it a business enabler. Be adaptable, open to change, and able to influence cross-functional activities.
Founder and CEO
Adaptability is crucial. In the face of unforeseen challenges, the ability to creatively and pragmatically adjust networks and processes is paramount. Being innovative and flexible ensures goods keep flowing despite changing circumstances, securing a resilient supply chain.
Innovation and Development Director
Supply chain management requires constant adjustments and flexibility to accommodate changing circumstances. Those who can quickly adapt to new technologies, market trends, and unforeseen challenges can pivot their strategies as well as optimize their operations.
Change management. While we can have the best analytics in the world, if we don’t have the ability to implement change, it’s all for nothing.
Chief Commercial Officer
Relationship building. People skills are paramount to success in supply chain management. Nurturing strong relationships with stakeholders is essential, even more so when things don’t go to plan. Clear and honest communication fosters trust and collaboration, making it easier to navigate challenges and achieve common goals.
Chief Customer Officer
Effective communication. While it may seem basic, clear and timely communication is essential for coordinating with suppliers, logistics partners, and internal teams. It ensures everyone involved is on the same page, reducing the risk of errors, delays, and misunderstandings.
Work hard and hustle. This work ethic motivates us to take action when we have big ideas and maintain our tenacity in the face of adversity. Together, we do what we set our minds to until we reach our goals.
Chief Human Resources Officer
Echo Global Logistics
Quick and effective decision making for your customers is vital for modern logistics service providers. Having people and expertise permeate throughout your business, from management to warehousing experts, that are able to make informed decisions on behalf of customers will take supply chains to the next level.
GAC North America – Logistics
The ability to understand and utilize data effectively in managing supply chains is critical. Procurement relies on data more than ever and unreliable and inconsistent data can lead to inefficiencies and poor decision making. Being able to align that data is a vital skill for those in today’s supply chain.
VP of Sales
The ability to define and enforce governance structures. We see programs that fail due to lack of oversight and structure—not necessarily within the program itself, but where that program intertwines with other corporate business groups and functions. High performers and leaders of governance structures enable successful management that is proactive and scalable.
VP of Digital Transformation
The ability to handle objections with poise and confidence, to not take things too personally.
VP of Business Development
The ability and willingness to effectively share your knowledge is a vital skill not only to your business but the supply chain industry as a whole. What sets the supply chain industry apart is its inherent uniqueness—no two experiences are identical. By actively sharing insights gained from our diverse experiences, we empower each other to extract greater value from the products we invest in, make better operational decisions, and innovate existing solutions.
SVP and General Manager
Being proactive. This skill is often overlooked and underrated but critical to excelling in any area of supply chain management especially for brokers. From helping shippers prepare for peak seasons and major market shifts to adding new carriers to our network, being proactive is essential in everything we do.
VP of Carrier Sales
Communication. The supply chain has a lot of moving parts, often involving multiple teams and outside sources. It is important to communicate to avoid any major issues. Strong communication is one of the most beneficial skills you can have.
–Joseph A. Schlossberg
VP of Global Sales
Sourcing Solutions International
The ability to look at your whole operation and rapidly assess the consequences of every decision is essential. Add to this the numerous, challenging ESG regulations across the world and you must become a real control tower, with a deeper understanding of all aspects.
Chief Marketing Officer
Adaptability and good communication. As the supply chain continues to evolve and we face worker shortages, we should be open to talent—even from other industries—who possess these skills; they not only fill gaps but also inject fresh ideas and enhance our resilience.
Chief Human Resources Officer
Communication. Speak to your customers and vendors on a regular basis. Don’t take your relationships for granted. Active communication is key to awareness of potential issues and responding to challenges.
COO & Co Founder
For founders and business owners, the key skill is hiring people who have done it before. That means hiring people with experience managing larger or more complex supply chains, which will allow the company to handle future growth in the supply chain.
Another key skill in supply chain management is negotiating. For example, if you can get net terms from vendors, that will help cash flow, and owners can invest more aggressively in scaling up supply chain efforts (new warehouses, bigger inventory buys, etc.).
VP of Store Partnerships
Stakeholder management. You cannot excel without building strong cross-functional relationships and effectively translating them into specific supply chain needs. Success often hinges on becoming an internal “consultant”—and strong relationships mean more transparency, better understanding, and enhanced efficiency when solving issues. While often underestimated, strong relationship management is truly crucial.
The Smart Cube
Effective communication, paired with the ability to influence across other functions in the business, stands out as a crucial yet underrated skill in supply chain management. As technology streamlines operations, professionals can focus more on root-cause analysis and proactive strategy development. This shift means they’re not just reacting to crises but actively steering business strategies, making their collaboration and negotiation skills increasingly vital.
VP Product, Forecasting & Replenishment
Collaboration, because it can form stronger cross-functional, supplier, and customer relationships and also foster data sharing and innovation. With a collaborative mindset and relevant skill development, industry professionals can better navigate the complexities of modern supply chains, respond to challenges more effectively, and ultimately drive greater value in their operations.
Adaptability and agility are crucial to success when dealing with disruptions and changing market demands in the supply chain industry. Whether it’s adding new technologies or making process adjustments on-the-fly, being adaptable can enhance efficiencies, reduce costs, and help you maintain a competitive edge in a dynamic marketplace.
Thinking about how supply chains can help customers is an underrated skill that allows people to excel in supply chain management. The true breakthroughs occur when customers can do more with their business because of the service you offer. For example, providing contractors with real-time ETAs and delivery tracking allows them to maximize the utilization of their crews because the contractor knows exactly when materials will arrive to keep the crew productive.
EVP of Industry
Soft skills like communication, discernment, and (especially) listening are often undervalued in supply chain management. Universities have tended to make supply chain management more about formal modeling (which is no doubt important), with less focus on how to build lasting and meaningful internal and supplier relationships. Supply chain management is a team sport.
Practice Director, Security and Resilience
Situational awareness is a significant skill that allows individuals to excel in supply chain management. Being attuned to changes in opportunities and obstacles within an operating environment facilitates prompt, well-informed, effective actions that can help mitigate risk and provide optimal performance for the individual, team, organization, and clients.
Containerization and Intermodal Institute (CII)
Understanding supply chain tradeoffs. Neglecting to grasp supply chain trade-offs can harm a business. Failing to acknowledge these trade-offs can lead to inefficiencies, higher costs, and missed opportunities. Adapting to changes and investing in data analysis, modeling, and scenario planning are crucial for effective supply chain management, ensuring optimized decisions while considering trade-offs.
Chief Operating Officer