Leadership Playbook for Supply Chain Managers

Leadership Playbook  for Supply Chain Managers

Industry leaders and mainstays share leadership tactics—from venturing out of comfort zones to embracing missteps—that allow supply chain managers to inspire others, build cohesive teams, and tackle logistics challenges.

Industry leaders and mainstays share leadership tactics—from venturing out of comfort zones to embracing missteps—that allow supply chain managers to inspire others, build cohesive teams, and tackle logistics challenges.

How Supply Chain Managers Can Build Leadership Skills

Approach leadership as an ongoing journey, something to constantly work on. A mindset of continuous learning is your best asset for building and refining leadership skills.

Surrounding yourself with mentors you truly admire offers invaluable insights, guidance, and wisdom from those who have walked similar paths.

Actively soliciting feedback—both positive and critical—is paramount. It offers a mirror to your actions, highlighting areas of strength and potential improvement.

Complacency is the enemy. A persistent pursuit of betterment, a thirst for knowledge, and the humility to listen are the ingredients that constitute great leaders.

–Jose Barahona
Vice President, Sales


Learn how to spot the connections between data, organizational directives, and data-driven actions. For supply chain professionals aiming to be leaders, this is essential.

The modern supply chain is data-driven. If you can master the art of connecting company initiatives to data-driven actions, you can lead an aligned organization objectively.

For example, assume your company’s initiative is to reduce shipping costs. Any initiatives to improve inventory accuracy can reduce shrinkage, reducing shipping costs. You can lead by making inventory accuracy a key performance indicator, making it easy to align the organization with an initiative that can make an impact at the organization level.

–Sankalp Arora
CEO & Co-Founder
Gather AI


Effectively communicating is key. Supply chain managers must lead within and across multiple functions, and it’s important to remember the individuals within these groups will all have different views and goals.

An effective supply chain manager needs to understand these differences, tailor their messaging, and connect with each key group.

–Jeff Bornino
President, North America
TMX Transform


Create a culture of embracing and learning from mistakes. Depending on the scenario, supply chain leaders shouldn’t penalize their teams for making mistakes (the first time), if the team or employee shows dedication.

Allowing members to experience initial failure without harsh consequences can be the best form of training because they can grow and conquer those struggles. People who learn from their failures can become your strongest team members.

–Bill Thayer
Founder & CEO


Step outside your comfort zone and solve problems with a high degree of autonomy. Supply chain managers are best able to build leadership skills when they are given these opportunities. Knowing they don’t always have the safety net of a micro-manager can help aspiring leaders depend on their instincts to move decisions forward.

It’s also vital managers set good examples for their teams and peers by embracing innovations and new processes, rather than being threatened by them. These skills are universal, but are especially important in the fast-paced and continually evolving supply chain arena.

–Harrison Dean
Executive Vice President
iGPS Logistics

Best Leadership Approach I Learned from a Mentor

Cultivate an open and honest atmosphere with your team. That means learning how to take bad news in stride.

People should feel comfortable coming to you on big issues. If you react strongly or negatively, you run the risk of creating a culture where no one wants to talk about problems until it’s too late to fix them. An environment that encourages collaboration and problem solving allows your team to stay ahead of the curve and find creative solutions.

–Barbara Melvin
President & CEO
South Carolina Ports Authority


Patience, as an old colleague recently reminded me, is everything. Every career has highs and lows, but if you remain committed to bettering yourself, believing in yourself, and staying focused on your long-term goals, the right opportunities will come.

For many of us, patience isn’t our strong suit, and we often wonder (or worry) where our journey will lead. But it’s so important to never give up.

Remind yourself that what you offer your organization is unique—your experience and integrity are yours alone, and they will guide you on your path.

–Hans Stig Moller
Odyssey Logistics


Understand your why. Remaining focused on why you do what you do is the only thing that will allow you to sustain the energy to keep pushing. Without a clear understanding of why, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day and not be an effective leader.

–Josh Dunham
CEO and Co-founder


Lead from behind. The team will feel empowered to try out new approaches, and take chances, all the while knowing their leader is holding the safety net. A good leader knows their team; and, in turn, the team knows they would never set any of them up for failure.

I learned this from a seasoned leader in emergency management—an area where failure is hard to gloss over. In fact, he took it a step further. He told his team any failures on their part would be accepted as his own. This brought out the best in everyone.

–Dr. Darren Prokop
Professor Emeritus of Logistics
College of Business & Public Policy
University of Alaska Anchorage


The most impactful leadership I have witnessed was a mentor who lived sincere servant leadership. The approach created a cohesive and productive team. Each member was valued, and collaboration was emphasized.

Our team felt empowered by the collective mission to go above and beyond and find answers to issues that might have stalled them in the past.

After witnessing how putting your people first helps propel the overall goal, I have worked to embrace this in my workplace.

–Lesley Veldstra Killingsworth
Director of Traffic and Pricing
Polaris Transportation Group

Chairwoman of the Board of Directors
National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA)


The best leadership advice I received was to listen. For me this was counterintuitive, as my mental model of a leader was one who gave out directions. However, over the years I have seen the power of truly and actively listening.

Before leaders can provide direction, they must first listen to what is really happening and hear from various stakeholders.

While it’s easy to fall into multitasking while in meetings, one tip I’ve found helpful is to focus on the speaker and repeat in your head every word they say. Try it next time, you’ll be surprised.

–Alejandro Suarez
Director of Strategic Engagements
Realtime Robotics

A Winning Supply Chain Leader….

…paves a path to success with these simple yet powerful beliefs, that acting with integrity and putting people first produces positive long-term results. By going beyond what is expected, acting with integrity and honor, and always seeking out innovative solutions you’re able to combat current supply chain challenges.

Leading with consistency and reliable high standards reassures clients and vendor partners, providing peace of mind for all.

–Phillip Ousley
ASF Logistics


…never stops listening, learning, and growing. The greatest challenges and opportunities I’ve faced throughout my career have stemmed from navigating new territory, which has motivated me to continue to push forward.

Moving from ecommerce to strategy to operations and beyond has opened the door for me to take on new challenges and, in turn, grow my knowledge and organization’s capabilities.

I encourage everyone—no matter the position or role they have—to prioritize ongoing education and push themselves with stretch goals that provide the chance to learn new skills, meet new people, listen to different perspectives, and ultimately, become a well-rounded leader.

–Alicemarie Geoffrion
President, Packaging
DHL Supply Chain


…has a strategic vision in sync with the company’s goals, uses data to make informed decisions, and communicates effectively. They thrive in a changing landscape, tackle problems head-on, and collaborate seamlessly across teams.

Being globally aware, tech-savvy, and risk-conscious is vital. Always pushing for improvements and leading teams with inspiration and collaboration are key. Staying ahead in tech and adeptly managing risks ensure smooth operations and overall success in the complex world of supply chain management.

–Moid Alwy
Chief Supply Chain Officer
American Tire Distributors


…listens, and listens well. Whether it’s to the indicators of changing market dynamics, to the evolving and ever-changing needs of customers, or to the recommendations of the team of professionals he or she leads, a good supply chain leader knows that listening equates to learning.

With this skill, she or he encourages an environment of collaboration that, in turn, solves problems, creates solutions, and enables all stakeholders to navigate the relentless challenges of today’s market with agility, efficiency, and resilience.

–Hector J. Gonzalez
CEO Sales & Operations


…teaches their team how to solve problems and gives them the practical industry knowledge to know how to execute those solutions.

The supply chain sits at the intersection of strategic planning cycles and daily firefighting, which is an exciting place to be, especially with traditional lines being blurred.

Those that can teach their team to look around the corners, predict, and plan for upcoming supply chain needs while having the acumen to resolve daily issues will certainly have a best-in-class organization.

–Reade Kidd


…provides the necessary big-picture guidance for their colleagues to understand the fluctuating needs of the customer, and the direction, strategy, and goals of the organization. But more importantly, the leader then gives people the trust and autonomy to make decisions, solve problems, and ultimately get things done without needless intervention.

By fostering a culture of trust and independence, a good supply chain leader not only lets people do their best work—but also ensures they develop the necessary skills and confidence to thrive.

–Harrison Dean
Executive Vice President
iGPS Logistics


…builds connections. Leaders must be able to connect and engage well with customers to ensure long-term relationship success. Being able to connect with employees equally—from warehouse workers to office workers—is also an important soft skill that enables team members to feel inspired and supported in the workplace.

–Rebecca Wilson
Group Vice President
Human Resources, Kenco