A few years ago, supply chain education for leaders focused almost exclusively on technical skills relevant to logistics or procurement functions. Today though, we’ve arrived at an age in which integration is a much bigger deal, meaning supply chain leaders need skills enabling them to bring disparate functions together and manage them as one.
So what are the skills that really matter for a supply chain leader?
Below you’ll find an overview of the supply chain education topics which you, your leadership colleagues, and your supply chain managers should focus on, to keep your company riding atop the waves of change, instead of sinking under the burden of transformation.
Let’s begin with one element of supply chain education which has always been critical, and always will be—the skill of interpersonal communication.
You Can Never Become Too Good at Communication
It doesn’t matter if you are an executive officer, a senior manager, or a functional head. The need for strong interpersonal communication in supply chain management has never been greater, despite the fact that much information is now shared electronically.
Data exchanges after all, are unlikely to inspire your team to improve performance, build relationships across business functions, or cultivate strong partnerships among companies in your supply network.
As mentioned many times in our blog posts, the supply chain, for all its dependence on technology and data networks, still needs a robust network of people to work effectively. The only way to develop that network is by communicating; and that makes interpersonal communication an essential skill to include in any leader’s supply chain education program.
But You Need to Know Your IT too
While the need to be a skilled communicator certainly hasn’t gone away, other areas of expertise such as business information and technology are in the ascendency, and should today be considered as key supply chain education requirements.
It goes without saying that proficiency with standard office software (especially spreadsheet applications) is a fundamental requirement for any supply chain professional.
For supply chain leadership though, the incorporation of ERP and other enterprise software into graduate and undergraduate SCM programs is not without good reason. When proprietary software becomes a subject worthy of the halls of academia, it’s clear evidence that leaders of tomorrow should no longer be strangers to major enterprise platforms such as SAP, Oracle, Sage or Microsoft Dynamics.
Big Data Should Be No Big Deal
Of course it’s one thing to know how to use enterprise software on a transactional basis, but another to take advantage of the mountains of data produced in every modern supply chain.
Advanced analytics and big data promise to bring visibility and improved decision-making into even the most complicated supply networks.
As yet though, most companies still struggle to realise big data potential. Big data difficulties are especially likely in companies lacking analytical talent, because while analytics technology is becoming easier to use, it hasn’t yet reached the stage where results are served up in a way that’s easy for all to digest.
If you want to get meaningful answers from your big data, you need people with the mathematical, econometric, and statistical skills to create and execute models to pose the questions.
Nobody expects a supply chain leader to be a data scientist. However, some understanding of analytics will help leaders get the best from big data experts, more and more of whom will join the ranks of supply chain management teams. That should be reason enough to put analytics on the supply chain education agenda, at least for managers and leaders who don’t come with the skills already ingrained.
There’s Always a Need for Project Management
Project planning and management isn’t specifically a supply chain education necessity, but then nor are any of the other subjects discussed so far. Like those other subjects though, the skills involved in project planning are invaluable tools for a supply chain leader to take advantage of.
Project management skills can be used to good effect in running of any business or business function, but especially so in supply chain management, fraught as it is with the challenges of constant change.
As companies seek to leverage partnerships for strategic success, reduce costs and increase business value through supply chain excellence, concurrent projects are almost always underway, and logistics managers are often the first people chosen to lead them.
Get Some Education in Negotiation
As already mentioned, supply chain management today is all about partnerships. This means that most senior managers and other leaders will at some time or another find themselves negotiating contracts and agreements.
Aside from ensuring partnerships are forged to be mutually beneficial and balanced, supply chain leaders need to foster alignment of the many teams and departments—not to mention companies—that must work hand-in-hand to achieve success.
Then there are the inevitable negotiations involved in procurement activity, which today’s cross-functional leaders are expected to be part of. All these factors make negotiation skills a prime target for improvement, and hence worth inclusion in any supply chain education program.
Don’t Forget Technical Cross-training
The disciplines outlined in this post are all vital components of a complete supply chain education, particularly for those who will manage functional, cross-functional, or business-to-business operations. That said, it’s not safe to assume that without technical know-how, these skills make a supply chain manager. Technical expertise is as critical in supply chain management today as it has ever been.
In fact, to be the best supply chain leader that you can be, or to employ the best leaders in the profession, it’s important to spread technical supply chain expertise right across the business.
Wherever possible, imbue your warehouse managers with procurement and transportation knowledge, your transport managers with warehouse and procurement expertise, and your procurement leaders with logistics skills.
Not only will this strengthen your entire supply chain management team, but by adding technical cross-training to the other skills covered above, your company will be set to break down departmental and inter-company barriers, thus driving alignment, integration, and collaboration in both the internal and extended supply chain.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2017, under the title “Supply Chain Education: Which Skills Should today’s Leaders Focus On?” in Supply Chain Secrets’ website.