7 Traits of Effective Procurement Leaders
Seven traits of effective procurement leaders and how to hone in on the characteristics that will further develop your leadership skills.
By Mackenzie Oakley | January 19, 2023
Are you a reader? There are dozens of genres to choose from and with nearly a million books published every year (not including self-publications), there is bound to be something for everyone. Access isn’t an issue, either. Libraries have transitioned to digital offerings, partnering with apps that make checking out ebooks from your local branch easy and free. Audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in publishing and it doesn’t take long to find a bookclub offered by a local community center, Facebook group or celebrity on Instagram.
When it comes to self-help and professional development, the genre is definitely not lacking. In fact, a self-help book titled 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the best-selling books in the entire world. It’s a book that comes recommended by CEOs and Presidents – Una’s own managing partner recommends the book regularly. The framework has even been adopted by schools across the country, teaching even the youngest of generations how to adapt and achieve greatness in both personal and, eventually, professional settings.
Traits of effective procurement leaders
In this article, we’ll use the seven habits depicted in the book as loose inspiration for the traits and characteristics that make up an effective procurement leader. It seems the focus when hiring or deciding who to work with has moved away from the typical “hard skills” to finding someone who can do things like communicate effectively, handle adversity, and practice resiliency.
Procurement and the actual roles within the function, while nuanced and challenging at times, can – for the most part – be learned on the job or acquired through a training course. It’s all of the other skills that someone takes the time to nurture and develop that will truly set them apart as a leader in the procurement space.
These characteristics include:
- Self awareness
- Long term & strategic thinking
- Effective communication skills
- Team player
Hard skills are nice, but someone who is well-rounded in terms of how they respond in certain situations, how they define success and prioritize goals, and how they work with others is what will set them apart as an effective leader.
Effective people and leaders tend to have a degree of self awareness – the ability to acknowledge and understand the things that make you who you are. They’re in tune with their beliefs, personality traits, values and emotions. Individuals with strong self awareness understand how their actions impact those around them, and proactively take responsibility for said actions.
Procurement practitioners are always dealing with other functions and interested third parties, all of which are comprised of differing personalities. How one chooses to proactively respond to the challenges of working with a complicated supplier, for example, will directly impact the end result.
If contract negotiations turn sour, will you throw your hands up and quit, blaming the supplier for being unreasonable? Or, will you take a step back, reexamine the situation, and approach the supplier again with a possible solution and positive energy?
In the end, knowing that often times the only thing we can control is how we react to certain situations is key to developing crucial leadership skills.
Long Term & Strategic Thinking
Procurement professionals are expected to be able to shift out of tactical mode to start thinking – and behaving – strategically. Strategic thinking involves stepping back to consider the bigger picture rather than focusing solely on the immediate problems at hand. This isn’t always easy to do, given our human nature to get caught up in busywork.
True leadership entails setting clear goals and objectives and formulating a plan to work towards them. At Una, our leadership team is very good about analyzing workloads and our teams’ day-to-day activities to keep a pulse on whether or not certain projects are warranted. If changes need to be made, they’re done so with our long-term goals in mind.
With self awareness and thinking long term comes the ability to remain disciplined. Prioritizing important tasks, avoiding distractions, and remaining focused on what truly matters is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.”
It comes down to being able to decipher between what’s urgent and what’s important. Managing crises all of the time is stressful, and reacting to situations that seem urgent but are really distractions or downright wasteful isn’t beneficial, either.
Learning how to say “no” to certain situations and delegating effectively is the path towards spending time on the activities that will have the greatest impact.
Focusing on Quadrant 2, as depicted in the image to the right, allows us to think ahead, build relationships, and prevent crises from happening altogether.
This also lets us implement the Pareto Principle — 80% of your results come from 20% of your time – something procurement folks know all too well!
Effective Communication Skills
If you have strong communication skills, then the ability to build mutually beneficial relationships with both internal and external parties will come naturally. And, procurement is filled with opportunities to be a great communicator. From meeting with business stakeholders to understand their requirements and negotiating with a supplier to get the best deal (while being careful not to damage the relationship), to managing relationships with your strategic partners, these skills come into play all of the time.
The benefits of developing mutually beneficial supplier relationships, for example, can include cost reduction, unlocking savings beyond cost, improved efficiency, reduced waste, minimized price volatility, and continuity of supply. Organizations must ensure they become a customer of choice, which is why procurement leaders should hone in on their effective communication skills and prioritize nurturing these relationships.
Piggybacking off of great communication comes the opportunity to develop the ability to listen. Better yet, the ability to listen empathetically and fully understand the problem before offering up advice or solutions.
A wise philosopher once said we were given two ears and one mouth. This means we should listen twice as much as we speak. In procurement, we’re repeatedly reminding buyers to follow procedure and remain in compliance. Many times, however, we’re forgetting to ask why – and then actually listening to the response. Talk to your mavericks, discover why they are going off-process, and use their feedback to make it as easy as possible to purchase the right way.
Take the lead when it comes to cross-functional collaboration within your organization. If teams are “siloed” and only focused on their own initiatives or goals, it can derail the organization’s overall objectives. Spend time with other functions to understand their challenges and develop a way for procurement to stay on track so everyone is working towards the same end game.
Two heads are better than one. There is no “I” in team. Teamwork makes the dream work.
You get the idea. Leaders who promote true collaboration will undoubtedly build teams who are ready to find new solutions to old problems. It’s also recognizing that together, they can garner better results than they could on their own.
(Insert shameless plug for Una: As a group purchasing organization, we leverage the collective buying power of our members to secure deeply discounted pricing on the goods and services they need to run their businesses.
Partnering with a GPO levels the playing field for organizations of any size to take advantage of increased buying power and favorable pre-negotiated contracts from the naton’s leading suppliers, which is access they probably wouldn’t be able to secure on their own.)
When you work well together with others, you begin to appreciate and value their differences which opens the door to new opportunities and perspectives. No one is trying to take over or eliminate your position on a certain project, it’s simply the realization that when everyone comes together for the greater cause, good – and even better – things can happen.
Ted Lasso, anyone?
There are a ton of leadership lessons to be learned in this feel-good show (maybe that’s another article for another day!) but one is particularly relevant to today’s discussion: be curious, not judgmental. In order to remain an effective leader, we must commit time to “renewing” ourselves. Make room for growth, ask the right questions, seek out what’s next, approach others and situations with curiosity, not judgment.
In procurement, it’s common for practitioners to strive to provide value beyond cost savings. If we’re able to drive home the notion that procurement isn’t just about pinching pennies, then others will begin to see it as a vital function that’s necessary for the success of the organization.
Procurement leaders can do this by actively listening (see above), continually learning (being curious), remaining humble, and driving effective change. Ask yourself, for example, “How can we work with stakeholders internally and educate them on what we can do? How we can help them achieve overall department goals, rather than just cost savings?”
It could lead to small wins here and there, like implementing a piece of technology. Or, because you actively sought to fully understand an issue and asked the right questions, you developed a new approach that drastically improved efficiencies within a department.
Procurement can, for the most part, be learned on the job or acquired through training. It's all of the other skills that someone takes the time to nurture and develop that will truly set them apart as a leader in the procurement space.
Becoming an effective procurement leader
If you’re looking to become a leader within the sourcing space, apply these habits in your current role:
- Seek out new suppliers and negotiate better deals
- Set clear goals for your procurement activities
- Prioritize important or strategic tasks
- Strive for mutually beneficial relationships with internal and external partners
- Actively listen to the needs of your customers
- Work collaboratively with other members of the procurement team and other departments, and,
- Maintain your own well-being and make room for continued growth
Keep in mind, the traits of effective procurement leaders don’t just develop overnight. It takes conscious effort, internal reflection, and at times, it may feel uncomfortable.
Luckily though, thanks to Ted Lasso, we know that discomfort is often a sign of progress:
“Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”