Procurement-Specific Leadership Skills

Along with thorough understanding and experience, here are eight procurement-specific leadership skills that will make you a better leader.

By Hugo Britt | July 6, 2023


Some leadership experts argue that when you reach a certain level of seniority, the skillsets you’ve gained over the course of your career fade into irrelevance to be replaced by generic leadership skills that are indistinguishable and interchangeable across professions.

It doesn’t matter, they say, whether you’re a senior executive in a consultancy or a partner in a law firm – all you will need are generic skills.

Procurement-specific leadership skills

We disagree. The hard-won skills that you’ve developed over the course of your procurement or supply management career will always be relevant, no matter how high you climb.

Even if you’re no longer rolling up your sleeves and writing RFPs or negotiating contracts, having a thorough understanding and deep experience in these traits will make you an overall better procurement leader.

Here are eight procurement-specific leadership skills to nurture and develop:

The hard-won skills you’ve developed over the course of your procurement or supply management career will always be relevant, no matter how high you climb.

Strategic (and actionable) vision

Sure, any senior leader can have a vision, but it takes domain knowledge and experience to understand how to translate this vision into procurement action.

Procurement leaders must possess a forward-thinking mindset and the ability to develop and drive the overall procurement strategy in line with organizational objectives. They provide guidance on optimizing the sourcing process, enhancing supplier relationships, and leveraging procurement as a strategic function that adds value to the business.

Supplier relationship management

The job of building and nurturing strong relationships with suppliers never stops, even at the most senior levels of the procurement team. This shouldn’t be surprising, as procurement professionals often find themselves dealing directly with a suppliers’ CEO. Procurement leaders may handle escalated issues and engage with suppliers at a strategic level to enhance collaboration and drive innovation.

Risk management

Procurement leaders play a critical role in assessing and mitigating risks associated with the supply chain. They monitor their organization’s risk appetite, oversee the implementation of risk management frameworks, monitor market trends, and proactively identify potential disruptions.

By working closely with relevant stakeholders, they and their teams develop contingency plans and implement strategies to maintain a resilient and secure supply chain.

Decision making

High-level procurement leaders rely on comprehensive data analysis and insights to make informed decisions. They leverage the outputs of advanced analytical tools and technologies to assess supplier performance, monitor market conditions, and identify opportunities for cost optimization and process improvement.

Seasoned procurement executives are able to glance at a dashboard to interpret the KPIs that matter, then use these insights to drive strategic initiatives and align procurement activities with broader organizational objectives.

Cross-function collaboration

Procurement professionals generally recognize the need to work closer with other functions, but it takes leadership and determination to forge meaningful cross-functional relationships. 

Executives in procurement leadership roles collaborate closely with other organizational departments, including finance, operations, and senior management. They provide strategic guidance, align procurement strategies with the needs of these departments, and foster collaboration to achieve common goals. By leveraging their leadership and communication skills, they ensure effective cross-functional teamwork and alignment.

People management

Procurement leaders are responsible for managing and developing a high-performing procurement team. They provide leadership, guidance, and mentorship to their direct reports, fostering a culture of collaboration, accountability, and continuous learning.

Executives in procurement leadership roles ensure that the team has the necessary skills, resources, and support to meet organizational goals. They set performance expectations, conduct performance evaluations, and identify opportunities for skill development and career growth.

Procurement-specific leadership skills like managing supplier relationships, mitigating risk, and having a strong grasp on managing people and change all work together to make you a better leader.

Change leadership

Procurement executives act as change leaders, driving transformational initiatives from the procurement function. They champion the adoption of new technologies, process improvements, and best practices.

Executives communicate the strategic rationale behind changes, secure stakeholder buy-in, and provide guidance throughout the implementation process.

Ethical and sustainable practices

The rising importance of ESG means procurement leaders are expected to prioritize ethical and sustainable practices. They promote responsible sourcing, environmental considerations, and social responsibility throughout the supply chain.

Executives champion corporate social responsibility initiatives, engage with suppliers on sustainability practices, and ensure compliance with ethical guidelines and regulations.

You may have the skills necessary to be a great procurement leader, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Utilizing a group purchasing organization to help manage things like supplier relationships and risk can free up your time so you can focus on other strategic initiatives.

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