Procurement skills are more valuable now than ever. As market conditions change rapidly, organizations increasingly depend on supply chain, sourcing and procurement professionals to ensure and enable smooth day-to-day operations while also providing high-level insights, advice and strategy. For years procurement has been asking for a seat at the table, and now, organizations are making room. Indeed, it’s an important role and top talent is in high demand.
According to Hays, a UK recruiting firm, 70 percent of organizations expect to increase or maintain their level of procurement activity in the next year. At the same time, they also report that in the previous year, 79 percent experienced a skill shortage. So, the market is primed for advancement. So, whether you’re new to the profession or a seasoned veteran, ensuring you have the right procurement skills is crucial.
In this blog, we’ll explore future-focused procurement skills you need to succeed. But first, we’ll share some background on the benefits of working in procurement. Then, provide a brief overview of the procurement career path and common responsibilities. Next, we’ll share the skills for advancing your career in procurement and highlighting your value. Finally, we’ll provide additional resources to deepen your procurement skills.
While few children grow up dreaming of being in procurement, the field is challenging, rewarding and full of opportunity. Here are a few of the key benefits.
Benefits of a career in procurement
As organizations grow, so too does their need to select the right vendors, maximize value and minimize risk. In short, businesses will always need professionals with procurement skills and insights.
The Hays study referenced above also reports that 69 percent of respondents plan to recruit new roles in the next year. As organizations adopt technology to improve efficiency and automation to eliminate manual tasks, procurement teams can spend more time on high-value, proactive and strategic projects.
Once started, procurement positions offer room for growth. Titles vary greatly from one organization to the next but roles in the field range from entry-level to executive.
1. Entry-level procurement titles
- Procurement analyst
- Purchasing agent
- Procurement assistant
- Purchasing coordinator
2. Mid-level procurement titles
- Procurement manager
- Category manager
- Strategic sourcing manager
- Senior buyer
- Supply chain manager
3. Senior-level procurement titles
- Head of procurement
- Supply chain director
- Procurement director
- Vice president of procurement
- Chief procurement officer (CPO)
Procurement managers build impressive networks, both internally and externally. Indeed, they get to spend time collaborating with everyone in their organization from executives to department heads to stakeholders.
The most successful practitioners take a consultative, service-minded approach as they solve problems with their colleagues. This enables them to build meaningful relationships and trust key departments like finance, legal, IT and more. In addition, procurement managers work closely with vendors, suppliers and consultants. All of these connections create a support system of peers who can offer insights, advice and opportunity.
Procurement professionals have a view of all the ins and outs of the business. If you’re naturally curious, enjoy expanding your knowledge and like to learn how things fit together, procurement is the perfect place to do that. From day-to-day operations and high-value projects, you’re essential to enabling success. Consequently, this gives you a big-picture perspective and ability to deliver value to strategic conversations.
Variety in the day-to-day
In procurement, you may spend one day researching software, the next day negotiating with an asset management contract and the next day writing an RFP for a high-impact project. So, if you’re looking for a career where each day brings you something new and interesting, procurement is a good fit. Indeed, you’ll be able to explore various markets, conduct research and learn about the latest and greatest technology, goods and services.
Procurement career path and responsibilities
The procurement career path
There are procurement roles in every industry across the globe. However, very few practicing procurement professionals set their sights on a role in the field when they enter the workforce. Generally, they have degrees in areas like economics, business administration, finance, accounting and engineering.
The majority of practitioners learn about procurement while managing other duties in adjacent roles. For example, an accountant may learn about procurement while reconciling vendor invoices. Or, a contract review specialist may work with procurement to negotiate and red line contracts in the final stages of the procurement cycle.
Then, as procurement roles open, they are often filled by internal candidates that have shown adaptability, aptitude and enthusiasm for the role. Once on the job, they dig in and learn as they go, often pursuing formalized training later in their career as they seek to advance.
Characteristics of successful procurement professionals
Because learning on the job is common in procurement, candidates are curious, eager to learn, determined and adaptable. They are detail oriented, analytical and organized. In addition, they are often independent, logical and collaborative.
The procurement team is often synonymous with buying, but the role is far more complex than simply making purchases. As a whole, the team is responsible for:
Procurement policy compliance
Ensure the organization’s procurement policy is easy to understand and supports the business’ goals. Then, educate stakeholders and ensure compliance to reduce maverick spend.
Download a procurement policy template here.
Align with stakeholders, department leads and executives to understand business challenges and goals. Subsequently, explore current market trends, digital transformation tools and return on investment to ensure success.
Procurement process management and optimization
Support and follow established procurement process workflows from procurement request intake to vendor debriefs and ongoing vendor performance evaluations. Routinely review the results and look for opportunities to improve efficiency, collaboration and outcomes. Subsequently refine policies, due diligence questionnaires and RFP templates.
RFP management and vendor selection
Leverage RFx tools to facilitate strategic sourcing and manage the RFP timeline. Lead initial market research and vendor profiles to aid supplier selection. Create, issue and manage RFPs in a digital RFP management system. Manage proposal evaluation and final vendor selection.
Explore the RFP process in more detail: Download the RFP process guide.
Spend management and cost analysis
Evaluate and improve the organization’s spend while aligning efforts with organizational goals. This includes strategic requisition processing, budgeting, planning purchases, managing inventory and more.
Supplier relationship management
Use vendor management best practices throughout negotiation, contracting, vendor onboarding and renewal. Then, conduct regular vendor performance evaluations and supplier risk assessments.
Risk and compliance management
Develop third-party risk management and compliance strategies to protect the organization. Mitigate concerns to avoid data loss, inventory shortages, delayed delivery and unnecessary exposure.
Contract negotiation and management
Work closely with stakeholders and the legal team to navigate vendor negotiations. Secure favorable contract terms, service level agreements (SLAs) and implementation timelines.
Data analytics and forecasting
Collect and analyze procurement data like cost analysis, direct and indirect spend, category spend, RFP data and return on investment.
Naturally, this list doesn’t detail every sourcing duty, but it should give you a good idea of why the procurement skills listed below are so important.
Top 7 procurement skills
The most important skills for procurement are changing. While technical hard skills remain foundational, more nuanced soft skills are increasingly valuable as teams adopt technology, become more involved in business strategy and adapt to rapidly shifting priorities.
Recent research from Deloitte highlights how the organizations successfully adapt, saying, “…high performers foster resilient workforces by hiring for specific mindsets, such as adaptability, instead of skill sets.” Furthermore, GEP’s CPO research emphasizes the need to hire teams with future-focused talents explaining, “Building talent pools that are futuristic and have digital skills will surely have the largest impact on procurement functions.”
So, procurement professionals regardless of experience level should consider focusing on these seven key areas.
1. Digital aptitude
An Accenture survey reported that nearly 70 percent of CPOs plan to invest in advanced technology in the next three years. And, GEP reports that 50 percent of procurement’s overall budget will be dedicated to technology designed to automate and improve efficiency. Unfortunately, only 38 percent of the CPOs surveyed by Accenture thought their workforce had the skills required to use those tools.
Accordingly, digital skills are a high priority for organizations looking to recruit procurement talent. Some procurement job descriptions include preferences for experience with specific technology, but for the most part, recruiters and hiring managers want to ensure broad familiarity with tech. In short, you should understand how to navigate, troubleshoot and maximize the value of technology. Then, take it to the next level by exploring the procurement technology landscape.
2. Data management and analytics
Data analytics and technology go hand in hand. As procurement continues to undergo digital transformation, data becomes more readily available. Unfortunately, most of the procurement data gathered from software and processes is underutilized. In fact, Deloitte identified data quality, standardization and governance as one of the biggest digital challenges to CPOs.
Even for numbers-inclined procurement pros, advanced data analytics can be challenging. Specifically, AI and machine learning systems are only accurate when fed clean data from a variety of systems. To gather reliable data and reach accurate conclusions, procurement professionals need to have a foundational understanding of data basics, logic and visualizations. In addition, they must be able to clearly and easily explain reports and analytics to others with little to no background knowledge of procurement.
3. Emotional intelligence
Procurement isn’t an easy job. Often, you have to be a gatekeeper. When a stakeholder has an urgent need and wants to immediately implement a solution, you’re the one that says ‘slow down, let’s think about this’. In addition, you are responsible for ensuring productive supplier relationships which can be contentious.
It’s a tough position to be in and it takes tact, patience and empathy to manage it successfully. And, according to Deloitte, conflict management, emotional intelligence and self awareness all ranked in the top five most important soft skill training needs in procurement.
Emotional intelligence as a procurement skill takes time to develop, but it starts with listening — really listening. Far too often, procurement professionals view themselves as task masters instead of strategic partners. But, successful procurement managers collaborate, encourage, respond quickly, ask questions and proactively look for ways to make life easier for others.
If you’re like many procurement professionals, negotiation is either something you look forward to or dread. Understandably, it can be stressful, and it often feels personal. A good procurement negotiator finds the best possible win-win outcome for their organization as well as the vendor. A helpful article from ProcureHere puts it like this,
“Remember negotiation isn’t just about being tenacious in search of your goals, it’s about understanding and exploring the needs and aims of the other party in any discussion. The ability to read people and recognize when to compromise based on that understanding is a skill you should nurture. Every negotiation is unique, that means your ability to be flexible is a crucial part of success.”
Networking is a crucial skill for procurement. More than just working with people, procurement requires relationships that develop over time and are built on trust and respect. You’ll find that the most respected procurement leaders are excellent networkers. Indeed, they are active both within their organizations as well as procurement-industry groups.
The benefit of networking as a procurement practitioner is two-fold. First, you get to learn from others. And, second, you can be an advocate for the practice. It’s all about building understanding and creating genuine connections with people. You simply can’t advance your career without the support, influence and endorsement of others.
6. Social responsibility
Broadly speaking, social responsibility, as a skill in procurement, is the ability to understand how procurement influences, impacts and improves social issues. For example, this includes environmental, societal and governance concerns, often referred to collectively as ESG.
While many organizations already have initiatives that address social issues, they may not fully understand how procurement can put them into action. It’s a big gap as businesses and consumers start to make buying decisions based on both affordability and shared values. One of the best indicators of an organization’s commitment to social issues is where they spend their money. Accordingly, experience with sustainable sourcing, supplier diversity, impact investing and compliance are a huge asset when seeking a leadership role in procurement.
7. Risk management
When people think about risk management, they usually associate the skill with legal or IT roles. However, risk management is (and has always been) an important procurement skill. Think about all of the ways you rely on vendors to ensure your organization operates effectively. Now, consider the kinds of questions you can ask vendors to investigate their risk levels.
According to a study by Prevalent, 55 percent of organizations experienced a third-party risk exposure over the last year including a compliance violation, supply chain disruption or security incident. The same study reports that this year, organizations will seek more risk visibility from their vendors. Consequently, it will be up to procurement, at least in part, to interpret the results, weigh the risks and react accordingly.
While these skills are our top seven for future-focused procurement professionals, there are countless other skills that contribute to success in procurement. Here are a few more skills to explore:
- Purchase forecasting
- Organizational alignment
- Strategic thinking
- Proactive problem solving
- KPI analysis
- Time management
- Project management
- Change management
- Investment management
Resources for procurement skills training
So, are you ready to jump into procurement? Looking to update your knowledge? Or, wanting to connect with and learn from peers? Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available.
Procurement and supply chain higher education
While most procurement professionals don’t hold a degree specific to the field, there are some universities that offer programs. Many of these courses are available online, so you can access them no matter where you live.
- Cornell University – Procurement strategy – Certificate program
- Arizona State University – Supply chain management – Undergraduate program
- Ball State University – Logistics and supply chain management – Undergraduate program
- Webster University – Procurement and acquisitions management – Graduate program
- Michigan State University – Online supply chain management – Graduate program
Self-guided courses and certifications
Looking to go at your own pace? These online courses enable you to pursue technical procurement skills in your free time. If you’re already in a procurement role, check with your human resources team to see if they have additional learning resources or funding for these certifications.
- Coursera – Procurement training for all levels
- LinkedIn Learning – Procurement courses
- The Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS)
- Institute for Supply Management (ISM)
- American Purchasing Society (APS)
- Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM)
- Procurement tactics – Negotiation training
- Next Level Purchasing Association
- Supply Chain Management Dojo Academy
- National Institute for Public Procurement (NIGP)
Keep up with procurement trends and news while connecting with like-minded practitioners in one of these popular forums.
Ultimately, whether you learn on the job or seek formal training, procurement skills are incredibly valuable. So, as you deepen your knowledge, build technical and non-technical skills and create a network of peers, remember that the time you spend is an investment in yourself and the future.