Five most important areas in which a procurement person can use “soft skills” to get ahead

Jon Hansen

Go ahead and do a Google search using the term soft skills.

While we all have a variety of vague musings regarding what it means when people say that a person has excellent soft skills, Google provides a litany of personal attributes. The fact that there is a long list suggests that in its algorithmic wisdom, the search engine included everything that was even remotely relating the search phrase because it wasn’t quite sure what it means either.   

For the sake of this article, let’s agree that when we talk about soft skills, we are referring to an individual’s ability to navigate a complicated situation using people skills to get what they want. Think of it as being an effective negotiator.

Seeing that negotiation is purportedly an inherent attribute of every procurement professional, in which five areas should this skill be “used?” That’s right, one skill – being soft, that you can use in five different scenarios to get ahead.

Scenario 1: Bubble wrap your baseball bat

You have heard the saying about walking softly and carrying a big stick. For procurement people, it should be: walk loudly (translation; confidently) and swing a padded bat.

However, and despite the growing recognition of the strategic importance of the supply chain to an organization’s bottom line, instead of speaking with authority, we tend to nibble around the edges of a meaningful dialogue hoping to get our say in before someone dismissively cuts us off.

We must stop that now. Can you say, “batter up!”

Scenario 2: Drive the bandwagon

Have you ever noticed that procurement people are always saying that they are “ignored” until something goes wrong? Take risk management as an example.

During a panel discussion, an audience of procurement pros were asked: who is responsible for managing risk in the supply chain? The response was legal, finance, or anyone other than us. That said, most in the audience acknowledged that if something goes wrong, procurement ultimately takes the blame.

If you are going to take the blame, then step up and take ownership of the situation or the problem. This way, if things go wrong – which they won’t because we know what we are doing, the blame will be deserved.    

Scenario 3: Tell the data emperor they are naked

For most procurement pros, measuring or quantifying their contribution to an organization is subjective and frustrating. For example, who decided that cost avoidance was not a legitimate thing.

Next time you negotiate, do so for a higher rate and see how long it takes someone in finance or higher up to burst into your office, snorting fire and asking why you are paying so much. Then calmly – remember people skills, tell them that cost avoidance isn’t real.

Scenario 4: Clean your “own” room

Sticking with the data theme, everyone talks about the necessity for clean data if we hope to fully leverage the emerging digital technologies to drive greater efficiencies and savings. The question is, who is responsible for data cleansing?

Whoever made the mess should be responsible. In this case, the individual or individuals responsible for data governance. Of course, many organizations do not have a data governance team, so it is up to you to set one up (refer to driving the bandwagon section). After all, who better than procurement should own responsibility for things such as category management?

Scenario 5: Control technology before it controls you

The funny thing about automating the supply chain; procurement people see technology as a threat to their jobs. That’s right, AI chatbots and all the other digital bells and whistles are going to in Terminator “I’ll be back” fashion take over.

So, instead of waiting for technology to happen to you, do what CMOs are doing in their area – take control of the technology acquisition process. After all, when was the last time you heard of a CMO worrying about losing their jobs?

Perfunctory conclusion

Life isn’t about what happens to you, but how you react to what happens. How this saying fits in here, we don’t know, but it sounds good?