Soft Skills – A Priority for Procurement

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Canda Rozier

When looking at most job descriptions for procurement and sourcing positions, the emphasis is almost always on purchasing experience, how big are the deals the candidate has managed, years of category expertise, etc. And, of course these are important requirements, but they are not by any means the most critical criteria which a procurement leader should consider when building out their team. Rather, these are the baseline requirements; the true differentiators and keys to success are soft skills.

Soft skills are too often overlooked and undervalued, especially in less mature procurement organizations. But they are essential competencies to evolve from tactical purchasing to strategic procurement, and ultimately prerequisites to establishing procurement as a valued and trusted partner to the business.


What are soft skills?

If you ask a dozen procurement leaders, you may get slightly different answers to the question, but here are some that most leaders will list, along with a (very) high level description of each:


  • Critical thinking - the ability to think and analyze clearly and rationally, and to understand the logical connection between ideas and concepts.
  • Empathy and Emotional Intelligence - to recognize the emotions or feelings of another person, even if you don't fully understand why they're feeling it, and very importantly, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.
  • Communications and presentation skills - the mastery of clear, concise, and confidently written and verbal communications no matter the type of audience, coupled with the ability to be an active listener.
  • Indirect influence – the ability to guide and lead people when you don’t have direct or recognized authority over them (and often without them realizing you are leading them).
  • Embrace change - change is an inherent fact of corporate life, and ever so much in procurement; accepting and embracing change can be the difference between success and a painful and sometimes futile situation.


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Why does it matter?

If you want to move beyond tactical and operational purchasing soft skills are a prerequisite both at an individual leadership level and organizationally. It is almost impossible to find a successful procurement executive or an organization which has not emphasized and developed and mastered soft skills. In fact, these are typically mandatory characteristics for procurement success.

For example, a goal for most mature and high functioning procurement teams is to be seen as a trusted partner to the business. The means that procurement has to be successful with problem solving and creating ongoing business value; and soft skills are imperative to achieve these.

This isn’t to say that solid fundamentals of purchasing aren’t required. Of course they are. Tendering, spend analysis, attention to detail, contracting, and basic negotiations are a key part of how procurement adds value. But unless these are enhanced by the addition and development of soft skills, procurement members and the organization as a whole will never move to the next levels of success, nor can they progress along the maturity journey.

Many years ago, a very wise CFO that I worked for, said “soft skills don’t get much respect, but they can make or break your career”. It was great advice! Times have changed (thank heavens!) and soft skills are more valued and indeed are more required now than they were then, but there is still plenty of room for procurement executives to embrace, develop, and nurture these competencies, both in themselves as leaders and in their teams. I’d challenge each of you to do an inventory of your own soft skills and those of your team as you chart your procurement journey.