5 Traits of Successful Supply Chain Managers

A newcomer to the supply chain industry can soon realize that this area requires mastering a very particular set of skills.

Over the past 10 years, business has changed the way it manages supply chain. Once, it was embedded in-house as the middle part of the product or service cycle.

Today, externalization and automation have meant that supply chain managers – at both ends of the value chain- must transition from a technical job, to the strategic management arena. “The mental shift to supply chain-as-a-process leads inevitably to the shift of the role of the supply chain executive from a functional focus to process focused, and to supply chain leadership becoming part of the executive team,” J. Paul Dittmann, Director of Corporate Partnerships at the University of Tennessee says.


Supply chain managers rely on collaboration. They may have a dozen employees under direct supervision, but hundreds of people within their network of deployment, beyond their direct scope of authority.

Kevin Wilson and Valerie Barbad, from Kedge Business School, assert that supply chain managers are “boundary spanners,” becoming an internal interface between local and corporate managements in different departments, in-between selling and buying companies.

They must also deal with the long-term relationship between the company and its suppliers, as they must leverage the strategic and operational capabilities of individual agents to help them achieve significant, ongoing benefits to the entire network.


Supply chain experts must muster a geographically disperse team. While many executives from other fields have to deal with a large number of offices and subsidiaries, supply chain executives not only have a team on the field, but a group of people who are literally on the road. This means that they have to walk back-and-forth a thin boundary between their technical expertise, such as a comprehensive real-time route visualization, and a set of emotional skills such as the capacity to effectively delegate responsibilities not only to their own team, but to other companies, and trust them with valued assets on their way to customers.

A communicating leader

A pleasant work environment and teamwork are crucial to any business. However, if the supply chain lacks these skills, it can be the difference between customer success and utter failure within minutes. Those who are not able to present quality, accurate, adequate, credible and timely information, and make sure that their team, superiors and networks have understood, provided feedback and assimilated their message, can have several difficulties ahead.

In such a dynamic and disperse stage of operations, there are several chances to breach trust and fail to be accountable on the way to customers or suppliers. In that regard, supply chain managers must speak different languages at the same time. They must understand the connection and interdependencies on procurement, logistics, manufacturing, marketing and sales, as a common interface with suppliers and customers. They are “masters at building close collaborative relationships with their companies’ leaders in sales and marketing, human resources, and finance to get the whole picture”, says Professor Dittmann.

A real-time analyzer

From the moment an order is placed, there is no time to lose. Supply chain managers have to assess quickly different factors from several levels of information within seconds and make close calls to address challenges that may arise, such as stock problems, inclement weather, traffic conditions or relationship problems with the supplier or the customer.

On the other hand, they must be able to convey to a representative in point A of the supply network why a failure to comply with commitments in time can have severe consequences for compliance in point B and C, and then can ricochet back to point A.


Supply chain managers must be able to switch their M.O. between a warehouse inspections, IT visualization meetings, financial reports, and sales calls.  In network management, cross-sectional accountability can make a difference, and it may be up to these executives to bridge the gap and secure success for the entire network.

That way, they are key to effectively linking Michael Porter’s “value chain” primary activities (Inbound Logistics, Operations, Outbound Logistics, Marketing and Sales and Service) and secondary activities (Procurement, Human Resource Management, Technological Development and Infrastructure).

What other skills do you find essential – and unique- to a supply chain manager? We appreciate your comments and suggestions, as we will continue discussing logistics and supply chain managers’ role this month.

Francisca is the Business Development Director of Drivin, a SaaS transportation management solution that generates an optimized delivery plan, improves customer service, and reduces transportation costs by up to 30% from day one.