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Exceptional Leadership Traits for Procurement and Supply Chain


Running a procurement or supply chain organization poses unique leadership challenges. These organizations are constantly “fighting fires,” handling unique crises, and influencing a broad network of people - internally and externally.

The range of personal contacts, cultural differences, emotions, and challenges is global. In two of my books I have used poetic license and characterized the so called normal supply chain/procurement day as frenzied or “zoo-ee”. Although some of the skills that I discuss are also required by other leaders, the sheer nature of the procurement/supply chain beast demands a special combination of these skills. They are one-off and distinct.

One of the most valued characteristics of a leader is integrity. A procurement/supply chain leader can never waiver in being honest to everyone in all their relationships. It is the foundation of establishing trust. The quickest way to demoralize your team is to not keep your word. There can be no compromise on this trait.

One of the first things a leader must make clear is what acceptable ethical behavior is. I have been fortunate to work for companies that have clear standards and strong ethics.  I personally condone a zero tolerance of any gifts or gratuities including lunches or dinners from a supplier or anyone. I recommend turning the tables around and actually budgeting your dollars for these events to avoid giving even a semblance of favoritism.

Because of today’s hectic atmosphere; procurement/supply chain leaders must be “hands on” - especially when a crisis develops. Leading from the front is a requirement; remaining detached in a crisis will not endear a leader to his or her fellow professionals.

Visible goal setting and the flexibility to constantly adjust those goals is a skill that must be repeatedly practiced and communicated. This goes hand in hand with the ability to provide discipline and structure for the team in light of all daily pressures and deadlines. Along with this, the talent to delegate - but not micromanage - is essential. This encourages team members to take risks and grow. Leaders need to show that they truly care for their team by personally conducting training in many areas.

Curiosity and the drive to wander around and find out what is really happening, especially in other departments and with suppliers, often yields useful knowledge and actionable projects. Being visible and remaining approachable cements relationship building, the linchpin of the art of procurement/supply chain.

I also recommend using Leadership by Storytelling. The leader must tell stories that happened and share the lessons of the stories with the team and others. There must be an open willingness to admit mistakes.

Sheer drive and perseverance captures the imagination of team members and other employees as well. I call this “indomitable spirit” and it is contagious. Below is my list of one-off procurement/supply chain leadership traits along with additional complimentary traits that develop from them.

Never lose sight of the fact that leading by example only works if your team is following and exceeding your example.

Here is a list of traits:

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