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The Real Deal - What Skills Best Public and Private Purchasers Share

86th Annual International Purchasing Conference & Educational Exhibit

May 2001


Julie S. Roberts

Wednesday, May 2
Workshop GH

Sandra M. Schmitzer, C.P.M., A.P.P., CPPO
Facilities and Office Support Commodities Manager
J.D. Edwards & Company

The skills that make good purchasers/supply managers great are the same between the public and private sectors. Though the situations requiring a purchaser/supply manager's skills may vary between the sectors, the skills required for sound purchases and positive working relationships are the same.

The following are a few of the characteristics or skill sets identified by Schmitzer that the best purchasers/supply managers have:

  • Interpersonal skills — Perhaps only the accounting department interfaces with as many different departments as the purchasing/supply management department does, and on top of that, purchasers/supply managers must work with countless suppliers with whom the organization does business. In fact, much of a purchaser's/supply manager's day is spent communicating. Thus, it is important to learn and use good communication skills whether it be by email, letter, telephone, or face-to-face — one-on-one, in a cross-functional team situation, or before a large group.
  • Decisionmaking skills — This can be a challenging task as it requires not only good information gathering skills but also good analytical skills. A benefit of good communication skills is the ability to gather information easily. Suppliers can even provide information about what's going on in a particular industry that might affect the purchases or logistics surrounding past purchases. Gathering information and conducting value analyses help to ensure that value is added in the decisions that are made. It is particularly important to the value of return on investment (ROI) analysis and plain common sense.
  • Teaming abilities — Forming a good team and identifying and using the skills of the participants to benefit the team are key to a successful cross-functional team. Teaming abilities also include being able to instigate team spirit, inspire commitment within the team, and impart ownership.
  • Negotiation skills — One of the keys for improving negotiation skills is to realize all of the times in which a purchaser/supply manager negotiates. This, of course, includes the formal negotiation process, but also includes quick telephone calls or emails to suppliers or internal departments. It may include discussion with fellow co-workers and can even extend to times in a supply manager's personal life such as agreeing on a place to go to dinner with friends. Once a supply manager is able to see and think about all of the negotiations he or she engages in, it becomes easier to find where the weaknesses are in the negotiation process and then working to improve them.
  • Influencing and persuading skills — These "sales" skills are important for selling ideas or plans, as well as selling the department to the entire organization. This skill set requires purchasers/supply managers to be credible and ethical. Consistently practicing these values helps instill them in the minds of those a supply manager is trying to "sell" to.
  • Change management skills — Supply managers who are flexible, adaptable, and eager to learn are not only pleasant to work with, but are a huge asset to the organization. The best purchasers/supply managers in the public and private sectors have developed these traits.

What do the best purchasers/supply managers from the public and private sectors look like? Though the circumstances vary, purchasers/supply managers who are the best in their sectors utilize the above skills and others thereby reflecting strength in the procurement function both inside and outside their organizations.

By Julie S. Roberts, Writer for Purchasing Today®.

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