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Developing a World Class Skill Set


Larry C. Giunipero
Larry C. Giunipero, NAPM Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, 850-644-8224,
Alvin Williams
Alvin Williams, Professor and Chair, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, 601-266-4634,

86th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2001 

Abstract. Changes in the Purchasing/Supply Management area require changes in the skills required for purchasers do effectively perform their duties. This presentation taken from data with over 100 organizations focuses on the skill sets necessary for purchasers in the 21st Century.

Introduction. There have been significant discussions in practitioner journals, such as Purchasing Today®, of how the purchasing function needs to elevate its skill level to contribute in a more strategic role. The intent of this presentation is to establish a broad framework that will enable purchasers to identify some of the key criteria and characteristics necessary to move towards a world class skill set. The concept of the world class purchaser is discussed to provide a view of the "ideal individual". This will be followed with a discussion highlighting some of the general key skill sets which include: team skills, analytical ability problem solving, computer literacy, negotiations, technical competence and professionalism. Next actual examples of the various approaches which organizations are now using to implement these required skill sets in practice are covered. These examples will include a range of techniques from job descriptions to skills matrices to skill improvement models. Finally, quantitative data from surveys will highlight the skills which managers feel are most important in today's environment.

The World Class Purchaser. "The world class purchaser is an individual who visualizes and approaches his or her job from a strategic perspective in dealing with the supplier firm-purchaser firm-customer linkage. This individual continually embraces and leverages his or her skills and knowledge of critical supply chain activities to provide value in meeting corporate and customer objectives."

The Skill Sets. The top ten most highly rated skills were: 1) interpersonal communications; 2) decision making; 3) teaming abilities; 4)analytical; 5) negotiation; 6) managing change; 7) customer focus; 8) influencing and persuasion; 9) strategic, and 10) understanding business conditions. A skill is defined as the ability to use one's knowledge effectively. A skill is a developed ability and usually this development is acquired on the job or in formal training sessions. These top ten are loaded with a heavy dose of interpersonal type skills. Other than decision making and analytical abilities they focus on the need to be successful in human interactions and in influencing these interactions. Personal computers and the Internet will relieve much of the daily drudgery in the purchasing job. This necessary relief will allow for the development of a more project oriented buyer who is the key connecting point in their firm's supply chain.

So how have these skills affected the changing role of the purchaser? First, it is important to remember that the skills required of a world class purchaser have not changed as much as how these skills will be applied. In fact interpersonal communications and ability to make decisions have been viewed as important skills in a purchasers skill set for many years. Only now the application and emphasis has changed. Instead of using your interpersonal skills to expedite you need to use them to develop relationships with suppliers, to work as part of a cross functional team. Decisions on many key purchases and contracts are not so much the sole authority of the purchaser as they are made as part of a buying team.

Moving Strategically. As purchasers move to a more strategic and value added emphasis the job becomes different. Daily routine functions such as placing orders and expediting are delegated to users or automated. Replacing these tasks are higher level objectives such as developing a new supplier, negotiating shared information agreements with key suppliers, developing a plan for your ideal supply base. Measurement systems for the function must change to incorporate progress on many of these higher level tasks. At the end of a day, a purchaser no longer should be bragging that "I placed 50 purchase orders and got three critical shipments expedited". Instead of focus on such functionally driven skills the buyer needs to look enterprise wide and promote themselves as the key link between the final customer at the end of the supply chain and the supplier at the start of the chain. In this environment progress is evaluated over a longer period of time. For on most the long range projects and plans progress is often painfully slow and it is not until after some time that actual progress occurs. Thus the concern becomes to develop skills mentioned above in a manner that will allow the purchaser to make a difference.

Our findings show that the organizations where such skills flourish allow purchasers to continually improve his/her skills. Developing skills is usually done through a focus on professional development and training. In these organizations purchasing is viewed as a profit contributor and a team player that delivers value. Once these skills are attained the individual knows they must focus on solving problems but in a very flexible framework since there are often many paths to a problem solution. Above all the purchaser needs to be ethical and maintain the trust and confidence of management suppliers and customers.

Research Sample. The sample consisted of 136 purchasing professionals. Respondent's titles/responsibilities ranged from buyer to Chief Purchasing Officer. The sample was drawn from experienced purchasers who either had attended. National Association of Purchasing Mangers (NAPM) purchasing programs or managers involved with the Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies (CAPS) roundtable in 1999 and 2000. Demographic data was collected from 90 respondents and was not collected from the CAPS sample. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents were men and thirty-two percent were women. Ninety-two percent had at least a Bachelors degree. The mean number of years in purchasing was 9.4 (S.D. = 7.92). Fifty-two percent of the sample indicated that they held a management position. Finally, companies whose major line of business was manufacturing represented 58.6% of the sample, while services constituted 34.5%, and those indicating both manufacturing and services represented 6.9% of the sample.

Respondents were instructed to rate each skill on a Likert scale from "1" = not important to "5 " = very important. Table 1 below shows the results of the survey and the relative importance attached to each skill by the survey respondents.


TOP 10 SKILLS 1999/2000

Standard Deviation
1. Interpersonal communication
2. Ability to make decisions
3. Ability to work in teams
4. Analytical
5. Negotiation
6. Managing change
7. Customer focus
8. Influencing and persuasion
9. Strategic
10. Understanding business conditions

Duffy, Roberta, "The Steps You Take, the Moves You Make", Purchasing Today®,(July,1999): 38-48.

Giunipero, Larry C., "A Skills Based Analysis of the World Class Purchaser", Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies, Tempe, AZ , 2000.

Giunipero, Larry C. and Dawn Pearcy , "World Class Purchasing Skills: An Empirical Investigation" The Journal of Supply Chain Management, (Fall 2000, 36:4): 4-13.

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