Mapping and classifying procurement skills

Procurement skills are a perennial issue, and our paper “The Four Faces of Procurement” is the most-downloaded that I’ve written since the advent of Spend Matters UK/Europe. I guess that shows the interest in the topic – as well as the beauty of publishing something that literally every procurement professional can relate to!

I’ve also talked about skills at a number of conferences and similar this year, and as part of that, I did some thinking around classifying the skills that procurement people need.  Now I don’t know whether this is original thought  – I’m not claiming it is revolutionary, so it may well be someone else has reflected this previously.  But this is where I got to anyway.

There appear to be three quite different types of skill that a successful procurement professional should have – and the importance of each of these skill groups (as we'll call them) will vary depending on the role. Indeed, some procurement roles might not require any within one of the groups. The three groups are:

1.  Technical skills

This contains all of the skills that can be learnt – the “how to do” content.  It is probably what we first consider when we think about skills and training, and includes all those core procurement areas such as category management, strategic sourcing, negotiation or contract management. Of course this can be broken down further to the level of market analysis, demand planning and many others.  But I’d argue it goes well beyond this.  Project management or financial skills are vital in many procurement roles, and are technical skills in themselves.

2. Behavioural skills and attributes

I say skills and attributes because here we’re getting into the tricky area where some of these are harder to teach or be taught. And there is some overlap perhaps with the technical area; so some aspects of “communication skills” are technical (making effective presentations, for instance)and cancertainly be taught to a major extent, but others  are harder and less technical (being “persuasive”), and some arguably cannot be taught at all – where does “integrity” sit?   But in general, we can define a list of skills and attributes that are around our behaviours, personality and attitudes.

3. Category specific skills and knowledge

We might argue this is part of those “technical” skills, but this feels like it is sufficiently different to the other two skill groups to consider separately. Here, it is usually a combination of skills and relatively “hard” knowledge. So a “skill” in energy procurement might be analysing futures markets or interpreting complex energy supply agreements. The “knowledge” would be a thorough understanding of the energy market and the key players.

 So we can think of some roles, perhaps a generic eProcurement implementation or support role, or indeed a top CPO role, where the Category skills aren’t needed too much. Equally, a really technical market analyst may not need much in the way of behavioural skills. However, the vast majority of procurement roles need some sort of balance between the three. So here's a chart I drew to show this - click on it to expand.

Apart from the sheer joy of classification -  putting things into boxes - my reason for doing this was to consider where we currently tend to focus and also where we should focus our attention in the profession.  So more to follow on this topic... but comments welcome as always!

trainign slide




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Voices (2)

  1. Ben Glynn:

    I concur with RJ.. nicely summarised. They are the 3 areas that I am continually assessing when I interview a candidate. The areas that we assess at GPA include: interpersonal skills, change management experience & capabilities, strategic/operational experience, project and process management capabilities as well as their Direct/Indirect category experience. Stakeholder engagement and relationship management skills has always been one of the determining factors between good candidates and an excellent candidate and I am a firm believer that you either “have it” or you don’t (unfortunately!). Many skills can be learnt but the softer, interpersonal skills are more difficult to define and are sometimes sadly lacking.

  2. RJ:

    Nicely summarised, Peter, and a model that can probably be applied in similar vein to most professional roles (do you have a new job as a training and development guru?). It strikes me when I look at it that the balance of requirements also changes as you move up the experience and, I hate to say it, seniority ladder. When starting out in the profession we all need the foundations of the Technical Skills but pretty soon after we need to enhance Category Specific areas to deliver value to our clients but the real catalysts for change come with highly developed Behavioural skills. I’m not saying that you don’t need all three to be a real success at any phase of your career, just that there is a shift in balance that we need to be cognisant of when building training and personal development plans.

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