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ASCM Insights

Develop Strategic Skills for Supply Chain Leadership


You’re right … your job is growing more demanding and complex, and more is being expected of you. As supply chain takes on an increasingly strategic and central role within organizations, supply chain professionals are finding it necessary to develop a broader range of skills and expertise in order to excel.

This transformative climate brings the challenge to rise from supply chain manager to supply chain leader. New opportunities to develop a multidimensional and diverse set of skills and expertise that empowers you to lead, to drive change and to create a supply chain that delivers business results.  

Many organizations now make it a priority to identify emerging talent and encourage learning opportunities for potential new leaders. Organizations recognize that in order to stay competitive they must establish a pipeline of leaders and develop their supply chain talent.

Distinguishing Between Management and Leadership

Every supply chain professional is a potential leader. Some professionals become managers, some become leaders, and some become both. How do you differentiate management from leadership, and how do you begin to make the transition into a leadership role?

APICS conducted research to identify leadership characteristics and the core competencies of supply chain leaders in an in-depth report titled, “Supply Chain Leadership Report: Many Styles Generate Success.”

The report provides a starting blueprint for developing successful supply chain leadership. It begins by exploring the distinction between a manager and a leader.

  • A manager feels professionally accountable for his or her actions, while a leader feels both personally and professionally accountable for achieving positive change in an organization.
  • A manager communicates, while a leader inspires.
  • A supply chain manager has a formal title of management, while a supply chain leader may or may not have a formal leadership position.
  • A manager has people reporting to him or her. A leader has followers, or teams of followers.
  • Supply chain managers tend to maintain a tactical view first and a strategic vision second. Supply chain leaders maintain a big-picture, strategic view first and ensure tactical alignment to that vision.

The Rise of the Supply Chain Leader

Do you make a conscious decision to work to become a leader, or does it just happen? No two situations, or individuals, are alike, but there are many places to look for guidance and inspiration if you want to purposefully work to develop leadership skills, beginning with the APICS leadership report.

The report states an effective supply chain leader is someone who:

  1. Creates and communicates a vision
  2. Promotes and brings about change
  3. Builds partnerships
  4. Captures and acts on insightful information
  5. Seizes and creates opportunity at the right place and time
  6. Consistently models honorable behavior and best practices
  7. Serves the best interests of the organization and is not self-serving

All in order to:

  • Create and realize a supply chain vision that drives the organization’s mission and strategy 
  • Learn and continuously improve as a leader 
  • Develop talent and future supply chain leaders

These capabilities and goals can guide the career path of a supply chain leader.

The increasing complexity of global supply chains and their critical importance to organizations all spell new opportunities for the next generation of supply chain leadership. How will you and your team prepare to lead your organization forward?

About the Author

Jennifer Daniels Former Vice President of Marketing, APICS

Jennifer Daniels is a former vice president of marketing at APICS.

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