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ASCM Insights

The 10 Pillars of Supply Chain Leadership


Effective supply chain leadership has never been more critical. The people who drive planning, sourcing, production, delivery, recycling — while guiding those who carry out these essential operations — really are the heroes of our global economy. Amid ongoing extreme weather events, supply shortages, war, a pandemic and more, organizations must figure out how to move beyond managing disruption in order to emerge back into a growth cycle. Great supply chain leadership is critical to this goal; it makes it possible to attract the best talent, integrate each of the functional aspects of supply chain, find ways to save on costs, boost efficiency and quality and create real value.

Interestingly, McKinsey reports that working in supply chain provides an easier path to industry leadership compared to similar paths in other fields. Because supply chain management functions are so interconnected, a supply chain professional in any one area typically has at least basic knowledge of most others, which makes it easier for aspiring young professionals to climb the ranks. And because supply chain professionals grapple with constant change and risk, they have better forecasting skills than people in most other functions, which can be a differentiator in the C-suite. And getting up there is definitely rewarding: Top supply chain leaders enjoy an annual compensation as high as $192,000 plus benefits and bonuses.

There are 10 key traits and skills that help professionals move from supply chain management to supply chain leadership. Read on to discover the specific skills that supply chain leaders use to garner the respect and trust of team members and become highly effective:

  1. Managing operations requires deep supply chain knowledge acquired from years of practical experience and professional development. A supply chain leader’s experience and knowledge should be both tactical and strategic so they can manage operations while handling risk and planning for growth. Further, more than 20% of companies have a chief supply chain officer, and 38% have a C-suite executive with comparable responsibilities. Members of supply chain leadership need to hone their strategic skills to effectively represent this important business function at the executive table.
  2. Managing people starts with identifying potential talent and helping those candidates grow within the organization. This includes supporting on-the-job training and investing in professional development as people progress. Of equal importance is the need to support workers as humans. Employees must be given room to grow. They should be coached on how to fix and learn from mistakes. They also need work-life balance that allows them to rest, recharge and be present for loved ones. Benefits such as flexible schedules, paid time off, and remote or hybrid work opportunities support this work-life balance.
  3. Great supply chain leaders encourage collaboration and inspire team members to share ideas and workloads. This also means encouraging input from diverse groups to ensure all ideas are respected and considered.
  4. Communication is vital to the vision, strategy and expectations that keeps employees updated about progress and changes. This enables followers to support the supply chain function and its key goals.
  5. Tensions will arise, so it’s necessary to have the conflict-management skills to handle these issues by staying calm, being a voice of reason, focusing on the positive, addressing the problem and negotiating a resolution.
  6. Leaders must not reduce people to their jobs, and this requires emotional intelligence. It's necessary to take the time to understand people’s concerns and challenges, both at and outside of work. Empathy is critical to helping people through challenges. Moreover, leaders should express joy when team members do a good job or reach a goal to inspire them and show that efforts are appreciated.
  7. Top supply chain leaders have the foresight to embrace innovation and are early adopters of emerging supply chain technology. This makes them better able to position their organizations to be supply chain leaders rather than followers.
  8. Frontline workers have valuable insights, so leaders should use their solid listening skills when employees offer ideas and report challenges. This creates even greater levels of trust.
  9. Supply chain management is never stagnant, so quality supply chain leadership relies on continuous learning and growth. This is the only way to meet the needs of supply chain organizations and the people they serve.
  10. Truly impactful supply chain leaders are not only dedicated to responsible, ethical business practices, but also inspire the same passion in their people. They seek out solutions that help them create sustainable supply chains; empower their organization to reach its climate goals; and design and manage networks that prioritize the triple-bottom line, delivering profit and excellence while safeguarding society and the planet.

About the Author

Elizabeth Rennie Editor-in-Chief, SCM Now magazine, ASCM

Elizabeth Rennie is Editor-in-Chief at ASCM. She may be contacted at

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