Top 10 Essential Skills of Supply Chain Leaders

The Top 10 Essential Skills of Supply Chain Leaders

Recently, a study entitled “Essential skills and competencies for supply chain leaders in Asia” was conducted by Dr Albert Tan, an associate professor at the Asian Institute of Management. Its goal was to identify the necessary skills required by supply chain leaders in Asia, including future skills recommended for all supply chain professionals.

The insights were based on one-on-one interviews among supply chain leaders from three different industries (Logistics, Manufacturing, Trading & Retailing). The skills mentioned were classified into three categories: key skills, future skills, and skills that were needed during the pandemic. The table below is a summary of skills as identified by supply chain leaders in Vietnam particularly.


Key Skills Data analysis Technology / Automation Data analysis

Problem solving

Soft skills

Critical thinking

Software application


Software application Relationship management

Future Skills Soft skills
Problem solvingProject management Customer oriented
Project management

Problem solving

Communication skills

Technology / Automation

Big Data


Scenario planning

Data analysis

Soft skills

Pandemic Crisis management Innovative Crisis management and Teamwork
Scenario planning andRisk management

Problem solving Analytical skills


As exhibited in the chart above, supply chain leaders should have a strong combination of technical (hard) skills and soft skills, especially during the most challenging times. Based on these insights, here are 10 must-have hard and soft skills that you’ll need to be an effective and efficient supply chain leader.

1. Knowledge in IT and automation

Supply chain leaders use technology as a tool to optimise operations. Applying automation systems can help boost productivity, produce more accurate results, and hasten the delivery of products and services to the consumer. Learn to be proficient with business applications such as WMS, TMS, ERP, and analytics software.

2. Understanding of economics and market dynamics

You must keep yourself updated on the factors that influence supply, demand, and pricing for the products and services offered by your business, including your competitors as well. Having a keen grasp of these elements will help you to deal with its effects on various areas of the supply chain process, such as the cost of goods and providing customer services.

3. Cost-to-serve awareness

Understanding cost-to-serve will give you better insights to make informed decisions that can boost profitability. This will also help you to prevent making knee-jerk reactions or proposing band-aid solutions to mitigate losses.

4. Flexibility for innovation

Change is the only constant in the supply chain process. You must be flexible enough to adapt to the various changes that can happen along the way. Have a growth mindset to welcome innovations instead of resisting change. Be open to creative thinkers so they will feel encouraged to present their ideas that could provide the solutions you need.

Top 10 Essential Skills of Supply Chain Leaders

5. Project management

The supply chain process entails a myriad of activities that you need to stay on top of as a leader. Whether you’re the overall supply chain manager, a warehouse supervisor, or a purchasing manager, you need to have sharp project management skills so you can keep track of the daily operations. As time is of the essence in supply chain, you must also quickly and effectively address any issue that might cause delays. Applying a mix of hard and soft skills will help you to be more efficient in project management.

6. Empathy and the 3Cs

An effective and efficient supply chain is like a well-oiled machine. But don’t forget, it’s the people who operate it. Be attuned to the team’s needs and experiences. Develop your people skills in the 3Cs: Communication, Collaboration, and Change management. Learn to communicate with your team and with various stakeholders in the supply chain. This also means listening to their concerns and taking them into consideration. Collaboration is crucial as you’ll be working with different people in supply chain. Be open to building your relationship with them. And finally, be an example to others on how to adapt to change. Learn how to manage resistance whilst understanding their reasons for doing so. Guide them as they go through the process of challenging changes, especially in a crisis.

7. Negotiation skills

Your ability to negotiate can impact the business and your relationship with relevant entities in the supply chain. Skilled negotiators are aware that there are no winners or losers in the process. They don’t enter negotiations by obtaining as many concessions as possible. Nor do they view it as a failure if they have to yield to certain conditions to reach a settlement. A good negotiator knows what will work best to help strengthen the partnerships.

8. A strong sense of ethics

As a supply chain leader, it’s important to uphold ethical standards. This is apparent in various aspects of the supply chain process. You can demonstrate this by strictly implementing security measures to protect supply chain assets. You can also practise environmentally friendly business initiatives that support sustainability at every step of the supply chain process: from harnessing raw materials to the delivery of products and services to the consumers.

9. Customer-oriented problem solving

Disruptions in supply chain can happen. As a supply chain leader, you must have strong problem-solving skills for troubleshooting to ensure business continuity. Some problems affect the end users themselves. That’s why you also need to be conscious of maintaining good customer relationships when resolving issues in the supply chain process.

10. Data analysis

A supply chain leader should be highly skilled in analysing and interpreting data. You’ll be exposed to different kinds of information that will guide you in your decision-making and strategy planning. It could be sales trends, industry developments, market movements, and cost adjustments, to name a few. Having an in-depth understanding of the various supply chain processes and the client’s needs will help you to use that information to provide better services.

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