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Supply chain management is poised on the brink of a major seismic rift that will permeate every level of the sector.  The entire supply-chain industry faces growth disruptions such as uncertain economic forecasts, possible changes in American trade policies, and the fragmentation of technological advances.

Change is inevitable. Proactive response to change is optional. Successful managers must choose to face global challenges head-on with a dynamic, agile arsenal of fresh skills.

New challenges demand new skills. Here are 6 basic skills that are “must haves” for any supply chain manager ready meet the challenges ahead.

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

In a 2015 Deloitte report (Supply Chain: Talent of the Future), supply-chain recruiters said only 42% of SCM’s displayed excellent or very good communication skills. However, 65% believe effective communication skills will become more valuable going forward.

Extraordinary communication skills foster more creativity and trust among all stakeholders, resulting in increased revenue and employee/customer satisfaction. What are you doing to bump up your skills in this area?

2. Release the Inner Geek

Effective SCM’s recognize how advanced technology infuses every single end-to-end action in the supply-chain process. Managers must become geeks within their own team. That doesn’t mean expertise is required across the board, but a manager should have a workable understanding of every piece of tech in the chain and be able to solve minor tech problems as they arise.

For example, “The supply chain chief need not be credentialed in IT systems, but he or she must have a close working relationship with the CIO and ideally have no shortage of IT-savvy specialists on staff,” said Professor J. Paul Dittmann, University of Tennessee, in a recent column.

3. Read the Crystal Ball

Who can guess what amazing advances and economic challenges the supply chain industry may face in 5, 10, or 20 years? We may not be able to pinpoint every trend and future event, but smart managers keep abreast of the latest research and predictive models across the industry. Disruptive breakthroughs in supply chain management, such as commercial drone usage are inevitable. Riding the wave of change is far-and-away better than getting sucked into the undertow.

4. Drive the Data

If you have no idea how to harness the power of big data for your supply chain, it’s time to get educated. An industry report notes that big data applications could improve reaction time to supply issues by 41%. Furthermore, it could increase operational efficiency and integration by 36%. When every minute and dollar spent could mean the difference between success or company meltdown, these numbers are huge! It’s obvious that supply chain managers must grasp the basics of big data and understand how to deploy analytics into their organization.

5. Lead the Talent Show

With the exodus of retiring Baby Boomer workers reaching critical mass, supply chain managers are faced with the challenge of recruiting and retaining quality employees across the board. Supply chain managers in the above-mentioned Deloitte survey says “recruitment is a greater challenge than retention, and especially at higher levels. Roughly 3/4 of executives said it is difficult for their company’s supply chain to recruit senior leadership, while about 2/3 said the same about recruiting at the senior director/director level.” In short, effective management must search for fresh and innovative methods to attract and keep the best employees. That means improving talent-attraction skills like company events, employee enrichment, or possibly incentive pay.

6. Juggle Multiple Hats

Wisconsin School of Business writer David Berrios hits the nail on the head: “Having global suppliers contributes significantly to complexity that comes from extended delivery lead times. Customers not only want lower prices, but they also want their products on time.” This usually puts the pressure of the supply chain managers. Managers are expected to not only find optimized solutions to sync and integrate production issues but they also must meet customer demand across an ever-changing global landscape.

Supply chain managers face a maze of obstacles coupled with an abundance of new opportunities. Effective managers must keep one eye on the bundle of in-demand skills in the industry while at the same time keeping another eye on future competencies. It’s a balancing act, for sure, but success demands nothing less.

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About Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson is AFFLINK'S Vice President of Marketing and Communications. He has been with the organization since 2005 and provides strategic leadership for the entire supply chain team. In his free time, Michael enjoys working with the Wounded Warrior Project, fishing, and improving his cooking skills.

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