The Holy Trinity of Procurement Skills

There’s a joke among engineers that new grads lament not
taking more maths subjects during their degree but, as they progress, rue not
improving their communication skills. Procurement professionals don’t have the
luxury of hindsight. From day one, our ‘soft skills’ make or break us.

According to the Ikaros community, the top three procurement
skills are:

  • Stakeholder management
  • Negotiation
  • Emotional intelligence

Yes, all three are people skills. Hardly shocking, I know.
At the end of the day, procurement is about people. If you want to be a
procurement superstar, these skills must become your superpowers. Let’s take a
deeper look at each of them.

What is Stakeholder Management?

So, what is a stakeholder? Quite simply, they are either
those who are directly involved in the procurement process, or those who are
affected by outcomes at any stage along the supply chain. Stakeholder
management is about developing and maintaining productive relationships, which involves
the systematic identification, analysis, planning and implementation of actions
to engage with stakeholders. As any seasoned procurement professional knows,
the tricky part is dealing with a number of stakeholders who have different,
and sometimes conflicting, interests.

The Four Steps of Stakeholder Management

There are usually four steps involved in stakeholder

  1. Identify stakeholders
  2. Assess their interest and influence
  3. Develop communication management plans
  4. Engage and influence stakeholders

Communication and adaptation are the keys. You need to be able to identify the stakeholders involved and anticipate their desires in order to communicate with them effectively. It’s important to remember here that communication is a powerful tool, both for good and bad, and therefore one of the vital procurement skills.

Managing Competing Stakeholder Interests

No project has ever been undertaken that avoids competing
interests. Prioritisation is your path through this murky swamp. You don’t need
a medical degree, but you will need to do a little triage here and prioritise
your stakeholders, especially those of equal influence but competing interests.
This is tricky, and experience counts for a lot, but deliberate and careful
planning will negate the more serious pitfalls.

Planning and Instinct

Of course, planning doesn’t mean rigid instruction. If you
want to become that procurement superstar, you need to watch and learn, adapt
to the idiosyncrasies of the stakeholders, and understand that one size does
not fit all. Stakeholders are people, and different people require different approaches.
A good chunk of productive communication comes down to instinct, which has to
be honed. Plan, but be light on your feet.


Negotiation is not unlike walking a tightrope. Overconfidence
can ruin you as surely as doubt and indecisiveness. ‘I am a great negotiator’,
declares the person walking into the meeting room looking to charm the pants
off the stakeholders. Your gut reaction to this particular individual is
universal, hence their style of negotiation goes over like a lead balloon.

On the other hand, stakeholders can smell a lack of
confidence a mile away; never walk into the meeting room thinking you’re
doomed, or at a disadvantage. You’ll lose respect, and vital lines of

Harvard’s Ten Skills of Negotiating

The good thing is that skilful negotiation can be learnt. Nobody is born a brilliant negotiator; the required skillset is taught and continually honed. The following are ten skills that Harvard Law School recommends learning if you want to become that superstar negotiator:

  1. Analyse and cultivate the best alternative to a
    negotiated agreement (BATNA). Power resides in knowing you can walk away and
    take another deal.
  2. Negotiate the process of negotiation. Don’t
    assume you’re already in agreement about when to meet, who’ll be present, what
    the agenda will be, and so on. Lay out the terms and smooth the way for more
    serious talk.
  3. Build rapport. This can be as simple as a short
    phone call, even if the majority of the communication will be done via email.
    This is a crucial skill. Small-talk is seriously underrated.
  4. Be an active listener. Don’t just think about
    what you’re going to say next; listen to what is being said now, and respond in
    a manner that demonstrates you’ve heard and understood.
  5. Ask good questions, and this means avoiding
    those that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Phrase questions in such a way
    that a more detailed response is required. Sometimes rephrasing the same
    question can help get to the heart of the matter.
  6. Search for smart trade-offs so that, if you
    become stuck, you can make concessions that do not materially damage your
    interests but allow the negotiation to move forward.
  7. Try to make the first offer/s, and create the
    anchoring bias. The first offer/s always exude a disproportionately large
    influence over a negotiation, so jump in quick. If you miss out, though, keep
    in mind your BATNA. This doesn’t mean you should have a dummy spit and walk out
    if they get in first; it means, keep in mind your viable alternatives.
  8. Present MESOs, or multiple equivalent offers
    simultaneously. This decreases the chance of an impasse and promotes more
    creative solutions.
  9. If you and the other party can’t agree on how a
    certain scenario will unfold over time, try a contingent contract. This
    basically means the other party will be penalised if their predictions prove to
    be erroneous. If they truly believe in their predictions, they shouldn’t have a
    problem with a contingent contract.
  10. Finally, place milestones and deadlines in your
    contract to keep things moving and make sure commitments are being met.

Learning Emotional Intelligence

The final superpower is emotional intelligence. Some would
have you believe that you’re either born with this or you aren’t. Wrong.

Just like negotiation skills, emotional intelligence can be
taught. After all, acting is all about emotional intelligence, and it’s a
learned craft. This doesn’t mean you need to go all De Niro and start picking a
fight with a mirror, but it does mean you should be aware of your emotions and
be able to control and express them appropriately.

Five Components of Emotional Intelligence

According to the psychologist Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author
of the New York Times bestseller “Emotional Intelligence and Social
Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships”, there are five
components to emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness, which allows you to recognise
    and control your moods.
  2. Self-regulation, which lends you control over
    your impulses and allows you to think before you act (just like mother always
    wanted). This also gives greater opportunity to express yourself appropriately.
  3. Motivation to self-improve, to monitor and
    regulate your actions.
  4. Empathy, which is the ability to understand
    other peoples’ emotions and behaviour.
  5. Social skills, so that you pick up on cultural
    cues such as humour and sarcasm.

Rest assured, all this can be taught and honed, just like
stakeholder management and negotiation. These soft skills are at the heart of
effective procurement, so the sooner you start to learn and exercise them, the
closer you’ll be to superhero status.

How to Learn Procurement Soft Skills

Comprara can help. Visit our website Academy of Procurement which isn’t just about the hard skills – we know the importance of the soft stuff too. We’ve partnered with negotiation experts who can take your people skills to the next level, so call us today!

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