Purchasers' soft skill gaps revealed

7 July 2004
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08 July 2004 | Geraint John

Purchasing professionals believe good interpersonal skills determine their department's success, but only half think their team possesses them, according to a survey conducted by SM.

The ability to build relationships and influence people was seen as important by all respondents, with 88 per cent saying it was "very important". And eight out of 10 said good working relationships with internal customers were more valuable to them than fine-tuned processes.

Three-quarters of purchasers described their own interpersonal skills as "exceptional" or "proficient". Asked to rate those of their purchasing colleagues, however, this figure slipped to 51 per cent.

"It's good to see how important purchasing people believe relationship-building and influencing skills are. But it is a concern that half don't think their colleagues are proficient," said Jeff Beal, director of GPA Recruitment and Development, who helped to draw up the survey questionnaire.

On average, 42 per cent of purchasing departments' training and development budgets - the biggest slice - is spent on developing interpersonal skills, suggesting that the need to close this skills gap is understood.

The survey found purchasers generally upbeat about their profile. Sixty-four per cent said their involvement in a new project got a "warm" or "very warm" reaction from internal customers. Three-quarters believed they had "significant influence" in their organisations, and two-thirds said their network of contacts gave them access to all spend categories.

This was reflected in a rise in the percentage of spend on bought-in goods and services influenced by purchasing - up from an average of 47 per cent three years ago to 73 per cent now.

However, 44 per cent admitted they found it difficult to influence internal customers' budgets. IT, sales and engineering were seen as the hardest functions to build good relationships with, followed by marketing and business unit managing directors.

In just over half of sourcing projects, purchasers did not get involved until after budgets and specifications were decided. And 58 per cent said they found it easier to deal with suppliers than with internal customers.

"Purchasing is steadily raising its game," said Robert Albright, head of operations, purchasing services, at Royal Mail. "But internal relationship skills are still patchy and only a minority of professionals are able to communicate at board level."

The survey was conducted online during the second quarter of this year among 108 purchasing professionals at all job levels across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Feature: The hard facts about soft skills

Full results: www.supplymanagement.com/softskills


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