8 Logistics Skills That Can Help Advance Your Supply Chain Career
If you’re immersed in the field of logistics and looking to enter into the next phase of your career, then there are a number of things you can do to set yourself on the right path. But chiefly among them is learning what it really takes to achieve success for not only yourself, but also your organization as a supply chain professional.
“Logistics means different things to different people and industries,” explains Alex Lauderdale, senior transportation analyst and editor at EducatedDriver.org in Houston, TX. With nearly 12 years of experience in logistics management and a total of 18 years in supply chain management, he’s seen it from just about every angle.
“I’ve known colleagues to peg it as being simple transportation (e.g., truck, container, inter-modal, rail or pipeline). Others would bring a bit more complexity to the field to include loading, packaging, warehouse, consolidation, distribution, cross-docking and the like,” Lauderdale continues. “Supply chain runs the gamut, starting at raw materials and ending at the front door of your everyday consumer.”
As you can see, there's a lot that goes into working in logistics. Keep reading to get some expert insight on the logistics skills you'll need to succeed in these positions.
8 Must-have qualities and skills for logistics professionals
When looking at the data collected on logisticians and supply chain managers, many important qualities begin to stand out. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists skills like a broad knowledge of logistics, IT and database experience, critical-thinking skills, and customer service abilities among the most important in supply chain careers.*
But there’s a certain insider knowledge you only gain from hands-on experience in the field. That’s why we canvassed a panel of supply chain and logistics professionals to give us an in-depth look at the lesser-known skills required for success. Hear what they feel are the most important logistics skills to possess:
1. Ability to see the big picture
To find success in supply chain settings, professionals must be able to zoom out and visualize processes from start to finish. “The successful supply chain expert will be able to anticipate what could go wrong with everything from packaging to shipping and delivery,” explains Jon M. Quigley, author and principal at Value Transformation LLC. The combination of critical-thinking skills and past experience often aid in a professional’s ability to anticipate in this way, he adds.
“Each and every action has an outcome,” says Christoph Seitz, CEO of CFR Rinkens, an international shipping company. “You must be able to formulate a contingency plan, if necessary, in order to make the supply chain flow continuously. Planning ahead is a major component of logistics.”
Sophie Miles, CEO of CalculatorBuddy.com, explains that after garnering nearly a decade of experience in internet entrepreneurship in Europe, she’s expanding her company to enter the logistics and supply chain sectors. One key thing she has learned along the way is that adaptability and flexibility are crucial when it comes to the amount of changes supply chain professionals will face.
“The supply chain is becoming increasingly complex, with current trends representing great changes with respect to the last century,” she offers, explaining that the most successful logistics managers in today’s workforce must possess the ability to adapt as their organization and its processes continually evolve.
3. Calm under pressure
The supply chain work environment is often very fast-paced, and each step relies on the successful completion of the step prior. Quigley admits that the environment can come with a considerable amount of pressure.
“A manufacturing line that does not have sufficient material or wrong material can shut down,” he says, explaining that mishaps of this nature can cause major delays. “This can result in a lot of money lost in a short amount of time.”
Successful logistics professionals are able to make split-second decisions when needed and can often be relied upon to put out any metaphorical fires that may erupt within the processes they oversee.
4. Effective problem-solving skills
Lauderdale admits that this one may seem to be about as cliché as it gets, but he still maintains that top-notch problem-solving skills are an absolute staple to professional success if you’re pursuing a career in supply chain management.
“I’ve worked with some of the most book-smart people you could meet, and if solid problem-solving ability is absent, often so is their success in the field,” Lauderdale says. “An effective supply chain management professional will use the multiple aspects of problem-solving—analysis, business development knowledge, operational information, psychology, etc.—to accomplish a [task]. Technology, data, goods and people will all have to be utilized and often cajoled into helping obtain positive outcomes for your company.”
Marketing manager for Bailey’s Moving & Storage, Jacob Beckstead, notes that it’s not uncommon in the logistics world to run into the temptation to use a white lie to cover a mistake, such as a late shipment. But a lack of integrity, he maintains, will only hurt your company in the long run.
“People often think they’re protecting their company by covering problems from being exposed to customers, but it ends up coming back to haunt them every time,” he says. “The best logistics employees have learned that honest communication with customers—while potentially embarrassing in the moment—creates lasting trust.”
Beckstead iterates that the trust built not only strengthens the relationship your company has with the customer, but it can also strengthen your standing in the eyes of your employer.
6. Continually seeking improvement
“A hyper-focus in continuous improvement expertise is, and will continue to be, key when separating a company’s supply chain from the rest of the pack,” Lauderdale offers. The job, he explains, is not only to understand logistics and the supply chain, but to also know the scope and dynamics of your company’s goals so you can assist with the processes put in place to achieve them.
“Once you see what the finish line is supposed to look like, you’ll be able to use information gathered from your various systems to monitor, analyze and adjust processes accordingly,” Lauderdale adds. “As the name suggests, continuous process improvement is a never-ending cycle.”
7. Proficient in project management
Michelle Gomez is an author, a career coach and a logistics and supply chain professional with nearly two decades of on-the-job experience. She maintains that the most successful logistics professionals have a couple things in common: They’re organized, and they’re detail-oriented.
“It’s important to plan your day and tasks as effectively as possible,” she explains. “Supply chain management involves so many important details that must be reviewed carefully and planned for accordingly.”
Our supply chain professionals are in unison on this. “Organizational skills are a requirement for a successful supply chain manager,” Quigley says, explaining that in a position that requires coordination with a number of different teams and people, every detail must be accounted for. Incoming products must meet certain standards and must be delivered according to a specific schedule, with the supply chain manager effectively navigating elements like timing and cost.
8. Able to manage and release stress
Many of the skills listed above make one thing very clear: Supply chains don’t always function without a hitch. “Logisticians need to be able to handle stress and high-intensity environments, as this business is [full] of unexpected changes,” Gomez explains, offering examples such as weather conditions, traffic, accidents and equipment failure.
“In a world where everything should have been delivered yesterday in the mind of the customer, you have to be able to work in a stressful environment and then let it out—let it not affect you day after day,” Beckstead adds. He recalls a number of colleagues who have been able to handle stress with ease because they find ways after or during work to release it.
Do you have what it takes to succeed in supply chain management?
As you read through the various characteristics and skills our logistics and supply chain experts have identified as being essential to success in the field, you likely noted a few that align with your current skill set. Some people are naturally a good fit for the supply chain environment.
But if you were able to pinpoint a handful of logistics skills you’ve not yet been able to develop with your current professional experience, all hope is certainly not lost! There are Bachelor’s degree programs out there that are designed specifically to help professionals like you advance their logistics skills to find success in a modern global economy. To learn more, visit the Rasmussen University Supply Chain and Logistics Management program page.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed June 19, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/.