With its complex purchase-to-pay process and multiple stakeholders, MRO procurement requires outstanding people skills

According to recent research by CIPS/Hays Procurement, 83% of employers surveyed said that communication or soft skills were their top rated requirement for a senior procurement professional[1]. According to experts in indirect procurement and MRO (maintenance, repair and operations), the need for soft skills in this area is even more crucial.
 
“Soft skills are vital in indirect procurement because the budgets tend to be held by the business rather than within procurement,” says Pauline King, CEO of indirect procurement consultancy Heykins GmbH. “There is a need to sell in every change in process to stakeholders who don’t have a procurement background.
 
“You cannot be an effective purchasing manager if you don’t have good soft skills,” she adds. “The level of sophistication needed will vary across different categories, but you will always need to influence stakeholders, understand business capabilities and see the big picture in terms of ROI and the impact of changes on the business.”
 
James Wakeford, Vice President of Procurement at RS, agrees. “Soft skills are one of the most important factors in procurement. You can have someone who’s extremely academic, understands the procurement process and has all the necessary qualifications, but without the ability to bring things to life with the stakeholder base and sell in opportunities, there’s no way of getting initiatives off the ground.”
“You cannot be an effective purchasing manager if you don’t have good soft skills”Pauline King, CEO, Heykins GmbH
Managing multiple stakeholders
Wakeford points out that MRO requires particularly deft personal skills due to the complexity of the relationships. “There may be multiple stakeholders at multiple sites and across those stakeholders you may also have multiple specialisms – from engineers to tactical buyers and site managers. So there could be different opinions about the best way to buy products and who to buy from.
 
“The procurement person’s role is to form relationships with all these people to understand their point of view and to suggest alternative, better solutions where these are possible,” he adds. “It’s about gaining trust and credibility with stakeholders to help them make the best decisions for the organisation while still being able to do their jobs effectively.”
 
Outstanding soft skills are essential to MRO procurement, then, but are organisations hiring the people for key positions with those skills? “Companies do understand the value of having soft skills in their procurement team, but that doesn’t always translate into reality,” says King. “There are still plenty of organisations that have people who are either too technical without the procurement and soft skills, or they have people who are too procurement process-oriented and can’t build the relationships with engineers effectively.
 
“Procurement employees benefit from having some technical or engineering knowledge to get the most out of MRO, so the ideal candidate needs to have a mix of procurement, technical and soft skills.”
 
For organisations looking to put those ideal candidates in MRO procurement roles, there are two options – hire the right talent or develop your existing talent.
 
For those looking to bring the best people into their organisation, King suggests key steps. “Your job advert needs to be really clear describing the skills needed, both personal and technical,” she explains. “Then when you interview people, it’s important to draw out examples from them of how they have handled real-life tricky situations with stakeholders. This should make it clear whether they have the right skills.”
“The increase in automation and AI-based decision-making mean there is more need than ever for personal skills”James Wakeford, Vice President of Procurement, RS
Developing talent
When it comes to developing your own talent, both King and Wakeford think that many soft skills are innate to the individual and their personality types. Nevertheless, training and development can be extremely valuable. “Here at RS, we’re putting this into practice,” says Wakeford. “When identifying colleague development and training needs we apply a great focus on behaviours.
 
“When we measure how individuals are performing, we place as much emphasis on how people do things as we do on what they are doing,” he adds. “People need to have the right behavioural fit for the organisation.”
 
As technology and new processes continue to disrupt the MRO procurement process, Wakeford believes that soft skills will become more relevant rather than less. “The increase in automation and AI-based decision-making mean there is more need than ever for personal skills,” he says. “AI may come up with the right decisions, but because it is presented in a black and white way the personal touch is needed to get the buy-in from the people responsible for actioning those decisions.”
 
King agrees: “There are changes coming in MRO procurement and any change will be met with scepticism by stakeholders. It will be essential for organisations to have people in their procurement team with excellent soft skills to drive that change forward.”