Article: Mastering the art of procurement - skills and strategies for success

In the dynamic world of procurement, professionals face multifaceted challenges that demand a diverse skill set and strategic mindset. To truly excel in the field and propel one's career forward, it's crucial to not only grasp the fundamental procurement skills but also to delve into the often-overlooked aspects that can make a significant impact.

Ahead of the 9th annual Women in Procurement & Supply Chain 2024, we spoke with Fern Makeham, Director of Procurement and Contracting at the Australian Public Service, to glean insights into building a successful procurement career.

Building Trust: The Bedrock of Procurement Excellence

According to Fern, the ability to build trust is paramount in procurement. She notes, "Being able to build trust in order to draw out the requirements from the user, provide advice on the most suitable approach to market, and sometimes deliver news that stakeholders might not wish to hear" is a crucial, yet often overlooked skill. Procurement professionals must establish themselves as reliable partners who can navigate complex stakeholder relationships with finesse.

Makeham's advice underscores the importance of effective communication and interpersonal skills. Developing an understanding of stakeholders' needs and concerns fosters trust, creating a collaborative environment that is essential for successful procurement outcomes.

Stakeholder Engagement: The Linchpin of Project Management

For procurement projects, effective project management skills can make or break success. Fern emphasises the centrality of stakeholder engagement, stating, "Always [focus on] stakeholder engagement – you need to know how you are tracking, what good looks like, and the purpose of what you are delivering. You won’t know any of this working in isolation."

To hone project management skills, professionals should prioritise stakeholder collaboration, maintain open lines of communication, and actively seek feedback. Regularly assessing project progress against objectives ensures alignment with organisational goals, fostering a proactive and results-driven approach to procurement projects.

Focus on Strengths: A Career Building Strategy

Reflecting on her own career journey and something she wishes she knew and did earlier in her career, Makeham advises, "Don’t waste time trying to work on activities you are not good at in order to achieve a promotion or salary increase. This does not mean that you stop trying to improve or expand your skill set. It means when you focus on the things you enjoy it’s usually an indication that you are good at them."

Fern advocates for a focus on strengths, noting that passion and proficiency often align. Concentrating on what one enjoys and excels at builds momentum, leading to recognition, promotions, and personal fulfillment. As she puts it, “Being good at something you enjoy (and vice versa) builds momentum and the promotions and accolades follow.”

This insight encourages procurement professionals to identify their strengths and leverage them to contribute meaningfully to their projects and teams. Continuous improvement is valuable, but aligning personal strengths with professional pursuits can lead to sustained success.

Integrity: The Superpower in Procurement

When asked to reflect on an important lesson she’s learned while working in procurement, Fern shares a powerful lesson: "Your integrity is your superpower!" Emphasising its role in maintaining one's reputation, she notes that seemingly small acts can contribute to building respect and trust in the professional realm.

Integrity in procurement involves ethical decision-making, transparency, and accountability. Upholding high ethical standards not only safeguards personal credibility but also enhances the overall integrity of the procurement process, fostering a culture of trust and reliability.

Mastering the art of procurement involves a combination of technical proficiency, effective communication, stakeholder engagement, and unwavering integrity. By heeding the insights shared by Fern, procurement professionals can chart a course toward success, both in individual projects and in advancing their overall careers.

Fern Makeham will join other inspirational women working at the forefront of the industry at Women in Procurement & Supply Chain 2024, 27-29 February 2024 at the Arts Centre Melbourne. Learn more.

View the full agenda here.

To access the detailed conference program, download the brochure here.