Business Administration

Career Path For Supply Chain Managers

Career Path For Supply Chain Managers
Many roads lead to a career in supply chain management. Quite a few roads lead beyond this role as well. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella May 27, 2021

There's no single career path for supply chain managers; excellent opportunities to reach and advance beyond this role exist at every level. Learn about the degrees and experience needed to carve out a niche in SCM.

MBA and Supply Chain Management Programs You Should Consider

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Unlike many professions—nursing and social work, to name two—supply chain management (SCM) does not follow a single, clearly defined career path. You certainly can earn a master’s degree in SCM, and it will undoubtedly bolster your prospects. However, it’s not a necessary step. It’s possible to become a supply chain manager through years of experience and hands-on learning.

Supply chain managers come from many different backgrounds, including production, distribution, and procurement. According to a study by the Association for Supply Chain Management (APICS), most supply chain managers “held two to three supply chain and/or operations management positions” before achieving their SCM management role.

The absence of a single traditional advancement path has its benefits; it indicates the field’s high level of job mobility. The job also pays well: the average supply chain manager earns an annual salary of nearly $84,000 and has ample professional growth opportunities. There are many compelling reasons to consider a supply chain management career.

So, what is the career path for supply chain managers and how do you get on it? We address that question in this article by discussing:

  • What is a supply chain manager?
  • Jobs leading to supply chain manager
  • Types of supply chain manager jobs
  • Jobs you can advance to after supply chain manager
  • Do you need a master’s in supply chain management?
  • Best master’s in supply chain management programs
  • Best online master’s in supply chain management programs
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What is a supply chain manager?

A supply chain is a system that moves goods from production to distribution. The supply chain process encompasses everything from raw materials to customer service. As you might suspect, it’s so vast and complex that no one person can manage the entire process. This means the term ‘supply chain manager’ encompasses multiple diverse positions.

Effective supply chain managers share several characteristics. First, they have well-developed management skills. Even though you may not be the top dog at a company, people report to you. You need to be organized, consistent, fair, and skilled at communication to succeed in this role.

Additionally, these professionals typically influence multiple areas of business decisions. They need analytical skills to identify inefficiency in a company’s supply chain process. They also need negotiation skills to secure fast, cost-effective processes along the supply chain.

Cost concerns require supply chain managers to adjust for international trade regulations, unforeseen transportation issues, and similar variables. Reducing the environmental impact of supply chain processes is fast becoming a high priority for many supply chain managers as well.

The daily duties of a supply chain manager can include overseeing business operations related to:

  • Distribution
  • Innovation
  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Operations
  • Purchasing
  • Sourcing

It is possible to have the title supply chain manager and focus exclusively on one or two aspects of this process. This is confusing because supply chain management can refer to multiple positions while supply chain manager is itself a job title. You can work exclusively in logistics and still be an SCM professional. The good news is SCM has excellent job mobility, and many of the skills are transferable between positions, according to Logistics Bureau. Still, be sure to read a position’s job description before applying.

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“I’m Interested in Supply Chain Management!”

Experienced supply chain professionals often enroll in graduate programs to advance to senior roles, while professionals in other fields may enroll to transition into SCM careers. (source)

You'll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn't for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. (source)

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Jobs leading to supply chain manager

Before jumping into supply chain management work and experience requirements, a word on undergraduate education. Most SCM professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree. Many major in business or supply chain management.

Any SCM position you take immediately after college is likely to be at the entry-level. You’ll advance through experience and training. According to another APICS report, earning industry certifications can lead to higher salaries and more responsibilities. However, gaining relevant field experience is useful before thinking about graduate education or certifications.

Your first job in SCM may offer a title like:

  • Logistics analyst
  • Procurement specialist
  • Transportation dispatcher
  • Warehouse manager

Or, you may find yourself in one of the following roles:

Supply chain analyst

These professionals engage in end-to-end optimization. They analyze procurement and distribution functions and production schedules to lower costs without sacrificing the product. To earn this role, you should have experience developing SQL solutions. An IT background can be extremely useful.

According to PayScale, the average supply chain analyst earns a yearly salary of around $61,000.

Supply chain specialist

PayScale lists the average annual salary for supply chain specialists just below $60,000. The salary website says these professionals make sure “supplies and inventory are ordered, received, replenished, and kept at appropriate levels so the business can function properly.” They also keep records and utilize analytics to maintain inventory levels.

Purchasing manager

Purchasing managers oversee the purchasing process; this may include raw materials and finished products, depending on the organization’s goals. Irrespective of what they’re buying, these professionals look to get the most goods (of the highest quality) for the lowest price.

PayScale lists the average annual procurement manager salary as slightly over $82,000. Purchasing managers enjoy significant opportunities for growth, both within the role and in other SCM jobs.

Planning manager

The average planning manager earns more than $83,000 per year, according to PayScale. The role varies by industry. For example, a planning manager at an electric company may ensure the factory produces enough equipment to meet demands. They may also forecast sales. Job responsibilities for business planning managers also include budgeting, staffing, and executing business goals.

A closely related position, demand planning manager, focuses on forecasting, including sales trend analysis and customer- and product-focused analysis. According to numbers reported by North Carolina State University at Raleigh, demand planning managers earn an average salary of about $91,500.

Strategic sourcing manager

PayScale reports that “strategic sourcing managers are responsible for directing and analyzing how a business spends money,” making this essentially a management position rather than one leading to management. These professionals typically hold a master’s degree and collaborate with purchasing managers—also procurement managers—to identify innovative business developments and ways to reduce costs. They spend time carefully researching decisions and earn an average annual salary of over $93,000.

Types of supply chain manager jobs

The spectrum of SCM jobs is much more comprehensive than a single article can cover. Supply chain management work broadly fits into three categories: cost, operations, and logistics management. Professionals search for ways to produce goods more efficiently, deliver them quicker, and reduce costs.

If your position addresses at least one aspect of this process, you’re considered an SCM professional. Logistics managers typically work to optimize the supply chain and ensure product delivery. Operations managers help companies utilize their resources better. These are two examples of professionals that focus on a single aspect of supply chain management—though logistics is a large enough specialty that people often use the term in place of SCM.

Other top SCM positions include:

  • Commodities Manager: Oversees the purchase and sale of commodities in the market. This role involves analyzing market trends, negotiating contracts with suppliers, and managing inventory levels to meet organizational needs while optimizing costs.
  • Global Logistics Manager: Manages and coordinates logistics activities across international borders. This includes overseeing the transportation, storage, and distribution of goods worldwide, ensuring compliance with international laws, and optimizing global supply chain operations.
  • Logistics Director: Directs all aspects of logistics operations, including warehousing, distribution, transportation, and inventory management. They develop strategic plans to improve logistics efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction.
  • Manufacturing and Operations Director: Oversees the production and operations of a manufacturing facility. This role involves planning, directing, and coordinating the manufacturing process, ensuring quality, efficiency, and safety standards are met.
  • Procurement Manager: Responsible for acquiring goods and services needed for business operations. This includes sourcing suppliers, negotiating contracts, managing procurement budgets, and ensuring the timely delivery of quality products and services.
  • Production Manager: Manages the day-to-day operations of the production floor. They oversee the manufacturing process, ensuring that production targets are met, quality standards are maintained, and operations run smoothly and efficiently.
  • Supply Chain Project Manager: Leads projects within the supply chain, focusing on improving supply chain processes, implementing new systems or technologies, and managing cross-functional project teams to achieve specific objectives related to supply chain efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Transportation Manager: Manages the transportation aspects of the supply chain, including planning, executing, and monitoring the movement of goods. They optimize transportation strategies, manage shipping logistics, and ensure compliance with regulations to minimize costs and improve delivery times.

These roles entail varying levels of responsibility, which may include general management. Procurement managers focus specifically on securing goods or raw materials for production; they typically don’t have anything to do with the actual sale of products or customer service. Production managers focus on the production of goods rather than obtaining enough materials. The jobs fit together in a matrix to provide a seamless supply chain from the beginning of production to the final sale.

Jobs you can advance to after supply chain manager

Supply chain manager isn’t the top SCM position. You may spend a few years in a management role, then advance to a higher-level job, especially after earning a graduate degree or certifications. Upper-level SCM roles include:

Supply chain director

The average director of supply chain management earns over $125,000 per year, according to PayScale. This role is a natural next step for supply chain managers, particularly those who earn a master’s in supply chain management or add valued certifications to their credentials. The job descriptions are fairly similar, but directors take an even longer view of the company’s supply chain, including overseeing purchasing, product development, and pricing.

Vice president of supply chain management

One of the top SCM careers, vice presidents average just above $166,000 in annual salary. They focus on reducing costs and meeting company-wide business goals. VPs spend significant time on budgeting and employee management. They may also establish connections with third-party collaborators and help the company find the best deal on products.

Chief operations officer

COOs may not focus exclusively on SCM, but it can be a significant aspect of their job, which includes “planning and overseeing all the company operations and projects,” according to PayScale. These professionals make financial decisions but also address marketing plans. They can set the tone for the type of products a company manufactures and may be responsible for hiring and training decisions. COOs earn around $118,000 per year in base salary, with significant additional incentives in bonuses and profit-sharing.

Chief supply chain officer

According to Salary.com, a chief supply chain officer—sometime called a chief procurement officer—earns a base income of $210,000 plus substantial performance incentives. The chief supply chain officer sits atop the supply chain process, overseeing and taking responsibility for its successes and failures.

Do you need a master’s in supply chain management?

Technically, no. In practical terms, however, the answer is often yes. Many employers favor candidates with graduate degrees over those without them, and some employers will only hire managers with master’s degrees, regardless of what the job posting says.

If you’re ready to start your career low on the ladder and crawl your way toward the top, then no, you may not need a graduate degree. If you want to accelerate your ascent, a master’s is likely to help. According to Salary.com, nearly half of all SCM professionals hold a master’s degree. Many decide to combine a master’s with certifications. Again, there’s no single advancement path; much depends on your chosen niche.

You do have other options. According to the APICS, certifications can also lead to better positions. One study says that “supply chain professionals who hold just one certification reported a median salary that was 12 percent higher than those who are not certified. Furthermore, each additional certification earned correlates with an additional increase in salary.” Significant work experience plus a roster of carefully selected certifications can get you pretty far in your SCM career.

If you do decide to earn a master’s in supply chain management, you’ll have several excellent degree options to choose from, including a:

Though each degree has a different focus, they all teach similar skills. You’ll typically complete core and elective coursework in:

  • Business Logistics: Explores the efficient and effective management of goods, services, and information from the point of origin to the point of consumption to meet customer requirements. Covers topics such as distribution, transportation, warehousing, and inventory control.
  • Global Operations: Focuses on the operation and management of global supply chains, including the complexities of operating in an international context. Topics include global sourcing, production, logistics, regulatory environments, and cultural considerations.
  • Inventory Management: Examines the strategies and techniques for effectively managing inventory levels, ensuring optimal stock quantities, minimizing costs, and meeting customer demand. Topics include demand forecasting, inventory valuation, and inventory control systems.
  • Logistics Systems: Covers the design, implementation, and management of systems for efficient transportation and storage of goods. Includes topics on logistics network design, third-party logistics, and technology’s role in logistics systems.
  • Materials Management: Focuses on the planning, sourcing, and control of materials used in the production process. Topics include supplier management, purchasing, material requirements planning (MRP), and just-in-time (JIT) inventory systems.
  • Operations Management: Provides an overview of the principles and practices involved in the production and delivery of goods and services. Topics include process design, capacity planning, quality control, and performance measurement.
  • Optimization Procedures: Explores mathematical and computational methods for optimizing supply chain operations. Topics include linear programming, network optimization, and the use of software tools for solving complex optimization problems.
  • Procurement and Strategic Sourcing: Examines the processes involved in acquiring the goods and services needed for business operations. Covers strategic sourcing strategies, supplier selection and evaluation, contract negotiation, and risk management.
  • Project Management: Focuses on the skills and methodologies needed to plan, execute, and manage projects successfully. Topics include project planning, risk management, budgeting, and team leadership, with a focus on projects related to supply chain and logistics.
  • Supply Chain Analytics: Introduces the use of data analytics in understanding and improving supply chain performance. Covers topics such as demand forecasting, data visualization, predictive analytics, and decision-making models.

Students in MBA programs complete similar coursework to those in MS programs, plus classes focused on building traditional business management skills, including:

  • Business Analytics: Involves analyzing business data and using statistical analysis to make informed decisions. It covers techniques and tools for data mining, predictive modeling, and quantitative analysis to optimize business processes and strategies.
  • Competitive Strategy: Focuses on how businesses can create a competitive advantage in the market. It includes analyzing competitors, understanding market dynamics, and developing strategies to outperform rivals through differentiation, cost leadership, or niche targeting.
  • Economics: Studies how individuals, businesses, and governments allocate resources to satisfy their needs and wants. It covers microeconomics (the behavior of individuals and firms) and macroeconomics (the study of the economy as a whole), including topics like supply and demand, market structures, and fiscal policy.
  • Financial Accounting: Deals with the recording, summarizing, and reporting of financial transactions of a business. It provides insights into a company’s financial health and performance through financial statements like the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement.
  • Leadership: Involves influencing and guiding individuals or groups towards achieving goals. It covers various leadership styles, communication skills, decision-making processes, and how to motivate and inspire teams.
  • Organizational Behavior: Examines human behavior within organizations and how it affects workplace dynamics. Topics include motivation, team dynamics, conflict resolution, organizational culture, and change management.
  • Statistics: The science of collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting data. It provides methodologies for making inferences and predictions about populations based on sample data, using concepts like probability, hypothesis testing, regression analysis, and variance analysis.

Earning an SCM MBA prepares you for upper-level management roles beyond day-to-day supply chain operations. MS holders typically ascend to upper-level logistics and optimization roles. APICS reports that, among SCM managers with graduate degrees, 63 percent hold the MBA.

Best master’s in supply chain management programs

Identifying the top SCM master’s programs is difficult—even beyond factors like a program’s location or offered specializations. Compared to the most popular subjects like computer science or finance, there aren’t as many SCM degree options. Similarly, not every MBA program offers a supply chain management concentration, which can significantly limit your search.

That said, it’s helpful to know which SCM graduate programs are considered the best. If nothing else, it provides a great reference point to make your decision. Schools with top master’s in supply chain management programs, including MBAs, are:

  • Arizona State University – Tempe
  • Georgia Institute of Technology – Main Campus
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Rutgers University – New Brunswick
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Tennessee – Knoxville
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Best online master’s in supply chain management programs

Top online master’s in supply chain management programs, including MBA degrees, can be found at:

  • Auburn University
  • Indiana University – Bloomington
  • Pennsylvania State University – World Campus
  • University of Florida
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of Tennessee – Knoxville

(Updated on February 24, 2024)

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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MBA and Supply Chain Management Programs You Should Consider

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