Supply Chain Management

What Does a Supply Chain Manager Do?

What Does a Supply Chain Manager Do?
Good supply chain managers know how to use technology in their favor, and to communicate findings to professionals who work in different sectors of the chain. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella April 20, 2020

Supply chain managers are in charge of getting products from the factory to consumers. However, saying that's all the job entails is like calling Lord of the Rings a story about a guy who took a trip to a volcano.

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Supply chain managers ensure that the supply chain process—how products move from formulation to the customer—operates at peak efficiency. Their influence is significant: they can have input on everything from customer service to inventory. It’s a crucial position in any company, and one that is becoming more important as technology creates new opportunities for global expansion.

What does a supply chain manager do? We answer that question in this article by addressing:

  • What does a supply chain manager do?
  • What are the day-to-day responsibilities of a supply chain manager?
  • Where do supply chain managers work?
  • What skills do good supply chain managers have?
  • Educational requirements for a supply chain manager
  • How much do supply chain managers earn?

What does a supply chain manager do?

According to the Michigan State University website, “Supply chain managers work across multiple functions and companies to ensure that a finished product not only gets to the end consumer, but meets all requirements as well.” Chain management is a huge job—one that requires attention to details and the big picture.

Supply chain managers have a hand in every aspect of the supply chain, including:

  • Customer service
  • Distribution
  • Global deployment
  • Innovation
  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Operations
  • Product development
  • Purchasing
  • Sourcing

Supply chain management plays a huge role in the success of a company—not only in terms of making sure things get where they need to go but also in gaining a competitive advantage and trying to reduce unnecessary costs. Supply chain managers often utilize their big picture perspective to optimize processes and eliminate inefficiencies. Good supply chain managers know how to use technology in their favor, and to communicate findings to professionals who work in different sectors of the chain. It is a job that requires business acumen, people skills, and technical know-how.

The digital age has expanded chain management processes. Good supply chain managers have mastered and integrated developments like:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Big data
  • Machine learning
  • The cloud
  • The Internet of Things

What are the day-to-day responsibilities of a supply chain manager?

Day-to-day responsibilities in chain management can include:

  • Appeasing customers whose expectations supercede a supplier’s ability
  • Creating and maintaining schedules for everything from product creation to delivery
  • Creating and supporting organizational databases
  • Managing inventory (ensuring there are enough goods to sell with as little dead warehouse space as possible)
  • Identifying ways to cut costs
  • Improving shipping practices
  • Introducing new products
  • Managing orders
  • Overseeing packaging
  • Overseeing third-party logistics
  • Supervising the procurement of raw materials

Supply chain managers do not perform each of these tasks daily (procurement, for example, might only happen once a week). Your day will likely depend on an individual company’s size and needs. For instance, if a large shipping organization employs you, you may spend a lot of time communicating with a section of the business based in Europe or Asia. If you work for a local company, you might have more interaction with buyers.

Pretty much every duty that supply chain managers have falls into one of three categories:

  • Cost management
  • Logistics management
  • Operations management

Some supply chain management professionals focus on only one of these branches. For instance, operations managers generally concentrate on manufacturing actual products (from raw materials to finished goods). By definition, supply chain managers oversee all three categories; however, this boundary has shifted as the field has grown more complex and far-reaching.

Where do supply chain managers work?

Generally speaking, companies that hire supply chain managers are at least mid-sized, but any business that sells a product has at least some need for supply chain management. The owner and operator of a small flower shop typically acts as their own supply chain manager, because they oversee:

  • Obtaining raw materials (flowers)
  • Warehouse operations and manufacturing processes (making bouquets)
  • Inventory control (sales)
  • Shipping and distribution practices (delivery)
  • Customer satisfaction

Small businesses can practice this fairly personal version of supply chain management and will often benefit from it. Still, they might not put as much of a premium on it as a larger company (such as Edible Arrangements). At any level, good supply chain management can help enhance a company’s capabilities. You might be hired by a growing business or one that is trying to maintain its growth.

If you work for a large company, you might be one of many supply chain managers. A corporation like Amazon can have numerous jobs available along different parts of the supply chain. Roles and titles differ by company. For instance, some might consider a logistics manager (who ensures that the product reaches the customer) the same as a supply chain manager. We’re not here to split hairs by examining the difference between logistics and supply management, but know that both employ many of the same skills, even if the scope of the jobs might be slightly different.

What skills do good supply chain managers have?

Every job you apply for is going to be “looking for a candidate with excellent problem-solving skills,” but what, beyond that nebulous phrase, makes a good supply chain manager? Dogs can go viral for problem-solving how to get a scoop of peanut butter off their nose. There has to be more to supply chain management than that.

According to the Association for Supply Chain Management, some of the top skills supply chain managers need include:

  • Accountability and responsibility
  • Lean and six sigma tools
  • Conflict management
  • Customer focus (internal and external)
  • Enabling technology
  • Foundations of business management
  • Math, statistics, and analytical thinking
  • Operations and enterprise economics
  • Planning and organizing
  • Strategic sourcing and supplier relationship
  • Supply chain fundamentals
  • Sustainability
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Warehousing

The supply chain management process requires a unique blend of technical and interpersonal abilities. To practice good supply chain strategy, you will be “expected to find your own way around the modules of your company’s ERP [enterprise resource planning] and business intelligence applications,” according to Rob O’Byrne, cofounder of the Logistics Bureau. Now, it’s unlikely that you will need to collect and maintain real-time data the way a data analyst or data architect does. Still, you will be required to interact with and direct these professionals to keep the company operating at peak efficiency.

Educational requirements for a supply chain manager

There are several bachelor’s degrees that can launch your supply chain management career. Top undergraduate majors for this profession include:

  • Business administration
  • Logistics
  • Process engineering
  • Sales
  • Supply chain management

Most entry-level positions in supply chain management require at least an undergraduate degree. Some professionals complete a graduate program to advance their careers. If you reach the stage where a master’s degree is necessary—generally that happens once you’ve gained some work experience—you might consider earning a:

These programs generally share a similar academic focus, offering courses like:

  • Electronic data interchange
  • Enterprise resource planning
  • Logistics management
  • Supply chain security

The programs differ most in their big-picture objectives. An MBA will be more business-centric, while an MS will focus more on technological applications. A master’s degree is generally going to be the highest level of education you’ll need to work in chain management.

How much do supply chain managers earn?

Supply chain managers are compensated well. According to PayScale, the average supply chain manager earns an average annual salary of $82,304—with the top 10 percent earning at least $116,000 and the bottom 10 percent earning $54,000 or less. However, the site also reports that senior supply chain managers, who likely have extensive work experience and a master’s degree, earn an average salary of $112,011—with the top 10 percent making $146,000 and above.

Supply chain executives at major companies garner higher salaries than those working for a small to mid-sized business. Glassdoor reports that global supply chain managers earn an average salary of over $120,000. Supply chain directors earn an average salary of $129,032.

There are other supply chain careers that can pay well, even if your job description doesn’t exactly fit that of a supply chain manager. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median pay for a logistician was $74,600 in 2018, while says that the average logistics manager earns a median salary of $112,415.

Why is a career in supply chain management so remunerative? Because supply chain managers do far more than ensuring that goods and products are shuttled from point A to point B. They impact the way entire companies do business, not just how quickly that gold-plated toilet paper holder gets from an Amazon warehouse to your door.

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About the Editor

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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Categorized as: Supply Chain ManagementBusiness & Management