March 21, 2017

What it Means to be a Professional in Supply Chain Management

In a recent strategy meeting of our local APICS chapter, we stated our primary Mission as: “We Develop Professionals”.  APICS is an international professional society that has become a recognized source for education and certification of Supply Chain and Operations Management professionals.  As a chapter, we hold “professional development meetings”, provide “professional” training courses, seminars, and workshops, and offer “professional support” for our student chapter.  Often we hear people say “he or she is a real professional”, but what does that really mean?

Professionals such as doctors, in their white coats, or, policemen, or football players, or even waitresses in uniform are identified by what they wear.

Some professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers or MBA’s hold a “professional” degree in their field of endeavor identifying as a professional.

Sometimes people in business are described as “professional” based on their appearance; how appropriately dressed, well-groomed or clean-cut, they are.

Some positions are labeled as “professional” such as a “professional buyer” or “professional accountant”.

But, a “real professional” is not defined by their dress, credential, physical appearance, pay level, or job description. When people say, “he/she is a real professional”, often they are describing a person’s attitude or behavior and how they go about doing their work and interacting with others.

Typically we find that someone who is described as professional is a person who is eager to get to work and is punctual (i.e. respects other’s time).  Professionals are usually upbeat, enthusiastic, and positive around others at work.  No job is too big for them, and they are anxious to take on new challenges and responsibilities.   Professionals normally have high standards for themselves and others, and are ethical in their dealings with others. They show concern for and are eager to help others.  Additionally, professionals possess good communication and presentation skills for selling their ideas.  They return calls, emails and texts, and most importantly they follow through with their commitments.

Professionals know their job, and they know what they are good at doing, but they also recognize when they need help; and when and where to get it.   A “professional” has a passion for learning and never stops learning.  There is an old adage that describes the difference between a master and a professional as:  “A professional practices until he gets it right.  A master practices until he can’t get it wrong.  And, neither one ever stops practicing.”

Following are some famous quotes about professionalism I found on the internet.

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”
– Alistair Cooke (journalist)

“All I really do is go to work, try and be professional, be on time and be prepared.”
– Ben Affleck (actor)

“The problem is not the problem, it is your attitude about the problem.”
– Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

“Professionalism is knowing what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and doing it.”
– Frank Tyger (editorial cartoonist)

Getting back to the theme of this article, “What it means to be a Professional in Supply Chain Management”.

We seldom hear of jobs in the field of Supply Chain Management described as “professional”.  In fact employees like planners, buyers, inventory control, warehouse, transportation and logistics personnel, are often described as specialists, clerks, expediters, or coordinators by management and their peers.

Most of these employees do not hold advanced professional degrees and some of them have little or no formal education beyond high school.  Even if they have a certification or other professional recognition, they may not see themselves as professionals.  But, these employees often have a greater impact on “the bottom line” than do many of their counterparts in engineering, sales, quality control, human resources, and other staff and support departments.  On a day-to-day basis SCM employees can influence cost reductions, improvements in efficiency and productivity, depending on how well they understand or don’t understand their job.

So, what can you or your employees do to become recognized as a professional in Supply Chain Management?

  • Start by developing a professional social network such as LinkedIn.
  • Join a professional society such as APICS or ISM to network with other professionals.
  • Attend professional development meetings and seminars to enhance your knowledge.
  • Attend educational classes and workshops related to your job and career interests.
  • Attain a certificate or certification such as CPIM, CSCP, CLTD, CPSM, CSCS, or CSCMP.
  • Volunteer your time to work on the Board of Directors of a professional society.
  • Learn the language and terminology of your profession, and learn how managers think and talk in order to sell your ideas.
  • Most of all, “Think like a Professional”, “Talk like a Professional”, “Act like a Professional”

In the words of David Maister, a former Harvard Business School professor, and expert on business management practices:

“Professional is not a label you give yourself – it is a description you hope others will give to you”

If you like this article or want more information on how to develop yourself or your employees professionally, please contact Jim Strong, CPIM, CSCP, C.P.M. at

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