What Does a Supply Chain Manager Do?

Written by Scott Wilson

manager giving directions

We can give you a great textbook definition of what a supply chain manager does …

A supply chain manager handles the planning and coordination of materials flowing into an organization, the creation of product from those materials, and the distribution of finished goods to end-users.

… but if you are looking at starting a career in the field, that’s not a very satisfying answer.

The difficulty in providing a more true-to-life vision of what a supply chain manager does from day-to-day is in the breadth of the supply chain itself. With so many different aspects of SCM, in so many different industries, there’s a wide variety of jobs and activities involved.

Each of these roles is critical to managing the supply chain. Some supply chain managers spend an entire career concentrating in only one of those elements of the job. Others may jump between them as they climb the corporate ladder. And many supply chain management roles combine some or all those responsibilities in one job.

All of them take skills and insights that can be unique to their function and the industry they are performed within.

What Does Supply Chain Management Involve?

on the phone in the warehouse

As a practical matter, the only way to look at supply chain management comes down to the overall responsibilities that a manager fulfills. Although the day-to-day tasks that fulfill those obligations can vary a lot, the overall objectives are consistent for every kind of supply chain management job:

That means that most supply chain managers are using similar job skills every day, even if they apply them in different roles. Those skills include:

Fine-tuning those skills in any industry or position requires experience. But developing the core capabilities of organization, communication ability, and strategic thinking is something you can accomplish with a degree in supply chain management.

Every Industry Relies on Supply Chain Management; Every Supply Chain Management Job Is Influenced by Industry

Of course, the daily applications of those skills will revolve around the challenges of your industry. The work of a warehouse supervisor at a lumberyard is going to be pretty different on a daily basis from one working in a high-volume e-commerce shipping facility.

We’ve put together a list of many of the industries that most commonly employ supply chain managers and described the positions and education needed to fill them.

Learning how your trade works in any of these businesses can happen through trial and error on the job. But a better way to get yourself prepared for the kind of position you seek is to tailor your college training to get the right skills.

That lumber warehouse manager is going to want to learn everything about humidity and material properties to keep plywood sheets from warping. They’ll want to learn things about AWI (Architectural Woodworking Institute) standards for climate control for wood storage.

The e-commerce guru may need to dive into robotics and automation for high-speed order fulfillment. They’ll learn to interface with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems and about efficient packing systems to maximize loads on outbound delivery vehicles.

Either way, higher education is the secret weapon to prepare for the job.

Learning How to Apply the Supply Chain Management Process Successfully

There’s only one route to learning all the complexities and techniques needed to make these processes come together smoothly. And that’s by getting a college education in supply chain and logistics management.

Degrees in this field are sprouting up all over the country. And you can find them at almost any level of college:

With different focuses and levels of intensity, all these degrees offer the kind of skills and knowledge needed to do the job of a supply chain manager:

The broad, international nature of most modern supply chains is one of the reasons a college degree is so useful in the field today. Beyond the purely technical parts of logistics, you need context and cultural capabilities in modern supply chain management. Getting the wheels rolling is about more than wheel chocks and cargo loading. You have to get what’s going on with global markets, relate to the goals and needs of union dock workers, and learn how to get things done when working with customs officials in countries where you do business.

A standard American college education is built to meet those needs.