What is Logistics Management?

Written by Scott Wilson

What is logistics management? Logistics management is the process of coordinating the safe movement and storage of materials and products into, through, and out of an organization.

logistics manager and crew in warehouse

Logistics management is something that happens all around you, every day. Most people see it happening but tune it out; Amazon delivery vehicles going up and down your street, bright yellow DHL cargo jets arcing overhead, a cluster of warehouses with forklifts scurrying around the loading docks.

They are all part of an intricately choreographed ballet that keeps goods and services moving through the modern world.

Logistics management describes the roles that individuals play in putting that dance together. It’s a job with breathtaking scope and gritty real-world problems to solve. And it’s absolutely critical to keeping society functioning today.

Logistics vs SCM: What Is Logistics and Supply Chain Management?

Logistics and supply chain management are often mentioned in the same breath, but they are not the same things.

If supply chain management isn’t logistics, and logistics isn’t supply chain management, then what exactly is going on here? Why do you always see the same terms together?

The concepts are closely related but not identical.

Logistics may be the most important part of the supply chain management function. It’s certainly the largest part of that larger system. In fact, it’s common to combine the two when discussing either one. Many of the degrees in the field carry both titles, as do many of the jobs in the field.

Logistics is the science of organizing complex processes and functions.

Planning and execution are core concepts in logistics. But that’s also true in supply chain management. Logistics deals with only a subset of the big supply chain picture, though.

Specifically, logistics is about the movement and storage of goods, services, and information.

So, hauling a shipping container across the country is a logistics function. Tracking the items in it, unloading them, and storing them in a warehouse is logistics. But the research and negotiations that go on to find the most reliable suppliers and the manufacturing process that those parts are used in, although part of the supply chain, are not of the logistics world.

Logistics picks up again on the other side when finished products must be stored or moved. But it doesn’t address something like strategic analysis of business operations or any other supply chain function unrelated to storage or movement.

Where Does the Concept of Logistics Come From?

cargo train carrying military vehiclesThe idea of such a unified discipline emerged from 18th century military arts studies. As armies grew and the technologies they fought with became more complex, generals began to realize that winning battles and wars was no longer simply a matter of the military arts. Instead, the ability to organize men, materials, and supplies to deliver them to critical strategic points in force and in shape to fight was often the most critical element in victory.

Logistics management became an important part of the education of professional military officers. Far more of the curriculum at West Point throughout the 19th Century revolved around engineering and transportation than around strategy and tactics.

For many of the same reasons that you’ll find Sun Tzu in the offices of high-level business executives, the science of logistics made its way into the corporate world as well. Particularly in the wake of World War II, which saw prodigies of both industrial and military feats in organizing supply and transportation, the science of logistics management became a routine course of study for business administrators.

What Is a Logistics Manager?

logistics manager in office

Once you pin down the meaning of logistics management, it starts to get easier to figure out what a logistics manager does.

Working at all hours, planning routes, securing warehouse space, and painstakingly accounting for every single item of inventory is the life of a logistics manager.

Logistics managers are the leaders and administrators who take charge of this part of the supply chain. They oversee the departments and individuals responsible for:

While they plan these processes down to the last detail, managers in logistics also grease the wheels to make sure everything gets done. Objects in motion don’t always stay in motion; a derailed freight train, unseasonable hurricane, or unscheduled protest march can all throw a wrench in the best laid plans.

Logistics managers are the individuals responsible for coming up with solutions on short notice. They must be able to think on their feet. But just as importantly, they must have the background knowledge needed to create solutions quickly.

Whether something under the control of their business moves or remains at rest, logistics managers have something to do with it.

Clearly, the processes involved and the skills needed can vary a lot depending on what exactly is being moved and stored. The qualifications for a global logistics manager working for a bulk cargo shipping line will be substantially different from one who handles the delicate but time-critical transportation arrangements for organ transplants.

In every case, these jobs involve attention to detail. Strong record-keeping skills and a deep knowledge of the industry and procedures are necessary.

How To Get into Logistics Management

With the high level of expertise the role demands, becoming a logistics manager isn’t something that happens overnight. Logistics and supply chain management requires a fine balance of knowledge and practical experience.

These days, you can get both through college studies.

Logistics is just a piece of the supply chain, but it’s the major focus of supply chain management degrees. In fact, many degrees put supply chain and logistics right in the title. But every degree in supply chain management, whether logistics is in the title or not, covers the essential training logistics managers need.

That comes through a course load that is heavy in subjects like:

Plenty of electives are also available to allow you to tailor your studies to industries or specialties that interest you most.

And because logistics is a very hands-on business, experiential learning is also part of the package. You can expect to have internships or cooperative projects on-site with corporations that have decades of real-world logistics industry expertise. Through your direct experience in those positions or working on actual problems they face; you’ll build your own logistics expertise too.

Logistics Degree Programs Are Available at Every Level at Universities Across the Country and Online

yale university

Naturally, more advanced concepts come with more advanced degrees. That also typically leads to jobs with greater responsibility, although all logistics departments value experience alongside education.

Associate of Science in Logistics Management

A quick two years of combined liberal arts and logistics coursework sets students up for further studies or entry-level positions in logistics work.

Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain, Transportation, and Logistics Management

Four years of study with more in-depth training in both logistics and supply chain concepts and general problem-solving and critical thinking skills shape students for analytical and lower-level management positions.

MBA and Master of Science in Logistics and Supply Chain Management

Another two years of study on top of a bachelor’s offers highly specialized and advanced coursework to hone leadership and strategic logistics management skills. Another graduate program, the Master of Business Administration in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, offers broader business management skills alongside advanced logistics coursework.

A PhD in Logistics or a Doctor of Business Administration in Logistics and Supply Chain Management

At the highest level, three to five years of additional study turn out graduates who are fully qualified to teach classes in logistics management or engage in groundbreaking research. The DBA is a more practice-oriented degree, aimed at high-level consultants or senior executives in logistics organizations.

Undergraduate, Post-bachelor’s, and Post-master’s Certificate Programs in Logistics

Certificates are available at each of the above levels of education: Basic post-secondary options for high school grads offered at community colleges, undergraduate certificates earned as a minor along with a bachelor’s in business or a related field, as well as graduate certificates for bachelor’s degree holders and post-graduate options for those who already hold a master’s. They include the same coursework but only a handful of courses. That makes them good for a general overview or for anyone who earned a degree in a different field with plans to transition to logistics management. Or it can allow you to drill down in a specific area of logistics expertise to really hone your skills in the field.

Logistics managers in every industry and specialty are in high demand today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the category of logistician is set to grow by 18 percent over the next decade, much faster than the average rate of American job growth. Salaries for those jobs and related positions are similarly on the rise.

As a critical part of the supply chain, logistics management is a role that will remain in high demand across industries. People with the training and talent to make products move will find themselves in demand throughout their careers.