Your Guide to Becoming a Logistics Manager

Written by Scott Wilson

semi speeding down the highway

Modern logistics is a kind of magic. Products are whisked around town, across the country, and all over the world through processes that are both incredibly complex and entirely routine.

In the same way that some people are fascinated with the physics of engineering or the math that makes a company’s books add up, there are other folks who are utterly absorbed by the precise orchestration of a smoothly functioning supply chain.

If that sounds like you, then becoming a logistics manager is the natural path for you to be on. There’s no question it’s going to be one of the hottest jobs of the decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting 28 percent job growth… but it’s also going to be one of the most challenging.

How Logistics Managers Became the Superheroes of Global Business and Commerce

industrial tech checking risks in server room

Logistics is nothing new. It’s been happening in one form or another at least since the Olmec carted jade statues through the jungles of Mesoamerica.

It’s still big business. According to estimates you’re likely to see in your Intro to Logistics textbook, global logistics expenditures amount to between 10 and 15 percent of the world’s GDP.

But that used to all happen out of sight and out of mind. On the high seas, as a distant contrail overhead, or a semi-truck backing into a distant suburban warehouse in the middle of the night. Logistics made the world work so well you never had to think about it.

You know what happened next. COVID-19 broke the supply chain into a dozen pieces. Laden ships stacked up in coastal anchorages; stores ran out of toilet paper, builders ran out of lumber.

Highly qualified logistics and supply chain management professionals who could barely get the attention of corporate execs before suddenly find themselves with a full dance card.

Where the Whole Idea Behind Strategic Logistics Came From

napoleon at battleYou’re probably vaguely aware that logistics as a coherent concept emerged from the world of military thought and strategy. But you’re probably not familiar with the man who first described and developed those thoughts.

Antoine-Henri Jomini was a Swiss officer who served in both the French and Russian armies during the Napoleonic Wars. His observations and experience of the movement and supply of large formations during those world-spanning conflicts informed his writing in retirement.

In his Summary of the Art of War he gives the name logistics to the processes related to the functioning of the army: not only obtaining food, lodging, equipment, and munitions for the troops, but also organizing their transport and maneuver to strategic points.

In a nutshell, that’s still what military logisticians do today. And it’s a fair representation of what logistics professionals in the civilian world do as well, minus munitions!

What Do Logistics Management Jobs Look Like?

There’s a lot of different levels of the supply chain where logistics managers come in. Each of the broad range of functions that go along with every link in the supply chain has unique technical details and specific skills that go with it.

That reality leads to many specializations within the logistics management field. More may emerge with the development of new techniques or technologies… drone delivery sequence supervisor may be a job title in your future.

For now, you can fit most logistics manager jobs into four basic fields.

Logistics is often divided into inbound and outbound as well:

Keep in mind, though, that the skills and knowledge you need in any of these specializations can vary not just by function, but by industry. A warehouse manager stocking automotive parts has a very different job than a laboratory supply storage manager.

Of course, particularly in smaller organizations, you also have logistics managers who must run the table. In companies that can’t afford or don’t need in-depth specialization, there is a role for generalist logisticians who know a little bit about everything.

Developing the Right Skillsets and Knowledge to Get a Job in Logistics Management

warehouse managers and workers looking at laptop

All those specializations and roles come with their own demands and daily duties. And for general logistics managers, well, they get a taste of every other kind of logistics work, every day.

If you break it all down, though, the core demands on logistics managers of every stripe comes down to a few core skills:

Combine those with industry knowledge and standard practices, and you are off to a good start in any logistics management position.

And these are the abilities and the kind of information that you will only get through a degree in logistics and supply chain management.

The College Education Necessary to Become a Logistics Professional

On top of different specializations within logistics, clearly there are different levels of responsibility that go with different roles in the field. Each of these has a different educational pathway that leads to it… although those paths also often lead to further educational opportunities, as well.

You’ll also find there is a link between the level of degree you earn and your own earning potential. But, of course, the cost of a college education in America isn’t cheap either. And those rates tend to go up the higher the degree level you pursue.

The good news is that there are degrees at every level, in any specialization, to help you get started in your logistics management career. Here you’ll see what sort of degree you need for different roles in logistics management, together with the costs of those degrees as averaged out by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for 2022, and the average salaries as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2021 and 2022.

How To Become a Logistician

Getting in on the ground floor as a logistician can happen in as little as two years with an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Logistics Management under your belt. These jobs handle the nuts and bolts of planning, allocating, and organizing logistics functions. So, the degrees focus on the basics of logistics management, with fundamentals of operations, accounting, communications, and inventory management. They also typically include general education coursework that is designed to give you better communications skills and a foundation for further study. With the right transfer agreements between colleges, an associate degree may be used to count toward the first two years of a full bachelor’s degree.

For some positions, even a short-term undergraduate Certificate in Logistics Management, which skips the general education coursework, may be enough. Certificates are just as often available as post-bachelor’s and post-master’s options, offering professionals in the field a chance to develop specialized knowledge in logistics niches and advance without earning a full degree.

smiling logistics manager in warehouse

How to Become an Entry-Level Logistics Manager

At the next step up, jobs as Transportation, Storage, and Distribution managers usually require at least a four-year Bachelor of Science in Logistics Management. The basic logistics instruction that an associate degree offers is built up with more detail and more elective options, so you can tailor these degrees to your career plans. They also come with even more liberal arts studies, designed to enhance problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications abilities… all key skills for becoming a logistics manager. A bachelor’s is also considered necessary to advance to graduate-level studies for a master’s or doctoral degree.

How to Become a Senior Logistics Executive

The highest-level jobs in logistics management will tend to go to graduates who hold either a Master of Science in Logistics Management or a Master of Business Administration in Logistics. These advanced degrees take from two to three years to earn and cover the latest research, theory, and practice in the field. They involve extensive investigation and original thinking, in partnership with other students, outside companies, and top-notch professors. This is the perfect training for top executives in logistics and supply chain management. Those aiming for particularly demanding roles may even pursue a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) in Logistics Management.

There are also roles for logistics professors and researchers; those positions usually require a PhD in Logistics Management and strong academic skills.

Salaries for any of those roles will vary according to the industry you work in and the area of the country where you work.

Naturally, these aren’t all just discrete positions that you will earn a degree and step into. Both your education, and the experience that will come with working at each level, will build together to qualify you for more and more advanced logistics management roles… if you choose to keep moving up the ladder.

On-The-Job Experience Is Key for More Advanced Logistics Management Jobs

Degrees in logistics are an important way to lay the foundations for a career as a logistics and supply chain manager. But you will need to start building on that foundation quickly to be taken seriously in the field.

It’s an industry where there can be big differences between the textbooks and the action in the freight yards. It’s not that the books aren’t right; they just can’t keep up.

Having real-world experience will make a huge difference. You’ll get the most informed and most accurate picture from the bottom up… start out as an analyst, clerk, or dispatcher and you’ll see how the gears turn in a logistics operation. That’s valuable information to have when you start calling the shots in a supply chain organization.

Professional Logistics and Supply Chain Management Certifications Build Expertise and Value

Adding professional industry certifications to your resume is one sure fire way to cement your expertise and show employers beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have what it takes.

Professional certification in the logistics and supply chain industry isn’t granted by a college, though it often takes a college degree to qualify for one. Instead, they come from independent third-party associations and vendors. These are different from an academic certificate in logistics management in that they offer a validation of your actual knowledge and skills. To earn one, you’ll have to:

Though colleges don’t grant certification, in some cases the coursework required for certain certifications can be incorporated into degree programs, giving you precisely the curriculum you need to qualify and prepare for exams. In those cases, you’ll still have to meet the other requirements to graduate with a degree and professional certification.

Certification is often listed as a requirement or at least a preference for certain kinds of logistics management jobs. Those that require highly specialized technical skills in a specific software package or niche area of the field often list relevant certifications that will boost your odds of getting hired.

2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Top Executives, Logisticians, and Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed July 2023.