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Who is best qualified to be a contracts professional?

April 30, 2012

One of my recent blogs resulted in the following comment by B R Srikanth (an IACCM member from the oil and gas sector and based in the Middle East): “the more important question should be “Who is best qualified to be a Contracts Professional?” Is it someone with a law background, or Finance or technical or project management or a bit of all. “Is a Contracts Professional suitable across industries like an Accounts or Finance professional; if not, is it industry specific?”

In order to answer this question, we must address whether those in contracts and commercial management can truly be called ‘professionals’. And in my opinion, if they can only be defined in relation to other professions, the answer is no. A hallmark of professional status is a distinct body of knowledge which includes widely used techniques to undertake the diagnosis and remediation of problems. If contract managers are simply amateur lawyers, accountants, project managers or engineers, they cannot be deemed ‘a profession’. And of course, by defining the role in this way, it guarantees that it is seen as a sub-element of another functional discipline, with relatively low status and value. It also means that the role is performed inconsistently, depending on whether an individual or company sees its primary purpose as legal, financial or project-management oriented.

Of course, this is not to suggest that contract and commercial managers do not operate with professional standards – principles of ethics, integrity, a commitment to learning – but that is in no way the same as being ‘a profession’. And at this time, the contracts and commercial community remains on a journey towards professionalism because, while there are several thousand who are now certified practitioners, many are not – and therefore still define themselves in terms of a quite different professional background and qualification (or indeed have no formal qualification at all).

The syllabus for contract management does indeed include elements of finance, law and project management. But it also incorporates elements of marketing, economics, business planning, quality management and business development. And it moulds those fields of knowledge and understanding to create unique value propositions that support successful business outcomes. Therefore the real question should be more focused on the skills and aptitudes required for excellence in this role – and there we start to focus more on communications, analysis, negotiation, time management and a range of other personal attributes that ensure effective application of the knowledge supplied through the learning syllabus.

IACCM has defined the skill and knowledge requirements for contracts and commercial professionals and developed a body of knowledge to support their work. Through this, we are steadily observing the emergence of a profession that can define itself on the basis of its unique characteristics. It is also increasingly supported by extensive research in areas that are not addressed by other functions and professions – for example, the connection between contracts and relationship management; the impact of selected terms on trading outcomes; the effect of cultural variations on approaches to contracting.

For now, the lack of undergraduate programs in contracts and commercial management means that most will come to this role with other qualifications or background experience. In that case, they should be measured on the basis of aptitude (skills) as much as they are for knowledge. And while finance, law and project management may each be relevant, none of them is in itself enough; each is a component of the syllabus for a high-performing contracts professional.

Tomorrow, I will address the second part of Budgur’s question: whether contracts and commercial is needed across all industries and whether the role is industry-specific.

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