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Opportunities for contract and commercial managers

May 8, 2013

I was talking today with some of the top recruiters for contracts and commercial staff. We were comparing experiences in terms of market demand and trends.

IACCM surveys have shown that most contracts and commercial groups are avoiding significant staff reductions. Indeed, many have received increased investment, reflecting a growth in workload and perceived importance. But management expectations of value are shifting, and this has resulted in changed expectations and demand. For example, there is now much greater focus on the role the function plays in safeguarding value from contracts. With tough economic conditions resulting in low or zero growth, it has become essential to ensure that existing contracts perform better. So the major recruitment opportunities have shifted to a focus on post-award contract management.

Similarly, the overall skills of the contract manager are now expected to be broader, offering ‘commercial judgment’ rather than simply oversight of performance and compliance. This includes a need to share information and knowledge – as one recruiter put it, the contracts staff must be capable of ‘workshopping with the business’. They are not only practitioners, but also teachers and enablers.

We also discussed whether this growing focus on a post-award role places the contracts or commercial manager in a position of greater contention with project management. The overall consensus is that it does not. Businesses appear to have recognised that project managers tend to bring technical delivery skills and methods, but need a commercial partner. Therefore contracts and project professionals tend to be peers with dual responsibility for successful delivery.

Not all organizations have yet grasped the potential scale of savings or incremental revenues that can be earned from investment in contract management. Those that have are realizing a high level of return – and hence the observed trend to retain or grown the function. But the counter-side of this is that it has been a tough period for interim hires. The itinerant contracts or commercial professional has seen a marked drop in the demand for their services.

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