Managing Vendors – Articles by Jim Everett

Tips on managing vendors, skills and competencies required

Vendor Manager – a Career?

Posted on | January 14, 2011 | 13 Comments

This article adds to previous posts around skills and competencies needed in the role of Vendor Manager, and about learning the role. I introduce another consideration, and that is how much the Vendor Manager owns the outcomes (deliverables) of the work done by the vendor. I also want to touch on what it means to the career of the person who take on managing vendors, when it can be an opportunity to learn and be seen or when it may simply be a job to be done.


Class or Grade of Vendor Manager

Not all roles of managing vendors are equal, or provide the same opportunities. For this article, I have used the concept of “grades” of role.

As an extension or expansion to his or her own role, an employee makes the decision to engage a specialist vendor for their expertise, business model, or ability to take on workload. They select the vendor, own the vendor relationship, and are personally measured by the results the vendor delivers.

A department adopts a leveraged model and engages various specialized vendors, assigning team members with particular disciplines to manage the respective vendors.

A larger department or function, as part of a strategic corporate approach, outsources key programs and projects. A relationship manager is assigned from within the department to manage the outsourced project, and the relationship with the vendor. That project may also have others within the department managing the deliverables.

Enterprise level management of large outsourced programs or functions is often done by a governance team from internal stakeholders and enterprise functions. Where an outsourced project spans multiple departments, there may be a relationship manager assigned to work at top levels with the vendor. Larger programs or projects may be broken into separate activities, with multiple vendor managers ensuring the quality of deliverables and signing off on payment on different elements in the contract.

Outsourcing Lifecycle

The lifecycle of an outsourcing engagement goes from the decision to outsource, through selection and engagement, managing the relationship, and wrapping up the engagement when to work completes or transitions.

Five key factors in defining the role of vendor manager are:

  1. Size, value, and complexity of the outsourced program or project
  2. Breadth of ownership of the relationship by the vendor manager (how many of the lifecycle phases and segments)
  3. Scope for taking action, negotiating, solving problems, and implementing change
  4. Depth of subject matter expertise and experience required to manage
  5. Extent of integration of the outsourced work into the business operations

Click here for more on the Outsourcing Lifecycle (Phases)

Career Impact for the Individual

So where does being a vendor manager lead to? How does it equip a person with skills for the next role? How does it look on a résumé? What unique knowledge insights does the job provide? What kind of visibility does it provide, and what opportunity to demonstrate performance. These are all important questions for a person taking on, or already in, a vendor manager role. They are also important questions for HR and more senior manages to look at from a development and talent planning perspective.

This depends on the background of the individual, and where they see their career going. In many situations, a person trained as a professional who does well at that is promoted to a manager role, even if they have not been prepared for it. This may be manager of a team, project or function. Where that is managing an outsourced project, there are times when this can have positive career benefits.

Other times not. Such as when the vendor manager role is very limited in breadth and responsibilities, and becomes more of an administrative role checking results reports and approving invoices.

For an employee with sights on more senior management positions, or greater professional responsibility in their chosen field, this latter type of role can have a zero or even negative effect on a career. The person no longer gets hand-on professional experience, has little or no management responsibility, and does not create visible results to get be able to demonstrate their abilities.

And for some functions or areas of specialization, the nature of that area may be pervasively outsourced, so a career will be from a job with one company to hopefully) a better job at another company, still essentially managing outsourced vendors.

Before a team member, project leader or manager is directed to take on managing an external resource, it is important to review their existing skill set and experience, as set out in an earlier post, and to assess the impact that the new role will have on their development and longer term career potential.

What a person can learn through managing vendors

One benefit of learning that is often overlooked, and frequently misunderstood, is being able to separate behaviors and activities from end results or outcomes. If the vendor manager gains experience in assessing outcomes, both those created by the vendor, and their own performance in the role, then that is a very valuable skill and mindset for more senior roles in managing.

When managing employees directly, managers can often be influenced by whether they like the individual (chemistry), share similar viewpoints, or how the employee describes (“sells”) their own accomplishments to the manager. Managing vendors typically requires more objective assessment of performance against defined objective criteria.

Other areas an employee can learn or hone skills and expertise through a more broadly responsible vendor management role are (as set out in an earlier post):

  1. Business & financials – large budgets, analysis, forecasting, cash-flow
  2. Interpreting, creating and modifying agreements
  3. Management and leadership skills, esp. remotely and cross-culturally
  4. Communications – explaining, running meetings, negotiating
  5. Relationship management – day-to-day work or long term partnering
  6. Project management – timelines, milestones, multi-source delivery
  7. Program management – service levels, quality and value
  8. Problem-solving, including other stakeholders
  9. Operations – logistics, processes, integration
  10. Subject matter expertise from a management perspective

What capabilities a person can demonstrate in the role

Doing a visibly effective job in managing delivery and outcomes from a vendor may provide a great opportunity for a professional or non-managerial employee to showcase his or her abilities. And maybe the right senior people within the company get to see that person in action. Or a vendor may want to hire the person. This will depend on who a person connects with and where he or she gains positive visibility.

Managing outsourced work and a vendor relationship may demonstrate problem-solving, leadership, getting results, managing across disciplines and stakeholders, analysis of metrics, and other areas that build a positive reputation.


Working with external resources, and having responsibility for engaging and managing the work done by vendors, can give valuable experience, exposure and insights. Or, for some, it can be a step away from the career they had planned.

Having the right person in a vendor manager role is just as important as having the right vendor. HR development groups, and department managers need to work together, along with Sourcing (Procurement/Purchasing) and any outsourcing governance groups, to ensure that there is a good match between skills, career, experience and vendor.



13 Responses to “Vendor Manager – a Career?”

  1. Rohit
    October 18th, 2015 @ 3:56 am

    Does it make sense for a technical architect to take up this role ?

  2. Jim Everett
    April 15th, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

    To answer this question, I would need a little more background. Are you currently working as a Technical Architect? Why are you considering a career as a Vendor Manager? Do you work in (say) and IT Group that outsources to vendors? Why are you looking at a potential career change? How much do you know about what is involved in managing vendors, and why is that relevant to you?

  3. Rick
    May 19th, 2016 @ 2:14 am

    I have just recently gained a position as a Vendor manager for a statewide WIC program of medium size. I have no experience working with vendors, but possessed all the skills required to learn the position (training will be provided). The work will primarily focus on retailers that provide WIC supplements, contracts, audits, federal and state regulation enforcement. My question is, are there other career fields that a Vendor Manager in my position could transition into after gaining the experience to successfully fulfill the position, if so what kind?

  4. Jim Everett
    May 21st, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

    Rick – it sounds like you are working with a program for retail partners for the supplements, rather than managing the performance of work that has been outsourced vendors. If I read your question right, then you would be gaining useful experience and credibility in retail and reseller relationships. Do the vendors represent a branded consumer-facing presence of your company, or do they also under their own storefront or online outlets represent other product manufacturers.If it is the former, then that experience of working with company-branded retail outlets, or even franchise or self-branded businesses with your products as part of that brand, then that is a specific area of expertise that would carry weight and credibility for similar roles in other industries and products. Is this along the lines of what you are asking? Happy to continue shaping an answer for you. Jim.

  5. Rick
    May 21st, 2016 @ 7:18 pm

    Thanks for your quick response. I think we are on the right track here. If you don’t mind, could you take a look at this job posting? It is similar to my new position, with the exception of points #4 and #5. I think this will help give a more complete understanding of my particular vendor position, than I can currently express.

  6. Jim Everett
    May 31st, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

    Rick – Thanks for your patience. It has been a busy week or so. I see that the position appears to be in a State Government organization. Even so, many of the competency requirements (and hence the experience you will gain) are paralleled with corporate outsourcing (selection, duel diligence, work specification, contracts and agreements, managing performance against standards, compliance, communication and relationships, problem-solving, etc.). Three areas where this work may provide a career pathway are: Vendor Management; Sourcing (aka Purchasing, Procurement); Public Program Management or oversight; setting up new, externally resourced Policy-based Initiatives. The actual “business activity” or operational nature of the current program may also provide you with transferrable management and financial skills.

    Meanwhile, it would benefit you and the program to focus on the demonstrable “difference” you can make, the outcomes you achieve, and problems/issues you have resolved. These are more useful, tangible and impressive inclusions in your resumé than “responsible for”, “tasked with”, “worked on”. If you have a team, then adding team management to your resumé is also a plus. Another area to explore is to look at the charter of the program, the policies, and the drivers behind these. This way you can create priorities in where you address your efforts. Is the outsourced work replacing an existing internal resourcing of a program with the same charter/goals. Was it established to save money; to extend its reach; to resource beyond permitted internal staffing; to capitalize on the experience of vendors rather than try and build from within?

    Whether you are looking at a career in State Government or in the business/commercial world, there are many roles where what you are doing provides a general base of experience as set out in the job description. However, there is also the “subject matter” component, namely the health and nutritional core of the program. This is the “what”. The processes and activities are the “how”. I suggest you take time to look over job postings in other departments that seem to require a similar set of “how” expertise, and a comparable or transferrable “what”. You may also scan online job postings for Vendor Managers and Sourcing Managers, and see what these say they are looking for. If you are looking within your own section or immediate area, then establish your credentials and a manager who gets things done, a team leader who manages those aspects, and a level of political expertise to finesse outcomes by collaboration and being smart at gaining support.

    Hope this helps some.

  7. Yi Chi
    May 21st, 2016 @ 8:02 am

    If the vendor is IT-related, a tech architect may leverage his/her experiences with the service the vendor provides and maybe also the industry knowledge. Being a tech architect may also mean skills in cross-functional collaboration, project management and holistic thinking.

    Some potential gaps include relationship management skills, facilitation/presentation, financial analysis, contract execution, risk management (especially if your employer is in financial services sectors) and business analysis.

  8. Rick
    May 31st, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

    Thank you very much! Your professional expertise and analysis is extremely helpful. Again thank you.

  9. Jim Everett
    May 31st, 2016 @ 5:02 pm

    Rick, let me know how things go moving forward. BTW, I spent 8 years advancing my career in Federal Government in Australia, and transitioned into the commercial world. So I do understand that scenario. Remember, keep tabs on what you accomplish; fix; or make better. Metrics that support this can help too. Jim

  10. Steph
    February 27th, 2017 @ 4:42 am

    This has been a very useful article. I recently relocated & am finding Vendor Management roles very hard to come by. I took on a “Vendor Manager” role & can say that all I am required to do is find Freelancers for project requirements.

    Do you think it is easy to move Vendor management skills easily in to other roles? What roles would you say are a good side step into?

  11. Jim Everett
    June 7th, 2017 @ 7:09 pm

    Hello Stephanie – I realize I may not have replied to you. It was a busy time around then working with a challenging client on how to train their IT Vendor Managers. So if this is still a question on your mind, to get a dialog going, would you mind telling me what type of background or specialization you work in, and how large an organization do you work in. Thanks, and my apologies if I did not reply at the time. Jim

  12. Rashmi
    October 22nd, 2019 @ 8:31 am

    I am an electrical engineer, having a 3 years of experience in projects (as an electrical
    project engineer) in manufacturing company. Just recently got an offer of vendor management executive position in a software development company, can you please give me an idea what career path will I be leading to if I took this offer?

  13. Jim Everett
    October 23rd, 2019 @ 12:54 pm

    Hello. Thanks for your question – a good question. First, you would find a software development environment very different from manufacturing – content, processes, and culture. I have worked in both. In terms of career paths, without more detail I can only speak broadly.

    Your project management skills are a strong point and the principles and discipline of project management will transfer well. How familiar are you with software development? If so, what type of applications? Customer-facing programs are very different from enterprise management software. In my experience, career paths can fall into four main categories. There are others, but mostly they are based on (1) Deep subject matter expertise; (2) Industry expertise; (3) Strength in the broader enterprise outsourcing processes; and (4) Project or process management. A Vendor manager or executive needs at least on of these strength to be successful and have a credible power base internally or with the vendor. Your career path also depends on where you want to build strength and the type of future area you see as your future.

    This reply is a quick look. If you provide more details I’d be happy to take a look and tell you my thoughts based on specifics. You may email me if you prefer at

    Regards, Jim

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