3 essential soft skills for exceptional contract managers

Katie Cook


by Katie Cook

Candidate selection

If you have seen “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, the “grey blob” Walter embodies at the beginning of the film (stuck in a “back office” in the building basement) is exactly how one may have traditionally imagined a contract manager.  However, what one should be looking for when hiring a contract manager is not the Walter Mitty introduced at the beginning of the film but rather the more vibrant, outgoing and adventurous personality Walter transforms into by the end.  

This is because a contract manager’s role involves an enormous amount of relationship building as well as highly developed problem solving skills.  Organizational skills are also required but advances in technology have meant that contract managers can relax a little as software can be programmed to guide them at each stage of the process.  This means key deliverables can be met and all processes and procedures can be complied with without contract managers having to rely solely on their memories or manual organizational abilities.

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The roles and duties are many and vary between contract manager roles.  However, in general the job description can be broken down into three basic parts - relationship management, problem solving and organizational skills.  Some duties fall into more than one of these categories.  Let’s now take a look at the duties and responsibilities in these three categories in some more detail. My next blog article will look at some of the ways to assess whether candidates for potential contract manager roles possess these attributes.  

  1. Relationship management -
  • Serve as the contact point for customers including effectively fielding complaints and inquiries from these parties as well as maintaining good relationships with them;
  • Keep project managers and other operational staff in their company informed about the contract process, guide them through any tasks these persons must perform and train them on contracting practices and procedures as required.  This also involves an organizational element as the contract manager needs to coordinate communication and ensure they are adequately across all relevant details;
  • Manage compliance by company employees with contracting procedures and identify problem areas. This also requires a problem solving ability for identifying the problem areas and an organizational ability for monitoring compliance;
  • Negotiate with customer and client attorneys, purchasing staff and other relevant parties until agreement is reached and terms and wording of relevant contracts are settled upon;
  • Collaborate with risk management and finance to ensure the company maintains appropriate insurance.  This also requires a problem solving ability as contract managers work with risk management and finance to choose the most appropriate coverage;
  • Collaborate with finance to assist them in adhering to broader finance and risk requirements.   This may include an understanding and evaluating of financial impact of terms and options, i.e. this duty incorporates a problem solving element;
  • Collaborate with product management and marketing to ensure company products are offered with appropriate terms and conditions.  In order to fulfill this duty adequately contract managers are required to engage with customers to gauge their satisfaction with terms and conditions and contracting practices.  This duty also requires a problem solving element as it requires contract managers to monitor competitive terms and recommend changes according to the competition’s terms and conditions and customer experience to optimize product performance.

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  1. Problem solving -
  • Draft, evaluate and propose appropriate amendments for various types of contracts.  This involves having a good understanding of the implications of all contractual terms and thinking laterally to problem solve to amend these terms when appropriate;
  • Keep abreast of and solve on-going issues and foresee and plan for future anticipated problems;  
  • Develop and implement processes and policies for contract lifecycle management and amend them as appropriate.
  1. Organizational skills -

This includes the ability to use technology to assist in the organizational process - most of these duties can be automated or guided by contract lifecycle management software.

  • Monitor compliance with contracts (ensure all milestones and deliverables are met and invoices received)
  • Ensure Service Level Agreements are complied with;
  • Oversee contract close-outs, extensions or renewals;
  • Maintain all contractual records and documentation including correspondence, customer contact information sheets, contractual changes and status reports.

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What are your thoughts?  What traits do your best contract managers exhibit?

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About the author

Katie Cook

Katie Cook

Katie Cook is Director of Marketing, Communications and Legal Standards at ContractRoom. Originally from the east coast of Australia, she has a background as an Attorney having practiced in both public and private practice in Brisbane and Melbourne. Katie completed studies in journalism and is now combining her legal and writing skill sets in her role.

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