Procurement Leadership in the Public Sector

Showing Procurement Leadership in Public Sector Procurement Projects

  • Marcus Pendlebury
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Procurement leadership. What does this mean to you and what are the qualities and attributes of a strong procurement leader? Just how easy is it to demonstrate procurement leadership within public sector procurement projects?

Having been an advisor and ‘doer’ in over 20 public sector organisations in the last 14 years from Local Authority, Central Government, Higher Education and the NHS, my observation is that it’s certainly possible to show outstanding procurement leadership in this sector, but it’s not necessarily easy.


The sector is tightly governed by public sector procurement regulations which, whilst providing robust structure and guidance, can leave little opportunity for dynamism in the tender process. This defined tendering approach is often a precursor to a procurement system which is rigid, standardised and littered with gateways. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. In productive and efficient procurement departments, robust processes should be a given. But it’s certainly my experience that tight control can limit the potential of those working within procurement functions and may stifle some of the very attributes that lead to a successful procurement, delivered on time and with a great commercial outcome. Attributes such as drive, leadership and the value adding skills which enhance stakeholder engagement and positive outcomes for an organisation.

So, if the necessary processes and procedures within public sector environments can be argued to restrict innovation and suppress opportunities for new ways of thinking, how can professionals working procurement projects within these departments demonstrate dynamism and outcome-enhancing leadership?

  • Firstly, gain knowledge quickly. You don’t need to become a complete expert in the particular procurement area you are assisting with, that’s where your technical stakeholders with specialist subject matter knowledge come in, but use any ignorance you may have to learn. And, if needed, ask the questions that people won’t want to be asked. In doing this, you will doubtless feel that you have gone a long way to knowing a good amount about the product or service quickly. And it’s likely you will identify opportunities for improvement to explore within your project. Knowledge is empowering and others will respect you taking time to gain a thorough understanding of the category swiftly.
  • Get to know your stakeholders. This could be via regular meetings and having regular discussions on an individual basis. By prioritising the building of this relationship, you will have the opportunity to understand the key metrics by which success or failure will be defined. Regular communication will also provide scope to instil confidence in your stakeholders that you have the capabilities to lead them to a successful project and ultimate procurement award.
  • Establish a procurement plan based on robust strategy. This can be done by understanding what has already been formalised by stakeholders and what their objectives and timelines are. The project can then drive forward hitting the timescales indicated with a view to achieving the technical and commercial outcomes.
  • Set up regular meetings with the procurement team, allowing you to demonstrate that you will lead with strong strategic insight. Many workers thrive through being inspired by strategy and insight rather than being governed or micro-managed with an over-bearing focus on process. But support those who may be sceptical with what could be a new approach.
  • Get involved. Support the stakeholders with their procurement documents such as PQQs and RFPs. I personally like to write the questions for the stakeholders as it’s a great starter for 10 and gets them thinking and progressing the document. If they subsequently amend the document, all the better, as it helps with the process of team working and encourages discussion focused on successful outcomes.
  • Own the commercial side of the procurement. It’s amazing how many public sector procurement departments allow the stakeholders to manage and control this. By owning the commercial side you’ll add real value to the eventual outcome. This should realise value for money and often save money for the organisation, but will also ensure a great contractual arrangement is put in place.
  • Manage the supplier relationships within the constraints of the particular organisations, and always be mindful of challenge rather than fearful of it. Great leaders take on board challenge and use it as an opportunity for further improvement. They also demonstrate to their team that challenge, when done correctly, should be encouraged and can lead to greater efficiencies, improved processes and enhanced relationships.
  • Lead the assessment both technically and commercially, and where appropriate, get involved in technical scoring. This could include scoring it yourself, but at the very least ensure you understand how the team arrive at their final decision. A strong foundation of contract award knowledge is necessary when inspiring stakeholders and suppliers to trust in your decision-making process.
  • When award and contract has been done, don’t run for the hills until the next procurement in 3 or 5 years time; stay involved within the remit of your organisational structure and provide further assistance to ensure the contract deliverables are being met. Often there are significant enhancements that can be made throughout the contract duration, which provide potential for greater commercial benefits which previously may not have been recognised.

By following the guidance above, it is my hope that project professionals working within the public sector can elevate the status of the procurement transformation department within their organisations to be acknowledged as critical, value adding functions. Stakeholders will see the strategic value that the department can offer, and greater collaboration will benefit other areas within the organisation supporting strong commercial outcomes. Team members will benefit from an inspired approach, encouraging further positive change. It’s not necessarily easy to do, but with focus and drive, procurement can be viewed as leaders within the organisation.

Marcus Pendlebury Black and White
Senior Managing Consultant at Barkers

Written by Marcus Pendlebury.

Marcus has been a procurement professional for over 25 years learning his trade in the manufacturing and automotive sector. He has transferred those procurement skills to assist a wide-ranging number of public sector organisations.

Marcus is currently advising National Highways on one of their multi billion pound frameworks and has run multiple regulated procurements from start to successful completion, including a £100m construction framework for Gloucestershire County Council, led Bristol NHS Capital equipment investments and has advised a number of Central Government departments including MoJ, Cabinet Office and The Department of Business. Marcus is very passionate about public sector procurement enhancing its reputation as a critical and value adding function.

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Author: Marcus Pendlebury