Meta-Skills: What Are They and How Are They Relevant to the Procurement Function of the Future?

Posted: 06/04/2021 - 09:00
Meta-skills are crucial within procurement.

The key to becoming a successful procurement professional goes beyond tactical applications and analytical thinking, says Mark Holyoake, Managing Director of Holyoake Search. He recommends homing in on meta-skills to become a truly strategic partner to the business.

What Is a Meta-Skill?

It’s long been acknowledged that both hard and soft skills are needed in most jobs. They are no less crucial within procurement.

While hard skills include the teachable, quantifiable abilities you need to do the job and will be reflected in your qualifications, soft skills are, of course, slightly more difficult to measure. These can include teamwork, communication, conflict resolution and problem-solving abilities.

Then we come to the meta-skill. This is a type of skill that enables you to learn and build new skills faster. It also allows you to improve and develop other skills.

Skills are temporary because they are learned and developed, and therefore can be forgotten and refreshed. By contrast, a meta-skill is a permanent part of you that enables you to achieve things. For example, while learning a language is a skill, the ability you develop to learn languages, thus making it easier for you to learn several, would be a meta-skill.

Procurement Is Changing

Gone are the days when procurement was considered a back-office function built solely for cost saving; it’s now getting the recognition it deserves as an important value add in the C-suite.

This shift has led to a talent gap. Employers must build teams with a blend of skills that can face the more challenging and complex sides of procurement, including the application and adoption of new technology.

Solid technical skills and knowledge are vital to the mix, as are basic soft skills such as effective communication. However, other traits, such as self-awareness and the ability to adapt, will become even more critical to the procurement function of the future.

Meta-Skills for Procurement

Some of the skills that naturally fit procurement, and will help you build out other skills and experience you need to succeed, include the following:

Street Smarts

Often underrated, street smarts involve your ability to see an opportunity in the future and map out how you can get to it. Exposure to challenging and complex situations gives you the opportunity to build up confidence, resilience and adaptiveness to overcome obstacles in the future, but, more importantly, to anticipate them first.


Self-awareness is a key element of emotional intelligence and vital within the workplace. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses and personality traits is a meta-skill that will enable you to develop some of the competencies you lack, make the most of the qualities and skills you possess and recognize how well you work with others.

In procurement, it’s essential to be confident in your own ability but also recognize the impact you will have on the various stakeholders you deal with and across the wider enterprise.


Empathy is a hugely important people skill. It can help you develop other skills such as problem-solving. Having the emotional intelligence to see where a person is coming from can help resolve conflicts, get to the root of why something isn’t working, and build a productive team. In procurement, empathy is critical in understanding where a stakeholder or vendor is coming from to negotiate a deal. It will also enhance your broader efforts to transform procurement into a proactive, strategic partner to the business.


You need self-confidence to grow and develop in your career. It’s especially crucial if you are a procurement professional dealing with a variety of internal and external stakeholders and have reason to stand your ground, perhaps as you seek to challenge the status quo within a newly centralized function.

Confidence is vital in building any new skill because it involves being able to try new things, but also admitting when you are struggling and need help.


Resilience is often thought of as a key meta-skill. Overcoming failures and being able to keep trying will enable you to experiment and learn without throwing in the towel, which opens you up to incredible opportunities.

In procurement, the landscape is changing fast. You must be able to adapt to the environment. That might mean trying several approaches and going back to the drawing board with the same enthusiasm you had at the start.

What to Do Next

These are just a few of the meta-skills that will help you learn and develop as a procurement professional today. Of course, your subject-matter knowledge and ability to negotiate a contract will serve you well.

Another skill to hone is how to clearly put across your ideas and strategies with internal and external stakeholders. Having the savvy to gauge situations and behavior while anticipating what could happen next will be vital to your success within the procurement function of the future.

Although some of these seem like innate qualities or even personality traits, you shouldn’t worry if they don’t come naturally to you. Many of the above skills come from truly understanding yourself and your role. This will involve a lot of life experience, so you shouldn’t expect it all to happen at once. Even a meta-skill can be learned. Though it will take time and effort, once you have figured it out, you will be able to add to your hard and soft skills much more easily.


About The Author

Mark Holyoake's picture

Mark has spent his entire career in the Recruitment & Executive Search field, all the while focused on Procurement. With a network of professional relationships built over nearly two decades, and a deep understanding of the Procurement function, he has earned the reputation as one of the nation’s go-to Recruitment experts within this niche market.