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Superman: Do we expect too much from our contract managers?

23rd January 2017 | Peter Sammons

Peter Sammons discusses the key responsibilities of a good contract manager and whether these are unrealistic

Contract Management (9780749480646)

Do we have unrealistic expectations of our contract managers? What sort of qualities should we expect? Where does their job begin and end? Perhaps the first thing we need to do is to understand why contracts need to be managed and do not typically manage themselves. A contract is a human activity first. Four things can and should occur during the life of any contract:

Rapidity of Business Change – Circumstances Change

Change happens so quickly that objectives are blown off course, and any commercial contract needs to keep pace with that change. This, in turn, might require the re-negotiation of certain aspects of a contract (or, in extremis, its cancellation).

Things go wrong

One or both parties fail to meet their contractual obligations and the contract is in some way delinquent in terms of its objectives. These issues need to be controlled as both parties are thereby exposed to commercial risk.

People lose interest or focus

For a number of reasons, people’s focus can shift. This in turn runs the risk that contractual demands are left to slide. Someone needs to be accountable and energised to bring objectives and tasks back along the overall contract trajectory – all those things set out in any task specification (or terms of reference). 

Create (and archive) an audit trail

Records have to be kept, retained and managed, so that in the unfortunate event of a contractual disagreement (or dispute) both sides are able to determine quickly what the contract document itself actually intends. It is surprising how many businesses routinely do not know what are, in fact, their contractual arrangements and obligations.

Consequently, the contract manager needs to have an eye for detail, be a good people person, have some gravitas within their own organisation, be a diplomat, a task juggler and be the project accountant. Besides these specifications, they occasionally have to adjudicate between their own organisation’s interests, and the legitimate interests of the contracting counterparty. Is it unfair to expect all these qualities in one person? Certainly not. But it is necessary that an organisation knows what it expects from its contract managers, and that it provides appropriate support and training. Do not think of a contract manager as Superman, or someone to whom all tasks and responsibilities can be abdicated. Rather, think of them as part of the contract delivery team, supported as necessary by senior management and accountancy support. All contract managers can be developed, and logically, junior contract managers should cut their teeth on smaller, low risk contracts first. A really good contract manager is definitely worth their weight in gold.


About the author: Peter Sammons is a commercial/procurement specialist with 35 years in field. He is now a consultant who provides commercial support and develops/delivers training seminars.

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