What’s In A Title?


Author: Tim Cummins

A few years ago, IACCM explored the range of job titles involved in performing the end to end commercial and contracting process, both buy and sell side. We found approximately 65 titles in common use.

More recently, we undertook a more comprehensive examination of our member database and found well in excess of 200 titles.

What does this diversity tell us? Is it that there are wide variations in job roles, with perhaps a trend to increased specialism? Is it (as some would contend) that there are few similarities in the work undertaken in different industries or geographies? Or perhaps it is just a matter of preference and taste within individual organizations ….

Are we alone?

While the scale of variation appears excessive and potentially confusing (especially for recruitment), there is a similar situation in other more well-established functions such as finance – with a tendency to categorize/classify jobs and their titles by the nature of the tasks they undertake, eg purchase ledger clerk or accounts receivable etc.

Although at a generic, cross-industry level there are multiple titles, we found an element of industry conformity and to some extent also geographic standards or norms – for example, in the oil & gas industry there are many “contract engineers”, while in the UK (and to a lesser extent the US) “contracts officer” is a common entry position in aerospace and defense, including in the public sector. However, outside defence, other civil servants are typically ‘contract managers’.

Title versus Job Role

Looking beyond the title, how much difference is there in the tasks being performed? Job descriptions obviously vary, as does the role of a contracts or commercial function. But essentially there is a high degree of commonality in the work that needs to be performed. Descriptions and titles are translated down through the operating models embedded in the organization. Influencing factors include examples such as:

  • where do contracts and commercial staff report? For example, when embedded in a business unit, they tend to be more focused on business enablement, whereas within Legal or Finance there is greater emphasis on compliance.
  • is there a split between pre-award and post-award contracting activities? When consolidated, there tends to be a greater focus on value delivery. When separated, the groups are often seen as more administrative.
  • is contracts and commercial activity conducted through an integrated buy/sell team, or do these headline functions operate in different spaces and report through to different executive directors (eg CFO buyside and COO sell side)?
  • is the function centralized, center-led/hub and spoke, or a fully devolved model? With the centralized approach it is more likely to operate with greater discipline in titles and career path, whereas more devolved models are accompanied by greater diversity.

Ultimately, a lack of conformity in job titles across industries and geographies does not much matter so long as the individuals themselves operate with reasonably consistent knowledge and methods. Without this consistency, career opportunities are limited since the transition between industries, geographies and perhaps even between companies is often risky for both the individual and the employer. That is a major reason for IACCM’s development and promotion of professional certification standards, raising the status and performance of contract and commercial practitioners no matter what their title may be!

Read more from Tim Cummins on the Committment Matters website.

Tim Cummins is CEO of the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM), a non-profit organization that he founded in 1999. Read more here.

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