Explaining The Role Of The Contract Professional

During my 10-year career lots of people have asked me about my role as a contract professional.

What do you do?

What is the role of a contract manager?

And rarely have I seen a person being able to explain the role of contract managers.

Even contract professionals themselves have the same question about their role. Tim Cummins for example, the President of IACCM says in an article in 2018:

“I am amazed at how many people want an answer to this question [What is the role of a contract manager?]. More than 350,000 have read my blog on this particular subject. Is it because they don’t know the answer, or perhaps want reassurance that they are doing the right things?”.[i]

So, why is it so difficult for people to understand what contract professionals do? And why is it so hard for us to explain our role to other people? In my opinion, there are six reasons.

1. There aren’t many university programs for contract professionals

University degrees that have a direct route to a professional role are easier to understand. Want to be a lawyer? Get a law degree. Want to be a Civil Engineer. Get a degree in Civil Engineering.

However, there aren’t many university degrees specifically designated to contract management. It’s often those with various educational backgrounds, such as law, business and engineering, that end up transitioning into contract management roles.

Recently, IACCM introduced a Masters / LLM in Commercial and Contract Management. There are also other programs including a Masters in Procurement, LLM in Contracts and Arbitration, LLM in Contract Law, etc. but they are not specifically focused on contract management and they are not known amongst people who are passionate to learn about contract management.

Even with such higher learning programmes, it’s likely that many will still come to the contract management role from other backgrounds. The key is whether they then appreciate the need for achieving professional status and recognition by enrolling in further higher education.

2. The role of the contract professional differs from industry to industry. Even in the same industry, they work in different departments often with different roles.

In construction projects, there are quantity surveyors, superintendents [ii], contract administrators, contract managers, contract directors and commercial directors with more or less the same role.

Let’s look at another industry. In upstream oil and gas, contract professionals work in different departments but on the same project. In a multinational exploration and production company I previously worked for, contract engineers (in charge of service contracts) and buyers (in charge of purchase orders) worked in the Contract and Procurement department whilst cost and contract engineers worked in the Surface Facility department. In the same company, Contract Advisors worked at Legal Department.

So with such broadscale variations, it’s very difficult to pin point the role.

3. It is a supporting role and deals with all aspects of the contract

The contract involves a transaction which includes a variety of aspects such as technical, financial, legal, and managerial. The contract professional’s role is to support the core business under the contract, just like other supporting disciplines. However, the difference between the contract professionals’ supporting role and those of other support disciplines is that there is much more interaction and connection between the contract professional and other departments.

Technical department (as sometimes called Contract Owner/Holder responsible for the contract) deals mostly with the technical parts of the scope of the contract. The Financial department only provides support in specific parts such as invoicing and payment. But the contract manager should have good knowledge about all aspects of the contract in order to support. Technical and Financial departments both need the support of the contract professional in drafting and reviewing the relevant terms before signing a contract or a variation and in executing those terms during the performance.

When a dispute arises because of the non-satisfaction of the technical department of the counterparty’s performance, if the nature of the dissatisfaction is purely technical, the financial department will not be able to provide any help while the contract professional could support. In a pipeline project dispute, although the contract professional might not have specialized knowledge about pipe specifications or the applicable standards, he could support the technical professionals to interpret the standards and check the performed work. If he has no or limited knowledge about a specific matter, he has to go deeper to learn.

4. The contract professional has a leading role in pre-contract and a supporting role in the post-contract stage

Before signing the contract, it is usually the contract professional who is the leader whereas after the contract is signed, other experts are the leader and the contract professional supports.

A contract has several aspects, and several disciplines have to cooperate to create a contract. However, without a leader, the work cannot be integrated and discrepancies might be found as different departments provide different inputs and contributions. Moreover, those departments don’t have the knowledge about contracts and need to be guided by a contract professional when inserting terms into the contract. Furthermore, their input might be changed by the contract professional to become suitable for inserting into the contract.

The other pre-contract tasks which indicate the leader role of the contract professional are receiving material or service requests from requesting departments and sending request for proposal/price or holding tenders.

“Contract management has developed into a separate discipline. The client’s contract managers are involved at an early stage of project development to define what contract types and templates to use, given the background and technical complexity of the project. During project execution, they support their internal project leaders by following up the contractors’ activities against what has been contractually agreed”.[iii]

5. Contract professionals could be involved during any stage of the contract lifecycle and with any disciplines

The contract life cycle includes various stages including contract creation, execution and post execution. The RIBA Plan of Work published by the Royal Institute of British Architects is the most common document used in the UK to describe the stages in construction projects. A contract professional could be involved in any of the stages outlined in the document.

In the pre-award stage, he could be involved in prequalification, tender, and award of the contract, and in the post-award stage, he could be involved with change management, claims and disputes, advice to the team and so on.

He could be working with the designers, engineers, managers, finance, procurement and other specialists to make sure the contract is drafted correctly and in line with the interests of the company and the agreements made, and that the parties are performing their commitments in accordance with the contract and law.

The stages, the disciplines and the levels of involvement vary from organization to organization and there is no hard and fast rule. In other words, “There has not been established any “correct” way of administrating contracts; the most important thing is that the administration processes suits its purpose”.[iv]

6. The existing practitioner body and their reluctance to work to a common set of knowledge and methods

There are professional associations dedicated to the profession of contract and commercial management that make ongoing efforts to grow the status of contract managers. Among these associations are the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Institute of Construction Claims Practitioners, and more focused is International Association of Commercial and Contract Management (IACCM). IACCM has spent almost 20 years’ developing and publishing the contract management body of knowledge and training programs; defining test and certification standards; undertaking research; developing an academic community and journal; defining the contract management lifestyle, conducting surveys and producing an ongoing series of updates to the role and how it is evolving.

Therefore, standards and consistency already exist. The only thing that prevents growth in the status of contract managers is the existing practitioner body and their reluctance to operate to a common set of knowledge and methods, or their nonawareness of existence of such professional associations and their extensive useful works.

It should be noted that in the current modern era, the roles and responsibilities of occupations evolve as industries develop. Therefore, contract management professionals have to make sure to adapt themselves to constant and sometimes abrupt changes. This requires keeping up to the changes in the technology and the industry a contract professional is working in. For example, the introduction of artificial intelligence and its use in contract management could lead to the change in the roles of the contract professionals. Again, such adaptation is not possible without using the materials of professional associations dedicated to the profession of contract management.

This article was written by guest contributor, Erfan Ghassempour, for the ICCP.

[i] What is the role of a contract manager?, Tim Cummins, 2018,  https://blog.iaccm.com/commitment-matters-tim-cummins-blog/what-is-the-role-of-a-contract-manager

[ii]  “The Superintendent administers the contract between the principal and the contractor”. Fundamentals of Building Contract Management, Thomas E Uher & Philip Dvenport, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Edition 2, 2009, Page 46.

[iii] John van der Puil, Arjan van Weele, Page 38.

[iv] Master’s Thesis, Contract Administration in an International Oil Service Company – Current Practices and Possible Improvements, Lene Nesse Espeland, University of Stavenger, 2012.

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