9 Skills To Be A Successful Import/Export Manager

Trade & Industry Advisory

03 November 2021 • 17 min read

9 Skills To Be A Successful Import/Export Manager

Editorial Team

An import/export manager must have these essential skills to be successful. These nine skills will help you ace the challenge

Handling logistics can be a challenging job. These nine skills will help you ace the challenge. The job of an export/import manager anywhere in the world can be extremely challenging, more so if they work with small and medium enterprises or SMEs because these organisations tend to suffer from resource constraints.

Export/import managers may, for instance, often find themselves juggling an increasing number of tasks every day – planning  and coordinating shipments and supervising delivery, managing customers and personnel and ensuring that shipments comply with domestic laws as well as international export, trade and financial laws.

As is the case with any other job, having the right skills for all this work will not only help them complete it efficiently, it will ensure they grow professionally.

In this blog, we list nine skills – ranging from finance and technology skills to communication and interpersonal skills – that export/import managers must have or must develop to become better at their jobs. While some of these skills are specific to export/import managers, others are skills that anyone working in a professional space can use.

Life is all about continuous learning which is why we have included online links to tutorials and training wherever available. If you are an export or import or logistics manager or aspire to be one, we hope this blog inspires you to upgrade your skill sets or even learn new skills.

Here are the 9 Skills to be a successful Export/Import manager

1. Understanding finance and budgets

Anyone in business must be financially savvy because that is the key to financial success, and this holds true for export/import managers too.

Among other financial skills, export/import managers must have the ability to understand accounting systems and contribute to the budgeting process.

Budgets are essentially spending plans that help businesses set goals and priorities for the financial year. Some responsibilities of export/import managers include drafting expenditure reports, helping determine budgets and ensuring that teams stick to approved budgets.

Financial skills are especially valuable for export/import managers working with small businesses because such organisations often operate on small budgets, and any deviations from approved budgets can hurt the business.

2. Understanding technology

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, you will be using basic technology such as laptops and desktops, smartphones, cloud platforms and web-based applications.

Among other things, technology has helped small businesses leverage capital efficiently, improve customer service, minimise costs by automating routine tasks, taking documentation online and accessing global markets. It has helped these organisations become more efficient and competitive.

As disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic forces business worldwide to embrace technology or speed up their digital transformation in order to survive, it is all the more important for SMEs to know how to leverage technology in order to stay relevant and competitive in a fast-changing world.

Export/import managers must be familiar with the following technology tools in particular:

  • Inventory management software: This software allows businesses to track stocks, plan production, procurement and sales and even prevent stock-outs or excess stocks. This helps to increase productivity, efficiency, improves cash flow and subsequently leads to cost savings.
  • Project management tools: These tools help in planning and scheduling jobs to be done, collaboration with colleagues as well as hassle-free documentation and evaluation.

Do check out our article, '6 digital tools to make your Import/Export business smarter' for suggestions on technology tools that can help a small business operate more efficiently.

3. Understanding of international trade compliance requirements

Complex rules govern the import and export of goods between countries. Trade compliance is the process of understanding and conforming to the import and export laws and regulations of a country and any trade agreements it has signed.

In most organisations, trade compliance is the responsibility of the export/import manager. These managers need to ensure that they and other organisation employees are familiar with the country’s updated import and export laws and regulations. Failure to do so can result in audits, penalties, and inspections of shipments at the border all of which can prove costly in more ways than one. For instance, when shipments are held up at ports for inspection because of problems with documentation or suspected violation of trade compliance laws, besides the risk of penalties, these hold-ups can damage your relationship with your customer, hurting your business in the long run.

Just to give an example, Country A may decide it doesn’t want to export defence equipment to Country Z. When companies in Country A that manufacture this equipment go ahead and sell to Country Z because they are not aware of these restrictions, they can be slapped with heavy penalties.

Want to learn more?

Brush up on issues related to trade compliance by watching this series on YouTube: Global Trade Compliance series

4. Networking skills

One of the responsibilities of an export/import manager is interacting with multiple stakeholders such as customers; vendors such as freight forwarders, transport service providers; and representatives of government agencies such as customs officials.

These relationships must be maintained and nurtured.

It is easy to connect with customers using social media platforms. Most of these platforms allow you to easily create a business profile that you can use to interact with customers. Similarly, an effective way to build networks with industry stakeholders and government agencies is to attend events such as conferences and fairs that these bodies organise.

Nurturing such relationships has various advantages. One, it builds customer loyalty and is a good way to attract new customers. Two, service providers and government officials you know personally may be more responsive to your needs if you run into problems during the export/import process. Three, you carry these relationships with you wherever you go, helping you build your career and reputation as an expert in export/import business.

5. Analytical skills

Every SME business wants to attract more customers and cut costs. Data analysis will help them do exactly that.

How is that possible, you may ask?

Businesses generate data every day as do entire industries. Analysing all this data can give businesses insights into customer behaviour as well as demands of domestic and international markets, allowing them to make more informed business decisions.

Data analytics has three key components: gathering data,  analysing data, and obtaining insights from data.

Export/import managers, for instance, could gather and analyse existing customer data such as sales statistics to anticipate their needs – providing them exactly what they are looking for when they want it – increasing sales in the process.

Similarly, analysing trade data can give businesses insights into the demand and supply of goods and services across the world and also their movement. These insights could guide decisions related to production, procurement of raw materials from global supply chains. It can also help businesses decide which markets to target or even ways in which they can improve the product.

In our experience, owners of small businesses tend to think that larger businesses are best placed to benefit from data analysis. That is not true. The value of knowing the customer – one of the biggest benefits of data analysis – is important to every business regardless of size.

6. Accountability and adaptability

Accountability refers to the act of taking responsibility or ownership for your work, adaptability can be defined as a person’s ability or willingness to change their way of thinking or established processes to suit new or changed circumstances.

Both these skills are useful for export/import managers to have or develop. Accountability builds trust with people you interact with internally (such as team members) and externally (with clients, vendors, and representatives of government agencies). Similarly, a manager who is adaptable is better equipped to face challenges that their highly-stressful job throws at them.

In fact, a 2019 report in the BBC said adaptability is one of the most important skills for a successful career. It said: “Rapid technological change means workers must keep learning, to the point where an ability to adapt – your adaptability quotient (AQ) – is becoming the X-factor for career success.”

7. Ability to receive feedback

Most businesses exist to bring value to the lives of a particular customer. Customer feedback therefore is very important and must always be heeded. An export/import manager closely works with customers and must not only have the ability to take any feedback positively but to also act on it.

Always keeping the customer at the centre will enhance your business’s reputation and lead to word-of-mouth sales too, which is great for business in the long run

An article titled Logistics Management Best Practices, by PLS services, highlights why customers must be at the centre of anyone who works in the logistics industry. It says:

  • 70% of customers are willing to pay more for better customer service.
  • 62% of B2B and 42% of B2C customers make future purchases with a company after they have a good buying experience.
  • 66% of B2B and 52% of B2C customers stopped buying after a bad experience from the very first purchase.

8. Communication skills 

An export/import manager has to deal with several stakeholders such as customers, transport service providers, government representatives and so on. Clear and concise communication is essential to avoid any misunderstandings with these people. Always ensure that those you deal with clearly understand what you mean and, most importantly, that you closely listen to and understand what others have to say.

Email serves as a great tool to maintain contact with the different stakeholder you connect with, and to build relationships with them. Read Write Emails Like An Expert To Grow Your Import-Export Business for tips on using email in the most effective way.

9. Ability to handle stress

Export and import managers will often find themselves having to make quick decisions under stressful circumstances. For example, you might find that a shipment has been delayed, cargo has been damaged or payments haven’t been released according to schedule. All this can lead to a huge amount of stress for you and the customer and also requires quick decision-making about how you want to proceed. This is why the ability to take calm and measured decisions in the middle of a crisis is a valuable skill for an export/import manager to have.


Do remember that this list of skills and desirable qualities that export/import managers must have is not an exhaustive list but a guide for those of you who want to step up your game and build your reputation and career as an expert in the export/import or logistics industry.

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