Advancing the Profession Through a Common Language

NCMA serves the contract management profession by setting professional standards and practices that bring us together. As part of this role, NCMA established a “Community Through Common Language Initiative” in 2022, which formalized a framework for sharing the initiative’s vision, goals, and how we’ll get there.

A common language in contract management promotes talent mobility and facilitates interaction between academia, government, and indus-try. It is essential to maximize the success of the profession.

Contract management has a common set of professional skills, specified in NCMA’s internationally recognized, Contract Management Standard™ (CMS™) and the Contract Management Body of Knowledge®(CMBOK®). These standards define our profession by the phases, domains, competencies, and job tasks required to be successful. The CMS™ is approved by the American National Standards Institute, giving it a high level of credibility across multiple sectors.

On February 1, 2023, the U.S. Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) made the NCMA CMS™ the foundation of a new contracting training system for all civilian agencies. Similarly, the Department of Defense made the CMS™ the basis of its DoD Contracting Competency Model in April 2020.

However, since contract management is a diverse profession spanning federal government, state and local government, industry, and academ-ia, it is common to use different terminology versus one set of standard terms and definitions that are recognized by all. This creates confusion, results in lost opportunities, and inadvertently reduces the qualified candidate pool. So, NCMA is championing adoption of a common language. The “Community Through Common Language” initiative, lays out NCMA’s vision, mission, goals, and tactics for getting there together.

Why do we need a common language?

1. Words matter to job seekers and employers.

What words would you use to describe the tasks a buyer performs during pre-award, after the planning is done and the requirement written, when the next task is to find a seller? Would you call this “advertising an RFP” or “review and evaluation?” The CMS defines this competency as 2.1.2 – Request Offers and lays out the associated Buyer Job Tasks: Execute Solicitation Plan Prepare Solicitations Respond to Questions from Potential Offerors Incorporate Proposed Contract Terms Determine Need for Pre-Offer Review Issue Solicitations Determine Need to Publicize Solicitations Respond to Seller Communications Amend Solicitations

If your current job description says that you “advertise and evaluate RFPs,” you may not be considered for jobs with terms such as “execute solicitation plan” or “pre-offer review.” If you don’t have the right keywords on your resume, you may be passed over by artificial intelligence screening systems used to identify candidates who have required skills. Now, imagine that these tasks and the skills needed to conduct them are commonly understood as “requesting offers” by large and small companies, state and local government, and federal government agencies. You would recognize and demonstrate transferabilty of your current job skills. Conversely, through this common language employers would not miss out on a pool of qualified candidates. Similarly, imagine that you are a student taking a course in “preparing solicitations,” a recognizable skill in internships and entry-level job descriptions. A common language provides more meaningful matching between job seekers and employers, across markets.

2. Workforce mobility builds powerful partnerships.

When professionals are empowered to move across industries and across the buyer-seller equation they bring new perspectives to acquisition teams and develop their careers within our profession. Rather than seeing mobility as an attrition risk, NCMA’s common language initiative views it as an essential ingredient for facilitating meaningful interaction between government and industry. Imagine a contracting team at a large organization that includes former federal contracting officers or state procurement officers, or an agency team that has former industry perspectives at the table. Equipped with diverse perspectives, these teams drive creative solutioning and facilitate powerful partnerships in support of our shared missions. “Powerful Partnerships” is also the theme of NCMA’s upcoming World Congress in Nashville, TN, July 23-26, 2023!

3. The next generation must build recognizable skills.

A common language builds an entry point to the profession for new professionals. Students are looking for meaningful work and well-paying jobs. We know that this is exactly what our profession offers and NCMA is rapidly spreading that message through regular student outreach and support to faculty. In March, NCMA, along with representatives from NASA, spoke to a group of Howard University business students to share the central role contract managers play in solving our country’s biggest challenges and provide an overview of the skills required. When contract management curricula are based on the CMS™ and CMBOK®, students will graduate ready to become Certified Contract Management Associates (CCMA)1 and enter the workforce with a clear vision of how their studies connect to job requirements. They will also have a map for the experience they will need to develop through meaningful internships, coaching, and training.

What’s Next: Common Language Adoption

NCMA defines and champions our common language, and the community is leading the way through public adoption of the CMS™ as our common language. This can be seen in the adoption of the CMS by the Department of Defense and federal civilian agencies of the CMS as the basis of their contract management training programs. Adopting the common language for your organization or higher education programming demonstrates your commitment to our community and to buyers that your organization is committed to our shared, internationally recognized standard.

Next steps include:

  • Higher education programs joining their peers2 in aligning their curricula to the CMS™ to prepare the workforce.
  • Employers adopting the CMS™ as the basis of their job descriptions and employee performance metrics and hiring and training frameworks.
  • Training organizations aligning their courses and events to the CMS™ competencies and job tasks to ensure that they are training the workforce with the naming convention learners will use to describe new skills.

Visit to make your commitment to the common language and provide a path to certification for the benefit of our mighty profession! CM


1 The CCMA is accredited by the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB).

2 As of the print date, three universities had aligned their curriculums to NCMA’s CMS™, providing a path to certification: University of California Irvine, University of Maryland Global Campus and Webster University IT Management. See the full press release on NCMA's Higher Education Webpage.