Challenging the BRM DNA™: Common Skills of BRMs in the Industry

Posted | Category: BRM Capability, Business Relationship Management Research | Contributed


Business Relationship Management Institute (BRM Institute)’s member community knows the BRM DNA™ model inside-out, front-to-back. In the model, BRM Institute proposes the core competencies held by the most successful business relationship managers. Shown below, the model also serves as a foundation for much of the education included in both the Business Relationship Manager Professional (BRMP®) and Certified Business Relationship Manager (CBRM®) certification tracks offered through BRM Institute.

In the coming months, the greater BRM community will see additional offerings through BRM Institute in the form of Licensed Learning Provider (LLP) course offerings. The LLP program will include courses designed to build upon topics covered in the BRMP®, CBRM®, and BRMiBOK, supporting BRMs and those interested in the BRM capability in honing their skills and building levels of greater mastery in common BRM areas.

In designing this program, we have taken pause to consider the BRM DNA™ model—and to challenge it. In building or hiring the ideal BRM, what are the key factors to consider?

The BRM DNA™ model provides a view that progresses toward strategic partnership, with each category holding equal weight. Is this accurate? Where do the majority of BRMs come from—a history of provider work, or business? Using data from LinkedIn® as the foundation for our research project, we set out to answer these questions.


In building or hiring the ideal BRM, what are the key factors to consider?

Materials and Methods

In order to construct data for analysis, we used the LinkedIn® platform as a foundation[1]. After conducting a search for the term “business relationship manager,” we obtained a master list that we were then able to filter. During this process, we removed business relationship managers from the banking industry, as many of those roles are more external-facing than representative of an enabling capability partner with an internal business partner, despite the similarity in titles. The final list included 100 BRMs, with the majority representing Information Technology relationships, along with additional representation from Human Resources and BRM professionals in Finance.

Two scans were performed against each business relationship manager record. The first scan targeted recognized skills as part of the BRM profile. For this piece, we captured the top five skills scored under “Skills & Endorsements” for each BRM. The second scan was against historical position, capturing the last three jobs listed under “Experience.” These items were captured in two reports and used as our reporting data set.[2]


Top Five BRM-Recognized “Skills & Endorsements” from LinkedIn® Profiles

With 500 total “Skills & Endorsements” reported (five for each recorded BRM), we discovered a need to apply categorical logic based on higher-level naming conventions. To that end, we defined the following categories under which all others fell as a sub-set:

BRM Skill & Endorsement categories

  • Provider acumen
  • Leadership/management
  • Business acumen
  • Business process
  • Analysis
  • Strategy
  • Communication
  • Change
  • Business Relationship Management[3]


The findings are displayed graphically below:


BRM “Skills & Expertise” Categories Recognized through LinkedIn®, June 2016
Business Relationship Management Institute

BRM Top Three Historical Roles from LinkedIn® Profiles

Similar to the section prior, the 300 historical role records (three positions per recorded BRM) contained a wide array of titles and naming conventions. In order to perform proper analysis, we utilized the same approach and simplified the list by applying the following high-level categories to the list, under which each role fell as a sub-set:

  • Provider manager
  • Provider employee
  • Business manager
  • Business employee
  • Analyst
  • BRM
  • Educator
  • Consultant


The research findings are displayed graphically below:

graphBRM Historical Role Categories Recognized through LinkedIn®, June 2016
Business Relationship Management Institute


In our work to analyze the accuracy of the BRM DNA™ model, we first consider the common gateways of entry into the BRM role.

Provider roles (management or employee): 61%
Manager roles (provider/business/prior BRM role): 55%

We find these data points to be of particular interest when we look further into recognized skills and expertise for our BRM data set. Again, for recognized skills and expertise, we observe the following areas with their respective percentages:

  • Provider acumen: 43%
  • Leadership/management: 15%
  • Business acumen: 14%
  • Business process: 12%
  • Analysis: 5%
  • Strategy: 5%
  • Communication: 1%
  • Change: 1%
  • Business Relationship Management: .2%

We consider the quote from Albert Einstein, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple,” and believe it to be one of the leading skills of a successful BRM.

When paired with historic roles that frequently include visible leadership/management positions, the combination of provider acumen and leadership management lead us toward a skill set pairing that is critical to the success of a business relationship manager.

The first notable skill is a strong understanding of the provider and their processes, along with the organization’s project/portfolio strategies and requirements to convert ideas to reality successfully.

For example, a commonly recognized “Skills & Expertise” category was SDLC (software development lifecycle, a term used to describe the process of building and introducing new technology). When individuals are recognized for this skill, one interpretation might be that the recognition from peers is less about an industry-wide understanding of best practice/leading SDLC practices, and more about the individual’s ability to discuss and represent the key components and requirements of their organization’s specific SDLC to their partners.

We consider the quote from Albert Einstein, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple,”[4] and believe it to be one of the leading skills of a successful BRM, as validated by the 43% skill recognition of provider acumen. This deep understanding of provider processes, be it IT, HR, or Finance, paired with the ability to discuss this understanding with team members and business partners, appears to be key to the recognition of the skill. There are likely others in any given department with greater expertise in a particular provider area—SDLC, release management practices, succession planning, budgeting processes, and so on—but a successful BRM will be recognized for these skills by their business partners.

The second highest recognized skill set was leadership/management at 15%, but when we look to prior roles, we find that 55% of our BRM sampling included prior work in management. When we consider the impact of choosing individuals with previous management experience and higher-level leadership and then add other positions naturally perceived to be leader-type roles (such as “educator” or “consultant”), we find that 61% of the sample arrived to the BRM role with something in common. Our interpretation of this common thread is one of executive presence, a term representing a combination of perceived leadership factors.

Executive presence is a highly sought-after quality and has a variety of definitions. For the purpose of simplicity, we choose to reference Business Insider’s “7 Traits of Executive Presence, the Key to Winning People Over” by Jun Medalla[5] for a sense of how executive presence might be described. Medalla lists the seven traits as “composure, connection, charisma, confidence, credibility, clarity, and conciseness” (Ibid.).


Many of the traits of executive presence could be perceptions of our work as communicators. If we are unable to communicate effectively, we simply do not have what it takes to be an effective BRM.

When considering the seven qualities of executive presence and then cross-referencing to the BRM DNA™ model, we find that the categories align well. The outer shell of the DNA™ model, powerful communications, can essentially be a gateway or barrier to entry in the role. Therefore, many of the traits of executive presence, such as composure, charisma, clarity, etc. could be perceptions of our work as communicators. If we are unable to communicate effectively, we simply do not have what it takes to be an effective BRM.

As we work through the rest of the DNA™ model, we believe that the time spent by a BRM in each of the remaining categories—business transition management, provider domain, portfolio management, and business IQ—builds greater connection, confidence, and credibility with business partners. Achieving this advanced level of presence allows for the BRM and business partners to fully engage in strategic partnership, which is the core of BRM DNA™.

To better explain the notion of pairing provider acumen and executive presence to build the foundation of a successful BRM, we present the following model for inclusion in discussion:

In this model, we see that provider acumen and executive presence live together in a common space, and when supported by leadership, these qualities provide the energy and fuel to power the rest of the “Business Relationship Management Machine.” Business acumen and process, strategy, change, communication, and understanding of business analysis are all key to the machine’s performance and achieving the final reward: value realization and optimization. Those categories cannot be driven, however, without the fire of leadership support, and the resulting reaction created by a combination of solid provider acumen and executive presence.[6]

The question remains, however: why does business relationship management make up only 0.2% of the recognized skills for BRMs?

Much like other more collective labels, great leaders are rarely recognized specifically for executive presence. Rather, they are viewed as solid communicators, effective collaborators, having high and positive energy, and knowledgeable. It is unsurprising to see that business relationship management is a low rated “skill,” because that is how it is viewed by most non-BRMs.


Business relationship management is a term that represents a full body of skills working in concert toward the goal of organizational value.

Business relationship management is a term that represents a full body of skills working in concert toward the goal of organizational value.


How will these findings be put into practice? Within the Business Relationship Management Institute Professional Development program, this helps to frame the work in onboarding new learning partners and providing licensed learning opportunities to the BRM community. A comprehensive portfolio with offerings from entry-level skill-building to advanced skill development will serve both entry-level BRMs and those who have the experience and presence to hold the role successfully, but desire opportunities to refine and master their skill sets.

We recommend that hiring managers consider the importance of provider acumen to successful BRMs. If business partners’ perception of provider acumen expertise is the BRM’s ability to navigate internal processes expertly and efficiently, it is important to consider this in hiring a new BRM. We expect that hiring managers will ask the following questions when considering new hires:

  • Does the individual have the experience with our processes to fully understand them?
  • Do they have the communication skills to de-mystify these processes—to take the complex and simplify it for business partners?
  • Does our BRM team have the onboarding tools in place to ensure that a BRM brought in from the outside is brought up to speed quickly regarding our provider acumen—in other words, our organization’s interpretations and requirements of industry practices?

As part of the strategic alliance between BRM Institute and the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA)[7], there are opportunities for discussion regarding the business analyst community. We see a path to the BRM role that includes history as a business analyst, and want to ensure that our BA partners have an opportunity to build and refine their own executive presence as part of their career progression. Will this come by way of higher-level projects and efforts while in a senior business analyst role? Or is there a transitional management position that is suitable? We anticipate some exciting discussions with our partners on this topic.

Similar paths may be considered regarding change management professionals and business process experts. While a skilled business analyst can serve as a guardian of scope for investments, change management professionals can track and manage strategies to address business transition management and adoption of change. Business process experts bring skills and tools that are useful in value stream identification and management, with a keen eye toward efficiency and productivity gains. Historical work in any of these areas can benefit a successful business relationship manager, and designing a strategy that includes the identification and cultivation of high performers in these roles can also benefit the succession planning for a BRM team.


If all senior managers in an IT or an HR team had this combination of skills and abilities and we focused on seeking and delivering work identified as high in organizational value, what would this do for the enterprise?

We also consider the potential benefits of building senior management teams with these qualities as criteria for entry. While the “Business Relationship Management Machine” and proposed formula are rooted in data drawn down from individuals in the BRM community, the graphic tells a story that would be meaningful for any person in a senior management or leadership role. If all senior managers in an IT or an HR team had this combination of skills and abilities and we focused on seeking and delivering work identified as high in organizational value, what would this do for the enterprise?

In closing, we confirm that we do see a strong and healthy connection between the BRM DNA™ model and the leading recognized areas of “Skills & Expertise” for our sample data set of BRMs with profiles on LinkedIn®. We also find an area of opportunity for BRM Institute in the continuing development of the BRMiBOK, including the introduction of new courses, future articles, webinars, and the like with regards to “executive presence.” BRM Institute will work to draw this topic more fully into the fold through the end of 2016 and into 2017.

Author note: As many of us know, LinkedIn® data, particularly “Skills & Expertise” categories, are highly subjective. Additionally, due to the newness of the BRM role in many organizations, the vast majority of BRMs are likely working more in levels 1-3 (tactical/service management focus), vs levels 4-5 (strategic focus). Given these factors – are there gaps in the data that might shift the interpretation? If the majority of BRMs fell into a level 5, strategic partner category, where might we observe shifts in skills & expertise? Readers are invited to share thoughts and participate in discussion that will assist in driving future research.


Special thanks to the following individuals for their contributions to this publication:

Corrina Chandler, BRM Institute Research Analyst: Data collection and reporting services

Larissa Pienkowski, BRM Institute Managing Editor: Publication editing services

Kayla Barnes, BRM Institute Marketing Director and Community Manager: Pagination and distribution services

[1] “World’s Largest Professional Network | LinkedIn.” World’s Largest Professional Network | LinkedIn. Web. June 2016. Search term, “Business Relationship Manager.” Banking industry professionals (external customer facing) removed from data set.[2] ¹ Researcher note: Records returned from LinkedIn® do not indicate a higher level of expertise or history in the role. We observed BRMs who were new to the role, as well as those who have worked as a BRM for years. Plans exist for a future study to focus on those deemed most successful in the industry by way of leadership feedback analysis.[3] An important note regarding “provider acumen”—this category represents both the knowledge of the provider’s processes and practices and the project and portfolio management acumen associated with that provider. We find that peer recognition of project and portfolio management skills is less tied to the industry definition of the role and work, and more related to an individual’s ability to guide and assist others in navigating internal requirements and expectations for successful inclusion and implementation in company programs. As such, what is commonly known as “provider domain” in the BRM DNA™  competency model is expanded to “provider acumen,” which includes project and portfolio requirements within the enabling capability space (IT, HR, Finance, etc.).[4] Einstein, Albert. Quote from[5] Medalla, Jun. “7 Traits Of Executive Presence, The Key To Winning People Over.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 06 July 2016.[6] We are pleased to see that even this level of journalistic research validates and reinforces the studies and work of strategic alliance partner Leading Edge Forum (LEF). Additional research is available at their website.[7] For information on the BRM Institute/IIBA strategic alliance, visit this link.

8 Responses

  1. Bob Swan says:

    Good article.

    My guess to the question pondered at the end – if we had more BRMs from organizations that were at the 4-5 level of maturity would be that we would see more skills strength in Strategy, Communication and Change.

    Interesting that there was no comment on the path of program and portfolio management nor architecture into the BRM role. As I expect that this will increasingly be a potential path of development.

    • Starla Borges says:

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the comments. Your call out is a good one – yes, project management, portfolio management, architecture and solution delivery management – all roles that exist in that 44% “provider manager” bucket for historical positions. Surprisingly, we did not see one type as being overwhelmingly higher than another. Lots of PM’s, but also several SDM’s, etc. When we boiled it all down, we found it to be less about WHICH management role, and more about a history of management. Assumptions are that those who work in these seats have visibly demonstrated how they perform with regard to accountability, pressure to deliver, responsibilities for strategic work and team design, etc – and have been rewarded with a seat that positions them more closely to strategy. Without further analysis, we cannot be sure – but it does make an interesting point for discussion.

    • Bob, I agree – at least in our organization though, it is more a definition of demand management , interlinking the BRM and the portfolio management. On the maturity level – after nearly 5 (!) years of IT BRM we only just reached a level 5 , and then only for one BRM area – I am sure you will agree that subtle factors like personal chemistry and sheer luck also play a part – sorry to say!

  2. Excellent article and great graphic! But I have to take issue with “Provider Acumen” being so highly rated as a BRM competency. This does not match my 23 years of experience with BRM training, consulting and assessment—nor is it reflected in research such as that by Leading Edge Forum that shows business domain knowledge as a far stronger predictor of BRM success.

    • Starla Borges says:

      Understood! “Provider acumen”, in this instance, includes the project and portfolio knowledge that is relevant to the individual’s BRM organization. Because it is more about “how we do things around here” than it is industry-prescribed practices, we include it as provider acumen. It would be interesting to do a bit deeper dive. Hopefully a topic that we’ll see a white paper on one day.

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