Consulting 101 – What Every Consultant Needs to Know

There is so much about being a consultant that I absolutely love.  By its very nature, consulting allows me to move from client to client and experience a wide variety of business cultures and philosophies.  Each project in which I am engaged provides new tools that might be useful in the projects yet to come.  Moving from one set of challenges to the next helps keep my thinking fresh and my problem-solving skills sharp.  Through the years, I have discovered a few key qualities that help make a great consultant – and, believe it or not, it has less to do with expertise (in a specific subject area) than you might think.  Let’s build a great consultant.

I am a Subject Matter Expert

It probably goes without saying that a great consultant must have deep command of the skills required by their field.  No one knows everything they could know about a subject, but a consultant knows their limitations and how to track down what they haven’t yet learned.  A company hires a consultant for two reasons: they need to supplement their staff temporarily and/or they lack the expertise and ramp-up time needed to complete a specific initiative.  In either case, a consultant must be able to “hit the ground running” and deliver immediate value for their customer.  A great consultant can take this a step further and provide subject matter leadership that can help the customer establish a strong foundation and clear vision for future direction.

I am a Steward

Of course, consultants are paid for their services.  However, a great consultant brings a “stewardship mentality” into every engagement.  Delivering expertise is only a good start – every decision and action should also be measured by the wider view of comprehensive value delivered.  A great consultant treats the client’s money (and other assets) as if it were their own.

I am a Doer, a Mover, a Shaker

When a consultant is engaged, the expectation on the client’s part is that things will get done.  Every business moves at a different pace and with various degrees of enthusiasm and energy.  Consultants must be careful to keep an overall focus on the delivery of results regardless the general culture of their client.  A great consultant leads accomplishment by moving obstacles, challenging (as diplomatically as possible) the status quo and driving toward goals.

I am a Mentor

A consultant may be engaged to perform tasks A, B and C on a given project.  When that project is completed, the consultant will move on to the next client and the next project.  A great consultant leaves the client’s staff in a solid position to support, enhance and improve upon what was accomplished by sharing their knowledge and experience; equipping the staff to pick up and move forward when the consultant leaves.

I am a Cheerleader, a Champion, an Evangelist

Every project has an ebb and flow; good days and difficult days; triumphs and challenges.  A great consultant brings a positive, “can-do” attitude every day.  Team members will benefit from enthusiasm – it’s contagious – and positive energy leads to accomplishment.  A great consultant is generous with praise and encouragement.  A great consultant sees the triumph beyond the challenge and helps attitudes be formed by where the project is going and not necessarily where it is now.

I am a Credit Deflector

We all want recognition for the great work that we do.  For a consultant, the best form of recognition is to be engaged by the client on future projects because of past success.  Consultants are in a unique position to make sure that the client’s staff can be credited for the great work taking place on a project.  A great consultant will look for opportunities let the staff shine.  A consultant has no ladders to climb or promotions to pursue with the client.  A great consultant deflects credit to the client’s staff.

I am an Example of Integrity

Things go wrong.  Even the best consultant will make mistakes.  Regardless of cost, a great consultant will own their mistakes and do everything that can be done to correct and assure smoother roads ahead.  In my experience, nothing builds trust better than exercising integrity – even when it’s hard… even when it hurts.  A great consultant can be trusted to do the right thing in the face of difficult circumstances.

Being a great consultant is so much more than “knowing your stuff”.  At any given moment, consulting requires us to wear many different hats.  Any number of people can have your “subject matter skillset” – but how many have the critical soft skills required to be a great consultant?