Consulting is an interesting profession, the variety of assignments and range of companies make each new day worthy of note. Clients look to consultants to assist them on a short term basis to address problems for which they have no solution, to manage and implement projects and sometimes to fill short term resourcing needs.
To be successful a professional consultant must be an expert in their field with a track record of delivering results. In addition to expertise in a particular area all consultants possess a common skill set that falls into four main categories; problem solving, project management skills, interpersonal skills and management skills.
Most engagements involve solving a problem for the client. A professional consultant must be able to quickly analyze problems, identify the cause, find alternative solutions, recommend the most appropriate solution for the particular business and provide advice on implementation.
Superior analytical skills are a hallmark of the professional consultant. If the problem was easy to solve the client would not require the consultant's help. Being able to break down complex issues into their relevant parts to address multiple difficulties is an essential skill that all consultants possess regardless of their field of endeavor.
Matrix thinking is also a necessary skill. It is used to imagine solutions. Visioning is too broad for a consulting engagement but being able to imagine a range of possibilities within the realities of the current business is essential.
Most organizations operate in linear mode in their day to day operations. While this works to promote efficiency it can limit their ability to step outside the lines when faced with complex issues. Consultants add value to the business when they can propose alternate solutions and discuss why their recommended solution is best for the company.
By its nature consulting is project based. To run a profitable consulting business, each engagement needs to be managed as a project. The project scope needs to be clarified. Costing, pricing, deliverables, milestones and deadlines all need to be articulated. Throughout the engagement risks to a successful conclusion must be managed and mitigated.
A consulting engagement requires that the consultant respond to the needs of the client. In order to fully comprehend the client's needs a consultant must have advanced listening and questioning skills. Empathy for the client's position enhances the relationship and often results in a better understanding than a purely interrogatory approach.
Frequently there are conflicting opinions within and across the business in regard to the problem, its cause and the appropriate solution. Exceptional conflict resolution skills are required to bring all parts of the organization together in addressing the problem.
Facilitation and presentation skills are also essential to ensure all key stakeholders participate in the development of a solution and are committed to achieving the resolution. Not only does this ensure the business obtains the results it requires from the engagement but in doing so makes it likely the consultant will be engaged again in the future.
Consulting is the same as any other business; sales must be made to survive. Marketing, selling, negotiating and contracting are all crucial skills required of the professional consultant. The consultant's intellectual capacity underpins the service being provided and intellectual property must be managed and protected as a valuable commercial asset.
Being an expert in a particular field is only the first requirement of the professional consultant. Management, problem solving and interpersonal skills are equally important for success.