How to Become an Effective Consultant
An increasing number of roles within the project management, change management and IT sectors require strong consultancy skills.
Many people with a firm foundation of technical or project skills are being asked by their companies to provide professional consultancy services either to internal or external customers. Others find themselves working in a free-lance or interim capacity providing professional support and guidance. They provide specialist knowledge, clarity of thought, flexibility and an independent perspective which those involved day to day cannot.
Few people moving into the world of consultancy have stopped to think through the top skills required to become an effective consultant. Even fewer have taken time out to learn and practice best practice techniques which will improve their performance and accelerate their careers.
We take a look at the top skills required by a successful consultant. And we explore some good training and certification options which will develop your skills – and provide credibility to employers and clients.
Top Consultancy Skill Sets
Whilst we are thinking of consultancy related to more technical subject matter, the skills required mirror those which are exhibited in other business consultancy roles such as business strategy and finance.
1. Specialist Expertise
- You may no longer be the developer, business analyst or project manager but you need to ensure that you can speak with authority when it comes to your core areas of expertise.
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” Abraham Lincoln
2. Begin with the End-Game
- Imagine the end-game scenarios
- What’s the definition of success
- Work back from these to help scope the project and focus on what’s important
3. Time Management & Prioritisation
- Prioritise the important, deal with the urgent
- Be ruthless in allocating time to goal critical tasks
4. Clear Communication
- Listen and understand
- Simplify as much as is practical
- Ensure your communications are crisp, unambiguous and complete
5. Relationship Management
- Understand the roles, motivations and sensitivities of all stakeholders
- Build rapport and trust; negotiate effectively and manage conflict
- Work towards win-win outcomes
6. Continuous Improvement
- Welcome feedback, challenging questions and criticism
- Apply logical reason and argument rather than emotion
7. Simultaneous Macro and Micro Perspectives
- See the big picture, the strategic perspective, the corporate goals
- At the same time understand how people, systems and processes fit within this
8. Financial Awareness
- Understand the financial drivers for any project or problem
- Be able to quantify all costs and benefits
- Clients will be all too ready to resent your involvement
- Demonstrate that yours is more than a fleeting interest
- Demonstrate all of the above (often in highly pressurised situations)
- Consistent quality, focus and integrity
Training for IT and Project Consultants
An IT professional, BA or project manager with 5 years experience may well have gained quite a few of the above competencies – but they rarely find it an easy transition from “employee” to “consultant”.
The good news is that there are consultancy training courses which will help build and consolidate the skills required.
At an introductory level Focus offers a two day course – Consulting Skills for a Project Environment.
For those moving into more senior consultancy roles we strongly recommend the 5 day BCS Consultancy Practice course from the BCS. This is favoured by a number of high profile employers and can lead to the BCS International Diploma in Consultancy.
To achieve the Diploma it is necessary to pass both the Consultancy Practitioner exam, and also hold two further relevant certifications (eg ITIL, Business Analysis or IT Technical).