The key skills and attributes of an effective consultant
Are you an aspiring consultant?
Or perhaps an organisation looking to find a suitable consultant to help you solve the problems you currently face?
“Consultant” is a job title used across the financial services industry and many others. The term is also used interchangeably with others such as “management consulting”, “professional services” and “contracting”. The title is so vague and broad that almost anyone can decide to adopt the title of a consultant.
However, to be an effective consultant requires certain skills and attributes for success. The consulting industry is a competitive landscape full of top performers and to be set apart comes by pursuing growth in key areas. In this blog, we describe the core skills and attributes possessed by effective consultants, drawing from our personal experience and research on the topic.
What is a consultant?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a consultant as “a person who is a specialist in a particular subject and whose job is to give advice and information to businesses, government and organisations.”
What makes a consultant different from any other professional? A consultant is more than an expert or specialist in their field. A consultant is a trusted adviser who helps clients solve their problems by using their knowledge and skills to guide them toward an appropriate solution.
The role of a consultant is to deliver independent information, insight, recommendations, and outcomes. A consultant provides their client with access to knowledge, experience and skills that the client is unable to source internally. The value of a consultant rests in their ability to provide solutions for unfamiliar problems, by providing outside perspectives and approaches that have not yet been considered by their clients.
To do this effectively requires an essential set of skills and attributes, some of which are inherent, and others developed over time through intentional and incidental experience. So, what skills and attributes are needed to be an effective consultant?
“As a consultant, a new client will tell you what they want...your job is to deliver what they need.” ― Bobby Darnell, CRM Consultant at Construction Market Consultants, Inc.
Skills of an effective consultant
The art of consulting requires a healthy balance of hard and soft skills to deliver value to clients and within teams. These skills include:
Project management – the ability to apply knowledge, processes and methods to scope, plan, and execute projects to meet specific objectives. Consultants need an understanding of project management methodologies to manage client projects from start to finish in a structured, repeatable manner.
Writing skills – business and report writing skills are especially important for delivering client reports detailing project findings and recommendations. Writing skills are also relevant for daily email communication with stakeholders and developing thought leadership.
Technical skills – Consultants are hired for their expertise. To offer expert advice requires technical skills relevant to the client’s business, industry and project requirements. While it’s good to develop deep knowledge and experience in a specific functional area or discipline, it’s also important for consultants to build transferrable skills given the variety of industries and organisations they work with.
Research skills – the ability to find and evaluation useful information related to a specific client situation. These skills enable consultants to stay up to date with industry trends, to offer insights to clients as needed.
Critical thinking & problem solving – to deliver valuable advice, consultants require the ability to find the root of a problem before seeking to solve it, as well as test and challenge assumptions to reach a better solution for their client.
Analytical –the ability to synthesise information and analyse data to draw insights and appropriate conclusions
Innovation & creativity – when organisations hire consultants, they are generally after a different perspective. To offer value that is set apart, the skill of thinking outside the box to reach innovative solutions is important. Consultants also need to be resourceful and find new ways to apply existing models and frameworks and overcome any challenges encountered during a project.
Stakeholder management – on any given project, consultants tend to have multiple stakeholder interests and expectations to manage for successful delivery. This requires the ability to maintain good relationships and ongoing communication with those who impact and are impacted by the project outcomes.
Interpersonal skills - relationship building and management is a key component of consulting, including the ability to quickly establish rapport with a client to build a positive working relationship. Networking is also important as creating such connections expands a consultant’s knowledge base, which they can draw upon throughout their career as needed.
Communication & presentation skills – the ability to convey information to others in a clear and simple manner that allows clients to easily grasp ideas, perspectives, and insights. This applies both to an audience of one and an audience of many.
“The fact is great relationships are based on great conversations, not one person showing the other how smart they are. I like to say experts tell advisors to ask great questions and listen. Experts sell — advisors create a buyer who’s enthusiastic about what you have to offer. Experts build professional credibility, not bad. Advisors build deep personal trust.” – Andrew Soebel, Author of ‘Clients for Life’ & ‘Power Questions’
Attributes of an effective consultant
Like effective directors and leaders, to truly be an effective consultant also requires behavioural attributes that enable positive interactions with teams and clients. Hall Advisory considers the following attributes to be important:
Flexible & adaptable – consultants often work across different organisations and/or industries and working with different teams is not uncommon. As such, consultants need the ability to navigate through uncertain and changing environments, especially when project circumstances change.
Proactive – anticipating a situation before it occurs rather than waiting to respond once it occurs is a sign of a good consultant. To be an effective consultant means seeking and seizing opportunities both on the job and in more broadly, in your career.
Confidence – to believe in your skills and capability to provide sound advice is essential as this builds trust with team members and clients.
Reliable – consistency in quality and performance is also important; you do exactly what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.
Empathetic – an effective consultant actively listens to the client to understand the problem they are facing and empathise with their position.
Attention to detail – producing thorough and comprehensive deliverables for clients, with no errors (e.g. grammar, spelling, data, calculations). Delivering high quality work also builds trust and credibility.
Curious & inquisitive – asking open-ended questions to discover relevant and pertinent information and seeking clarification to achieve aligned understanding with clients.
Growth mindset – seeking to continually improve, willing to receive feedback for growth, acquiring new skills to stay relevant and respond to changes in the industry.
Resilience – given the nature of consulting, mistakes are inevitable. What’s important is growing and learning from those mistakes to increase in effectiveness as a consultant.
Team player – consultants rarely work alone and are often part of a team. An effective consultant works well with others, understanding that the best outcomes require collaboration.
“To become an advanced consultant, you can’t simply do more of the same; you need to deepen your knowledge while seeking feedback that allows you to grow as an individual.” ― William A. Pasmore, Partner at Mercer Delta Organizational Consulting
How to grow consulting skills and attributes
Comparing your existing skills and attributes against the list of those required to be an effective consultant can be slightly overwhelming. You may have identified gaps that you would like to close for yourself or even in consultants you work with. So, how can you increase your effectiveness as a consultant?
Look for on-the-job learning opportunities – be willing to step out of your comfort zone and work on projects in a different specialty area or industry. Try to find a way to capture key learnings from consulting engagements to help you in a similar project in the future.
Seek mentorship – find someone who has been consulting for much longer to glean from their wisdom and insights gained through experience. This may or may not be someone working in the same industry, depending on the types of skills you want to develop.
Undertake formal learning (i.e. continuing professional development, post-grad courses) – structured learning can be useful as it highlights your strengths and weaknesses, providing tools and techniques to help you grow in certain areas.
Build technical knowledge by consistently studying and reading thought leadership to understand difference scenarios, cause and effect relationships and gain new perspectives.
To become an effective consultant isn’t incidental – it requires intentional pursuit.
How Hall Advisory can help
If consulting services is what your organisation requires, the Hall Advisory team is comprised of effective consultants providing bespoke governance, risk management, compliance and strategic advisory services.
We pride ourselves on the quality of our people, work, and ongoing relationships with our valued clients.
Some of the core services we offer include:
Governance, delegations and conflicts frameworks
Independent assessments of governance, accountability and culture standards
Risk culture frameworks and independent diagnostics
Independent triennial reviews of risk management, insurance management and investment governance frameworks
Outsourcing arrangements, due diligence, tenders and benchmarking analysis
Regulatory stakeholder communications and relationship management
Analysis of market positioning and strategic opportunities
Mergers, acquisitions and corporate transactions
Product benchmarking and enhancement of independent product ratings
Contact us today for a confidential, no-obligation conversation about how we can support you.