Editorial: What it really takes to be an effective consultant

Apr 07, 2011

By Mark C. Zweig What does it really take to be an effective consultant? This is a question I am constantly being asked as well as asking myself. We are all in the consulting business. Whether it is architecture, engineering, environmental services or even management consulting, the attributes that make for a successful consultant are pretty much the same across the board. I have been doing this stuff for 31 years now— both inside consulting firms and as a consultant to consulting firms. Here are some of the characteristics of an effective consultant: * Knowledge. Consulting starts with knowing something your clients don’t know. That means knowledge about your discipline, for sure. But it really needs to be more than that. Broad, wide-ranging knowledge of the field you work in, of your industry, and of current happenings in the world are all critical to your credibility and success. * Perspective. You need perspective that comes from experience. No one will hire a consultant who is “perspectiveless.” They are hiring you because you have experience they don’t have themselves. They want to benefit from your perspective. * A point of view. There’s a big difference in point of view vs. perspective. You can have perspective without point of view. A point of view means you can take a stand. You have an opinion— an informed opinion— and aren’t afraid to state it. * Confidence. Confidence is what makes it all work. Without confidence, you could have knowledge, perspective, and point of view, but not be able to share it with anyone. All that is all useless without confidence! * Intelligence. If you know anything about intelligence (I was once married to a psychologist who did IQ testing), you will know that there are many elements to “I” (depending on the test you are using). But let’s face it, without some basic smarts, people cannot learn. That is unacceptable for a consultant! They will also tend to be argumentative and unreasonable, two very big problems if you want to be a success as a consultant! * Political savvyness. To be a successful consultant, you have to be able to quickly assess the political landscape and know who you really have to please. This political savvyness is needed not just for how to win the job— but most importantly, how to end up with a successful project and a client who will rehire you. * Communication skills. No amount of knowledge, perspective, confidence or political savvyness can make up for a lack of communication skills if you want to be ultimately successful. You have to be able to get your thinking across. The good news is communication skills CAN be taught. * Integrity. Integrity to me means that you do the right thing. It’s not always easy— and it may even cost you a project or a client— but you need to have it. How do your top consulting folks stack up on these requirements? If not so great, some (not all) weaknesses may be addressed by training. In other cases, you may just need to change horses. In the immortal words of my first boss in the professional world, the late Mike Latas, “You can lead a horse to water, but first you have to have a horse.”

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.