Key Behavioral Attributes of a Good Consultant

I have noticed that being excellent subject matters experts (SMEs) does not naturally predispose one to be an excellent consultant, nor vice versa. I have been trying to develop some training material to help SMEs make the transition to consultant for our firm, and believe I need to define what a good consultant is first. This is my first stab.

  • Affinity: You have achieved and demonstrate a ‘natural’ liking for the client, a relationship that is not forced. You can sympathize with the client, you ‘get it’ and genuinely want to help the client achieve his/her goals and that comes across in your conduct.
  • Advocacy: You stand for the client’s success, you are his/her champion – not just a hired hand; you are his/her adviser, confidante, lieutenant.  You are an extension of your client; you are acting on your client’s behalf; you are a representative of your client and everything you do will reflect favorably upon your client among his/her peers, direct reports, providers and superiors.
  • Authenticity: You are honest, believe in your words and your actions reflect your belief in your words.
  • Attentiveness: You are a good listener. You do not fight the client but actively seek to understand his/her perspective, needs, wants, and vulnerabilities toward aligning your work to the client’s true intentions. You are always open to (and in fact probing for) the true intention(s) of your client – not just the directly spoken and/or written word (i.e. explicit intention), but also that which is evident in the client’s actions, the next level down, (i.e. implicit intention).
  • Channeling: When you act on behalf of your client, you take yourself out of the equation and become a conduit to your client’s intention. You ask ‘how would my client prefer this to be addressed’ and do your best to do as your client would have it done were he or she to do so at his/her own best.
  • Empathy: You have more than an intellectual understanding of the situation from the perspective of the client; you can understand how the client feels and you allow this understanding to inform your thinking and your actions.
  • Empowering: You seek out and create opportunities to enable others to be successful with your help.
  • Flexibility: You ‘roll with the punches’ (direction sometimes changes) and are not unworkably bound by previous agreements. Should new direction deviate from the Statement of Work (SOW), you are comfortable having this discussion with the client – or preferably, you make sure you alert the Client Partner or Delivery Partner as soon as possible and engage them in the proper discussion to either get the project back on track or process the appropriate change request with the client. But you never put your client, your engagement, or our firm at risk by being too rigid or too accommodating.
  • Integrity: You say what you mean, mean what you say and do what you say and there is internal consistency therein. Your words and your actions are reflective of the company’s corporate values.
  • Mentoring: You can facilitate both breakthrough and evolutionary professional and/or personal growth in your client and colleagues, with or without their express knowledge.
  • Negotiator: You understand that all conversations are negotiations; no words are engraved in stone. You recognize that all words have multiple meanings and you strive to understand the meaning that is relevant in the current context. You are careful to communicate out the appropriate level of interest and/or commitment, as you assume the client is as smart if not smarter than you and always has an agenda behind their words. You appreciate that this is smart business, never personal and your goal is a balance that satisfies your client and your firm.
  • Outcome-based: You do not perform work for work’s sake; it must be bound by and service deliverables in the Statement of Work (SOW). All performed work must result in some tangible outcome that the client wants and for which the client has communicated as such appropriately.
  • Partnering: You seek out and create opportunities to develop relationships that share ownership of work streams that produce positive outcomes for the client.
  • Situation Aware: Your understanding of the client engagement is part of a larger context of your understanding. You are not merely heads-down focused on the tactical objectives of your engagement (though this is clearly important); you see the importance of this engagement in the strategic context in which it serves the larger goals of the client and his/her organization. This extends to timelines, business operations, major and minor stakeholders and the resultant outcomes upon which this engagement depend and which will be enabled by successful conclusion of this engagement.
  • Stewardship: You do not own a stake in the outcome; you own successful fulfillment of the promised deliverables intended to enable the desired outcome.
  • Team-oriented: You know you are part of a larger organization and never take on what you cannot deliver, and never make commitments on behalf of the firm without prior consultation with your Client Partner.

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