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What or Who is a Consultant and What Makes Them Good?

Posted by on October 8, 2010

“A consultant is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.”  A manager is someone who has direct responsibility over the action.  The moment you take direct responsibility, you are acting as a manager.”  ~ Peter Block

I’ve been consulting on various things for around 5 years now – anything from SEO, to social media, to customer strategy, to employee engagement strategy (and probably a few other random things as well) and I’ve definitely tried quite a mix of approaches and techniques and some were far less successful than others.  I have definitely played the role of the manager and the consultant (even though I should have always been the consultant) and have learned quite a bit from my successes and failures along the way.

Peter Block laid out what I consider to be the best set of skills required for a consultant, I only wish I would have read them 5 years ago…actually no I don’t, because I learned some valuable lessons by coming up with my own way of doing things…on to Peter Block’s consulting skills:

Technical skills

This refers to your area of expertise, you don’t need to be a “master” per say but you need to have some knowledge or expertise in a particular area.  For example, marketing, sales, I.T, etc.  You must have some level of expertise in a particular area in order for people to ask for your advice.

Interpersonal skills

Consulting is all about dealing with people either as individuals or in groups whether they be entry level employees or C-suite executives.  Regardless of who you are talking to you need to be able to put your ideas into a coherent string of words and sentences that other people can understand.  You also need to be able to give support when and where needed and be able to disagree in a reasonable and rational way.  Oddly enough I believe that many people lack this set of interpersonal skills, they may be smart and they may have great ideas but they simply lack “people” skills.

Consulting skills

According to Block, consulting projects go through a series of five phases and the skills required here are to be able to take clients through each of the steps successfully.  The phases are:

  1. Entry and contracting
  2. Discovery and dialogue
  3. Feedback and the decision to act
  4. Engagement and implementation
  5. Extension, recycle, or termination

What do you think makes a good consultant?  What have you learned during the course of your consulting practice or working with other consultants?  Do you agree with Peter Block?

  • Honesty and integrity are tops on my list. You have to have the integrity to tell your customer what you believe is right and be honest with them. Sometimes the honest answer is very hard to give and receive. Sometimes the honest answer gets you more business and sometimes you loose business because of your honest answer. Your integrity will let you sleep at night and get you more business in the long run due to your honest reputation.

    Nice topic Jacob.


    • Jacob Morgan

      Oh, absolutely, without honesty and integrity you have nothing! Thanks for the comment!

  • These are some great points, Jacob. A consultant definitely must have the proper skills to benefit your business. I think another characteristic that consultant must provide is RESULTS. If they can generate positive results they will get my recommendation as an effective consultant.

    @1114organic makes a great point too…someone who is authentic and honest helps create a comfort level that is necessary in the consulting realm.

  • This is really interesting – i've recently found myself in a position where i've got greater responsibility on the management side of client work, and the way that this has been split is great, and extremely helpful. The approach Block takes is a really clear way of explaining this tricky nuance between both roles.

    • Jacobmorgan8

      Thanks for note, long time no comment! It's a delicate balance between being a consultant and being roped into being an almost “employee” of the client, that is something we always try to avoid. We take a collaborative stance with our clients but we always make sure that clients know we are not managers and we do not make decisions on behalf of the client, that is not the role of the a consultant.

  • A good consultant must have the ability to identify silo breaker activities for the success of the initiative. They need to make quick execution decision to remove roadblocks. The most important skill a consultant can have is being “job description agnostic”

    You may need to stra-tactically need to execute on behalf of your Client and your Employer to build that relationship of reliability. If you are all powerpoint and strategy and don't roll up the sleeves once and a while, you will not be a very successful and last very long, well you will last long but not have any successful implementations to show for it…..believe more Clients are looking for a track record of successful implementation!

    • Jacobmorgan8

      Sorry it took so long to reply to this!

      Consultants are not line managers or decision makers so I'm always skeptical when people say “execution,” as in most cases that should be the job of the client.

      • I have played the role in the past where the company wanted consultation on good ways of doing things, new ideas, and a way to get that done. Plus in addition on some of these gigs I was expected to execute that plan standing side by side with the Client. Many of my Clients have told me they really liked getting both in the gig. I guess when playing this role for a Client I want to earn my keep and not have them waste money.

        Or am I describing a Contractor?

  • Well you must have some sort of area of expertise that you can market. But I think an underrated skill to have is the ability to be fluid and versatile.

  • Samuel

    A good consultant should be responsible and accountable for his actions. Timeliness is also a good trait in addition to being an expert in his field and good communication skills

  • Elice4luv

    u are good

  • Rwigemagily

    Great and valuable advises.


  • Hotapps9

    Yes, but I would also add humility and knowing WHEN to back off and allow your client to figure things out…the “hard” way. 🙂