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4 Soft Skills to Master as a Consultant

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Published:
April 29, 2022
Reading Time:
10 minutes
Leo
Experienced copywriter who spends a lot of money at restaurants and regrets it later.

What does it take to become a successful management consultant? Sure, analytical and problem solving skills, creative thinking, and knowledge of consulting frameworks are important. But these are all hard skills.

To succeed in the competitive consulting industry, a consultant must possess the right soft skills as well. In a survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), the percentage of employers who conveyed that they consider soft skills important was 97%!

Soft skills are personal qualities that are either innate or acquired by a person later in their life. The good news is: Even if you haven’t honed your soft skills yet, you can train yourself to do so at any period in your career.

This article will discuss the soft skills that are especially relevant to the consulting industry along with some examples and tools.

1. Leadership - Take Initiative!

Unlike most other industries, in which clients and employers tell you what to do, consulting is one of those industries in which you’re supposed to give recommendations to people. Any successful consulting expert is a great leader and needs to have this soft skill. Moreover, Consulting is a challenging job that will require you to take various small and large initiatives from time to time. To understand what leadership in consulting actually means, let’s discuss an example.

Barbara Minto, who was the first-ever female MBA professional that was hired by McKinsey & Company, noticed that consultants are writing things mindlessly without spending some time to think in advance. She took the matter into her own hands and invented the MECE principle. MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive, and it enables consultants to break down complex problems in such a way that different segments do not overlap and the list of segments is comprehensive, meaning that it includes every single segment possible.

MECE is pretty much the standard in every consulting firm now and has made the job of consulting experts a lot easier—thanks to the leadership skills and initiative of Barbara Minto.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A combination of both hard and soft skills is necessary to become a successful consultant.
  • Consultants work in a position in which they are the ones who usually offer advice (and not the other way round). So, leadership skills are really crucial.
  • Unprecedented circumstances are common in the consulting industry. That’s why a consultant must learn how to remain professional under pressure.
  • To manage time efficiently, consultants can use the Eisenhower matrix to divide tasks into four categories: Do, Schedule, Delegate, Delete.
  • Consultants must master the top-down communication method as it is the norm in the industry and is a time-efficient way of communicating main points effectively.

2. Calmness - Soft Skills for Staying Professional in Unprecedented Situations

In an ideal world, you, as a management consultant, could start a project with a hypothesis, collect data, analyze it, present recommendations to clients, and finish the project. In reality, however, this is not always the case. Your fellow consulting experts, superiors, and even clients won’t always agree with you and there can be a clash of ideas. So, if you have chosen consulting as a career option, you better be prepared to handle some unpredictable events and manage to be professional no matter how tense a situation gets.

Here are some things that could potentially go wrong during a consulting engagement:

  • Unhappy clients:

    Consulting projects are usually not cheap, so when a client invests their time, energy, and money in you, they will settle for nothing less than the best. In case you find yourself in such a situation, remember to be empathetic and offer your client any assistance they may require (within reason), and do your best to make things right.
  • Missed deadlines:

    Unfortunately, this will happen at some point. But how you handle it will define your future success as a consulting expert. We will discuss how you can use time management skills to deliver projects on time further in this article. So, stay tuned and keep reading.
  • Scope creep:

    You’ll likely come across at least one client who doesn’t really stick to the original statement of work and increases the project scope without any empathy for you. Again, staying calm and professional with such clients is really crucial. When scope creeps occur, be patient with your client and help them recall the agreed-upon deliverables along with extra costs and time that could be involved if additional tasks are added to the list.
  • A lack of stable income (for freelance consultants):

    This one only applies to freelancers, but it’s important to mention nonetheless. Sometimes, there could be long gaps between projects which may result in a stressful period from a financial perspective. It’s imperative that you stay level-headed in such circumstances and keep your spirits high. Better yet, sign up with a freelance consulting platform that can connect you with new clients.

3. Time Management - Leverage the Eisenhower Matrix

Time management as a consultant will not only allow you to deliver projects on time, but it will also enable you to have a better work-life balance. You must have already read dozens of articles on time management with more or less the same information. But today, let’s think outside the box and learn the Eisenhower method for time management. This matrix is very simple to work with and can be used by anyone—from a school student to a Fortune 500 management consultant.

soft skills, 4 Soft Skills to Master as a Consultant

As you can see in the infographic, the Eisenhower matrix can be used to divide tasks into four different quadrants:

  • Do:

    These are the tasks that are important and urgent
  • Schedule:

    The tasks that are important but not urgent fall into this quadrant
  • Delegate:

    Urgent, however, not so important tasks can be added to this quadrant
  • Delete:

    Finally, tasks that are neither urgent nor important are placed in this quadrant

Consulting is one of those career options in which your time management skills will play a vital role in determining whether you stay in the game for the long run or not. If you have tried other time management methods and haven’t found much success yet, give the Eisenhower method a try. After all, it was created by Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, so don’t underestimate its power.

4. Communication and Soft Skills - Write, Talk, and Listen Like a Consultant

In consulting, being a skilled communicator involves more than just being good at talking to people. In fact, those generic tips on how to communicate will not suffice in a consulting firm. So, let’s examine how to develop communication skills that are relevant to consulting.

  • Use top-down communication:

    Your clients or seniors will generally be very busy professionals who don’t have time to listen to long stories. Using the top-down communication method, also known as the Pyramid Principle, you can begin with the conclusion first, followed by main insights, and then elaborating on those insights. This helps listeners save a lot of time and absorb key takeaways with ease. Keen to learn more? Then read this article: How to Nail Top to Bottom Communication
  • Understand your audience:

    Your client may not necessarily have the knowledge of consulting frameworks or methodologies that you use to solve problems. A skilled communicator should be able to deliver a complex message in such a way that even a child can understand it. As Einstein said, “If you can't explain it to a 6-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.”
  • Listen attentively:

    It’s true that consultants are paid to offer advice. But listening in consulting is equally important. When you listen to your clients and coworkers carefully, you can ask them to clarify questions, understand their objectives, and serve them better when it’s your turn to speak again.


Final Thoughts

Besides the aforementioned soft skills, it also helps to be a good team player and a likable person in general. Also, when you’re in a position to offer guidance to people who are already very successful, such as C-suite executives and world leaders, you should have the charisma and confidence to demonstrate that you’re a figure of authority as well. And finally, being ambitious, even though it’s more of a trait than a skill, will take you farther than you can imagine in the consulting industry—which is one of the most competitive lines of work out there with cutthroat rivalry among firms and consultants alike.