7 Traits of a Great Consultant

Posted by Mohamed Elgendy on February 1st, 2016
5 minutes read

Are you considering a career shift from being a full-time employee to a business consultant? Are you new to the business consulting industry? It takes a lot to succeed in the consulting world, but focus on the following key traits. You’ll have everything you need to shoot above and beyond your peers.

The Investment from Within

A very common question from startup consultants and solo practitioners is: what skills are required to be a successful business consultant? Since all skills and personal attributes can be learned and self -developed, here are the ideal business consultant traits based on my observation of success and failure in our profession:

  • Strong communication abilities: this sounds like a no-brainer, right? Consultants have to be able to speak, either formally or informally, in such a way that they can command a room and influence their team. Again, remember that this is a learnable skill. Some consultants started as horrible public speakers and in a short time period they turned into toastmasters. A grasp of proper English, a wide ranging vocabulary which comes from intensive reading about your subject, and practice will serve you well in both marketing yourself and while on the job.

  • Stand your ground: it’s the ability to fearlessly say to clients that their basic premises are incorrect and you would be doing them a disservice if you promised to deliver their unrealistic expectations. Nothing increases credibility like the willingness to stand your own ground and disagree when you have better information and insights. However, make sure you offer an alternative solution to the situation. At the end of the day you are hired to get results not to say no.

  • Powerful people tend to hire powerful people, and powerful people are the ones with large sums to invest - Alan Weiss

  • Rapid framing: this is one of the secret tricks that differentiate consultants early in discussions with prospective clients. It is the ability to quickly summarize the problems or issues presented to you. Note that you are not expected to propose solutions, which are premature in early meetings. For example, “Chris, what I’m hearing is that your systems need to be migrated to accommodate the new government policies and provide your customers more flexibility to use their accounts”. Many clients don’t know how to articulate their needs and the consultant who can do so for them becomes a partner.

  • Use examples and analogies: the more you are able to quickly use examples, paraphrases, cite historical analogies and ask penetrating questions, the more you will be seen as invaluable to the client’s business.

  • Problem solving: in consulting, you will be asked to solve problems that may be completely new to you — or even completely new to the industry. And when you’re faced with these tough problems or challenging requirements, it’s time to utilize the problem solving tools and techniques that can be applied to any problem you face regardless of your previous experience of the issue, such as:

    • Root-cause analysis – it is a structured method to guide a team through a problem-solving process to discover the root cause of a problem. It provides a pictorial display of a list in which you identify and organize possible causes or problems.
    • 5 Whys technique – to prevent the team from being satisfied by superficial solutions that will not fix the actual problem in the long run.

  • Ask good questions: working as a consultant for more than a decade, this has been the most common piece of advice I see mentors giving to consultants. But it’s rare to find someone to tell you what a good question is and how to train your brain to generate effective questions on the spot. Let’s see how:
    • Listen carefully to the issue your client is proposing and try to understand the process before committing to a solution
    • Trust your gut, don't overthink it, follow the process and ask the first question that comes to your mind
    • The purpose of your question should be to clarify the current situation and the desired solution, not to show the client that you are qualified for the assignment
    • Even if you don't have a question to ask, restating what you've been told to explain your understanding can inspire confidence with your manager or client

  • Create a trustful relationship with your team, client and stakeholders: ALWAYS be honest and upfront with your peers and put yourself in their shoes to gain their trust.


Be advised that the greatest danger to the business consultant is a lack of self -esteem. If you don’t believe you can help others, no one else will believe it. If you don’t manifest it, no one else will see it. Therefore, to be able to apply all the previous traits my advice is to read a lot about your industry and always be up-to-date with the current events.

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