Technical and Interpersonal Skills Aren’t Enough for Consulting

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    Peter Block, in his seminal consulting book, Flawless Consulting, writes, “There is a set of skills that is an essential part of consulting over and above technical expertise and interpersonal skills – and these are consulting skills” (Jossey-Bass, 2000, p. 6). Yet, the myth continues that technical and people skills are sufficient for successful consulting. Perhaps that is why so many consulting projects fail.

    Technical expertise can be very powerful for improving certain technical functions, such as finances, marketing and computer systems. However, complex problems require more than that. They need consultants who can carefully analyze the problems, and can guide and support their clients through the frustrations, conflicts and resistance of changing their organizations – and often themselves.

    Interpersonal skills can be very powerful cultivating the wisdom, expertise and participation of people. However, expecting them to use those to solve complex problems is a bit like expecting them to use those to fix their automobiles, with little knowledge of how their automobiles work or the procedures needed to fix them. They also need skills in analyzing and solving problems – sometimes during rapid change.

    Today’s organizational consultants need strong technical, interpersonal and problem-solving skills. They need proven and adaptable methods to combine all of these skills to fix the car’s engine – while the confused and frustrated client is driving the car along unsigned and winding roads. Those methods and the skills to use them are called consulting skills.

    What do you think?

    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, faculty member of the Consultants Development Institute.