Soft skills development: Becoming a better consultant

To become an effective technical consultant, you need a blend of hard and soft skills to operate effectively.

Whatever the project, they are often challenging, and never in the same way.  There may be technical issues, time pressures or obstructive personalities that prevent or hinder delivery.

A consultant’s technical skillset, or hard skills, are very important, and a lot of time is spent undertaking research, development and certification to attain and prove them.  However, we also need a toolkit of soft skills to complement our hard skills, to ensure projects run smoothly.

The British Dictionary definition of soft skills is:

“desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude”

Here are the 10 soft skills you should also be looking to develop to improve your effectiveness as a technical consultant.

  • Communication:  Whether verbal or written, you must be able to communicate ideas clearly and concisely, considering the audience.  Use company template documents as a starting point for preparing written documentation, but don’t be too rigid with them if the project needs specific additional documentation.
  • Preparation:  When starting a project, allow time to understand the deliverables, who the customer is, and what they really want.  Plug any skills gap that exists.
  • Self-motivated, a strong work ethic and a positive attitude:  You need to be well prepared when starting a project, confident in your abilities and put in the hard work required to meet the project timelines.  If you don’t believe you can do it, neither will the customer.
  • Listening:  This is worth listing out separately from communication.  Spend enough time at the start of the project listening to the customer and understanding their requirements.  Try to get multiple points of view– senior management/line management/end user.  Capture the requirements, and then review with the customer.  Solve the problem the customer has, not the problem you think it is.
  • Leadership:  Take responsibility, lead by example, motivate others in the team and show initiative.
  • Teamwork:  Develop the teamwork mindset.  Every project has multiple touch points with the customer.  Be a good team player, acknowledge expertise and use it effectively.
  • Conflict Resolution:  Many projects don’t go smoothly.  Whatever the issue, try to see it from multiple viewpoints and give your customer a clear definition of the problem, and preferably, options for its resolution.  Be respectful.  Know when to compromise, and if its not possible, explain why.
  • Time Management:  Create a task breakdown for the project with a time estimate for each task.  Highlight early any time issues so that the scope of the project can be amended, or the timeline extended.  Be realistic and don’t assume things will always go right first time.
  • Influencing and Negotiating Skills:  The art of persuasion is important, but never force your opinion.
  • Adaptability:  Every project is different.  Every customer is different.  Understanding this is key to effective delivery.  The solution may have to be adaptable, you may have to be adaptable.  You may need to learn a new skill fast or work in a different way.
  • Honesty:  If you don’t know they answer, say you don’t know.  Consult with a colleague, research with the vendor and go back with the answer.  Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

You may have noticed that there are 11 skills listed – well done you.  In my defence, I was being adaptable.  #BeTheDifference

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