Posted by: Sarat Varanasi | February 14, 2010

Qualities of a Successful Consultant

Top qualities of a consultant

Having been in the consulting industry for close to 15 years, One would think that there is a easy recipe for being a successful consultant. I wish there was one. For the most part, it really depends on how you react to situations, the attitude and approach to work and to a great extent the kind of projects you are given an opportunity to execute early on and the opportunities you create for yourself and your clients in the later years. The list below is a compilation of what I have adapted throughout my career and in some cases, what I have learnt the hard way. I have found these characteristics to be very useful and necessary in any client situation.

Empathy: I guess this goes without saying. This is probably the top most quality of any consultant. As a consultant, it is easy for us to say – “Oh the solution for that is simple. We could get his done in X days”. Well, any consultant who says that in the first few meetings is bound to lose credibility and ultimately the client very quickly. It is important to understand the client’s point of view, the organizational dynamics and empathize with the situation. While, the client is looking for examples of how a similar situation was handled at a different client and what they can learnt from it, they are not looking for us to provide a solution right away. The client wants us to show pointers to a solution and drive the thought process. The client wants to make sure we are listening and understanding the situation.


Be Yourself: The best thing about being a consultant is you get to work with different clients, beat monotony and innovate solutions. More importantly though, a consultant gets to be himself/herself in any project. No matter how dynamic and challenging the organization is, how politically charged the environment is, the client organization is hiring us to give straight answers even if that means they are difficult to implement. I can still remember standing in a room filled with GM’s, BU heads and Practice leads across geographies in a well established organization few years ago and helping steer the conversation away from dynamics between the groups to building solutions. I have learnt 2 important things from this a) Never be overwhelmed with the situation b) Always be yourself.

Team Dynamics: I have learnt this the hard way – in the early days of my career, I was called up by a PM and asked to join a project. He said “we are behind schedule, the design is not done and we want you to come in and help us out”. Being an enthusiastic consultant and a go-getter, I booked my travel to client site on a Tuesday night, reached there on a Wednesday morning and started working with the client team from Thursday. I ended up working with 2 people on the client team till late Friday night making changes to the document, suggesting process changes and corrections. On my way back that week on a Saturday, I got a call from the client PM saying “Hey, I heard our team members were made to sit till late Friday evening. I know we are late in design but we need to make sure everyone is on the same page and the team is not overworked.” From that day onwards, no matter how difficult the situation, how delayed the project is, I take time to understand the approach and the reasoning behind it. No matter the level of expertise we bring to the table, every assignment is different and the understanding the team dynamics is imperative.

Packaging the Solution: As a consultant, the most important aspect is packaging the solution. While presenting a solution, we have to understand the client’s thought process, anticipate the questions and present the solution before the questions are even asked. For ex: Let us say, the client wants to implement a new financial software, the CIO of the Organization is most likely interested in understanding the issues around change management, overall budget and the technological fit among other things. The CFO might be interested in how the software can help reduce DSO, how it can achieve maximum discounts from vendors etc. The Accountant might be interested in understanding ground level issues like “will it reduce the number of Journals I have to create manually, will it make the reconciliation easier etc.” While we cannot anticipate every single question the client asks, we can certainly anticipate a good % of them, be prepared for it and address it upfront. Even though it might take more time to present a solution, I would rather present to various client groups in multiple meetings rather than trying to address varied groups in one meeting.

Take the team along with you: Well, I guess this is the least a client can expect from a consultant. They want to make sure the entire organization/team is bought into the solution. In the client’s eyes it is not about how good the consultant’s individual ideas are or how good the individual solution is. It is about how much the organization is bought into the solution and how well the team ultimately responsible for implementing and maintaining the solution understands the intricacies, details and complexities. It is about educating and bringing the entire team along and ensuring that majority of the organization is gung ho about the solution.

What have you observed in your career, would you like to add or make changes? Feedback is welcome. You can either leave a comment here or email me



  1. A great blog Sarat!!!

    Beautifully written, clean and crisp. Your examples in between were perfect.


    • Thanks Mahehs. Appreciate the response and the read.

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