A consultant is not always an expert.
If that was the case, I would not call myself a consultant! The word consultant doesn’t mean expert. In Latin, consultant means to discuss. Therefore, a consultant is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area.
Prior to my first day on a client site, I was nervous about the expectations my client and Project Manager would have about me. I hoped they didn’t expect me to have all the answers to their problems. I reassured myself that my new project manager and client were well informed about my experience and hoped that they would onboard me sufficiently.
Now, I actually feel that the amount of experience you have is less important than your ability to use resources (people, information) to solve problems and drive change. The ability to listen to client needs and issues, discuss options, and provide suggestions is what makes a successful consultant; not your ability to rattle off SAP transaction codes and technical jargon.
The most frequent advice I was given as a new consultant was to listen 90% of the time during your first week on a client site. An experienced consultant might feel compelled to interject insight and expertise during a meeting or email exchange to prove themselves. Instead, I found that spending the majority of your first few days understanding the client’s environment, issues, and culture is most important. It takes a lot of the pressure off during your first week if you act more like a sponge and less like a user manual. You can also avoid restating solutions and ideas that have already been addressed and spend your time coming up with more sound solutions.
For more in this series, check out Parts 2 and 3: