Many consultants work alone. Whilst they must manage themselves and their relationship with their clients, they depend on no one else for their reputation and prosperity.
But many of us work in teams, and it is usual, then, that we should manage each other. Sometimes there’s no formal appointment of a team leader or manager, but this doesn’t work well if a team is much larger than two. Whilst it’s possible to imagine two or three experienced and independent consultants reaching an easy consensus on the division of responsibilities and the line to take with a client, when an organisation contracts to provide consulting services for a client, a team leader, or project manager, or account manager is usually appointed to represent the organisation and to take responsibility for the work.
Is management like this….?
Or like this….?
What are the responsibilities of a manager?
- To get the work done,
- On time,
- To the client’s satisfaction, and
These are a manager’s primary responsibilities. He or she must also:
- Encourage the professional and managerial development of staff
- Ensure that work is rewarding, even enjoyable
- Ensure that criticism, when required, is constructive and helpful rather than discouraging
What skills does a manager need to meet these responsibilities?
You might think that you need to possess all the technical skills that the project requires, to be the best architect, engineer, programmer, or whatever is needed, but that’s not the case. You can often rely on your juniors to provide the best and most up-to-date technical skills. Indeed a manager sometimes best motivates his or her staff by deferring to their greater expertise.
In many organisations, the best technicians are relentlessly promoted, but sometimes their management skills don’t grow with their technical expertise and as managers of people, of projects, of teams, they fail. The wiser organisation provides two paths for its professional staff – a path into management, and a path into special technical responsibility (which usually trails ‘dotted line’ responsibility rather than line management responsibility).
As a manager, you must:
- Plan well (understanding logical dependencies and judging your or others’ estimates well)
- Understand, trust and motivate your team
- Communicate well both with your team and with your client
- Set objectives and responsibilities and delegate well
- Judge the right level of detail and quality that will satisfy your client whilst ensuring profitability
These skills are needed for leadership in any context, but in the professional services organisation they must be exercised with a lighter touch. Consultants are employed for their intelligence, imagination, their technical experience, and they are at their best when they can be themselves, each different from the other, each with a different set of strengths and weaknesses. They can be ambitious, vain, intellectually arrogant, shy, dominant, team players, individualists, mavericks, and so on. The best ones are not easy to manage. And there are often some who want to be in your shoes (these, in particular, need encouragement!)
So how do you manage a team of experts?
Above all, you mustn’t think of yourself as the commander of an army, whose commands and whims are executed to order by a team of highly-trained and dutiful soldiers. Of course, I know also, that even soldiers must show initiative. But in the heat of battle there is limited opportunity for discussion and debate.
Think of yourself rather as the first amongst equals (as the British Prime Minister is considered to be in Cabinet). You manage by consensus. In consulting management is the art of getting others to want what you want, or failing that, it is the art of reaching agreement with your team on how best collectively to achieve your objectives.
To manage well you need to obtain the trust and respect of your team. These are earned by your showing understanding, providing encouragement, providing assistance in obtaining resources or access, accepting responsibility (even, sometimes, responsibility for their mistakes as well as your own), showing good judgement, delegating well, mucking in when necessary, and keeping consummately calm. If you must disagree with some or all of your team, you must do so with understanding and explanation, and you must deploy all your interpersonal skills to keep the team together however many disparate opinions it may contain.
Above all, making your team do things will never work. It is rare, in my experience, that consultants aren’t already highly motivated by their interest in the work they do. They can more easily be de-motivated by poor management, but you can almost always assume that they want to do the work, love the work, want to show off their skills, and are eager for responsibility. This is a fortunate starting point for any manager. The skills you need are to do with harnessing this energy and pointing it in the same and right direction. You may feel that you’re ‘herding’ a group of individuals, each with his or her own idiosyncratic sense of direction, but you’re herding high energy, highly intelligent individuals, not sheep.