Consultants in project management and project managers

what kind of professional am I?


Luca Romano, PMP
Senior Manager, Change Business Unit, Nexen Business Consultants


The paper aims to highlight that project managers and consultants in project management are two different kinds of professionals who usually play different roles and get different responsibilities and authority in projects. The journey starts with analyzing two real cases the authors were involved in and the two very different scenarios they met. Differences are first concentrated in the types of power professionals should adopt and be able to manage in projects and second in the suitability for the two roles of different styles of leadership.

After analyzing where the cited roles present differences, the paper aims to discover what kinds of people better fit in each role and what professionals are generally inclined toward playing one role or the other; this awareness is important because we believe that who fits into one role hardly fits into the other. In order to build a map of most relevant personal attitudes characterizing the two roles and bring attendees a quick reference guide to discover what kind of professional they are, the authors propose to work on some resources. In particular, SDI® (Strength Deployment Inventory®) is a valid and reliable tool for identifying and understanding the different motivation behind the behavior of project managers and consultants as well as the 7 Serengeti skills that can be linked with the two roles' main characteristics.

The paper is organized into three parts. Part I is a brief presentation of Nexen, the consulting company the authors belong to. Part II presents two personal experiences, followed by some considerations and findings on the most evident differences between the two roles. It also seeks to analyze professionals' behaviors in order to discover whether a professional better fits in the role of either project manager or consultant in project management. Part II finally presents a simple Excel-based tool to support the evaluation of “what professional am I.” Part III presents some final considerations on how the two roles should cooperate in projects and especially on how things are going to change where the adoption of agile project management methodologies can be planned.

Part I – Authors and Company Presentation

I1 – Nexen

I1.1 – Something about Nexen and the authors

Nexen Business Consultants (; was founded under another name in 1995 by Gianni Fuolega, who initially managed it to serve the niche market of ERP systems consulting inside the larger Italian banking market. In 2005, he met Engineering that was seeking a qualified partner to join within the banking industry and, since then, Nexen has become the consulting company of Engineering. Actually, Engineering owns 95% of Nexen and Gianni Fuolega is our CEO.

Engineering ( is a 6,000 employee Italian company with €750 million revenue. It is organized into Directorates, which serve different industries. Inside Engineering, Nexen acts as an agglomerate of more Competence Centres, each of them cultivates a specific competence providing both presale and delivery activities. The Competences Nexen grows and takes care of are (a) Strategy and Financial Advisory; (b) Enterprise Governance and Risk Management frameworks and Accounting Systems; (c) Business Process Management and Reengineering; (d) Project Management and Change Management; and (e) IT Governance and Strategy. Nexen's internal organization is by competence and each competence Business Unit is led by a Director who coordinates her or his team's efforts with other Business Units to serve our customers best.

By focusing on Change and Project Management competence, over the last seven years, Nexen has built a 35-people team specialized in the project management discipline and offers its customers different kinds of services: (a) project management office (PMO) teams supporting projects — traditional and agile; (b) PMO teams supporting divisions or directorates —traditional; (c) virtual PMO and project managers communities; (d) enterprise project portfolios initialization and management; (e) certified project managers; (f) consulting services in project and program management and in organizational project management; (g) training services, preparation for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential and the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certification.

Nexen Organizational Structure


Exhibit 1 – Nexen Organizational Structure

I1.2 – Project Managers and Consultants in Project Management in Nexen

Nexen can provide professionals who can be in charge of programs and projects. In this case, we usually try to understand the project scenario and goals and we provide customers with professionals' profiles we believe can take the responsibility of leading the project teams and managing the sponsor by keeping an eye on application of methodologies and performance measuring. Our job is introducing people with the right characteristics and personal competences to ensure project or program success and support them.

Nexen can provide professionals who can design and support changes in project organization and/or in the organization. In this case, we look for people with the right dose of creativity and intuition who can quickly understand customer needs and aid their requests. “By definition, consulting is a people-centred profession where the consultant's soft-skills and ability to help other will determine his effectiveness in establishing a long-lasting win-win relationship with clients, allowing him to grow professionally on a foundation of trust worthiness.” (Yan Bello Mendez, 2008)

At this point, we can already say that although some people are more inclined to lead a team and drive a project to a successful end or closure, whatever it may require, others may be more inclined to design and plan changes and build lasting relationships based on shared knowledge and experience. One attitude does not rule out the other, but it usually happens that people feel more comfortable in one situation than in another stating this way that there is a difference.

Part II – Differences in the Two Roles and Suitable Behaviors

II1 – Experiences and evidence of differences

II1.1 – Experience Nr.1 – Project Manager

Scenario - It was April 2011. Nexen appointed a project manager to lead the prototyping phase of a program where an Engineering client — a very large international insurance company based in Italy — wanted to evaluate the renewing of an important part of its Information System enforcing creation and management of life and no-life products. The client was engaged in an important decision, partially depending on the prototype, but not only that: abandoning 40 years of custom applications to move toward a product-based solution supplied by an East-Europe based Software Company.

Role – Project Manager

Project Manager Position in a Project


Exhibit 2 – Project Manager Position in a Project


  • Report project performance both to the client and internally to Engineering – Nexen top management
  • Lead the internal team
  • Lead the East Europe supplier's project manager and team
  • Interact with the East Europe supplier's owner
  • Manage communications with all client levels and internal stakeholders
  • Propose and drive decisions
II1.2 – Experience Nr.2 – Project Management Consultant

Scenario - It was February 2012. Engineering had to launch a 35Mil development and system integration project for one of the largest Italian Telecommunications company. The client was strongly involved with an important presence of experts and applications' referents. Engineering had to staff its team – internal team + suppliers – of quite more than one hundred design and development professionals. Engineering was looking for giving the right project organization to people and shaping processes and tools to support communication processes – including reporting to the client. Nexen was appointed with the role of project management consultant to support the internal program manager and his three project managers to build a Program Management Office able to deal with the complexity characterizing the situation. The PMO was in charge of a colleague Nexen had to support.

Role – Project Management Consultant


  • Assess the program/project contract
  • Assess the client organization and the program organization
  • Suggest planning methodology (one level, more levels)
  • Suggest tools (schedule management tool, task management tool, people management tool) Suggest processes
  • Suggest “project logo,” templates, minutes configuration, mailing lists, best use of mail, methods of storing
  • historical information, others
  • Write job descriptions for relevant positions
  • Keep aligned internal management
  • Design Project Portal structure and interface
Project Management Consultant position in a project


Exhibit 3 – Project Management Consultant position in a project

II1.3 – First considerations: types of power

The two experiences bring us some first considerations.

The first one, most evident, is about the different power over the project the two roles had, where power is “the ability to do something or act in a particular way,” “a right or authority given or delegated to a person or body,“ and “the capacity to influence the behaviour of others, the emotions, or the course of events” (Retrieved from, 2012)

According to the traditional classification made by the two social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven in 1959 (The Bases of Social Power), power can be classified into five types. These five types are listed below and enriched with a most recent classification (2007) into seven types used by the Center for Creative Leadership (Retrieved from in a proprietary survey.

Types of power


Exhibit 4 – Types of power

Since project managers and consultants in project management play so different roles in projects, to accomplish their job at best, they need to exert different types of power. Exhibit 5 positions types of power on the two roles.

We also freely sought to classify types of power along the line given–earned where:

  • given means independent from the professional and dependent from the project organization, whereas
  • earned means more dependent from the professional and her or his past and more independent from the project organization
Types of power the two different roles require


Exhibit 5 – Types of power the two different roles require

II1.4 – First considerations: leadership styles and lessons

The second consideration is about leadership and how to exert it in projects, depending on the roles professionals have.

“Leadership and power are closely linked. People tend to follow those who are powerful. And because others follow, the person with power leads” (MindTools, 2012). According to the PMBOK® Guide — Fourth Edition, leadership is a skill and is the “ability to get things done through others... Leadership involves focusing the efforts of a group of people toward a common goal and enabling them to work as a team” (PMBOK® Guide, 2008).

The traditional leadership styles professionals are often invited to adopt and/or avoid in the different situations they face in projects are presented below in Exhibit 6, together with the roles we believe they best adapt to. They are an evolution of three different styles of leadership Kurt Lewin and colleagues identified through some experiments in 1939: autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire. Later, Daniel Goleman's research found that leaders use six styles, each springing from different components of emotional intelligence: Commanding, Visionary, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coaching. To complete the overview, all these styles should be confronted with the most recent classification of leadership styles we meet in preparing the PMI-ACP® certification under the name of Adaptive Leadership: Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating.

Most common leadership styles


Exhibit 6 – Most common leadership styles

After this concise analysis, results were still poor and we decided to take another way. Instead of working with these traditional and well-known styles we would rather try to map the 14 Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs (HBR, April 2012) to both the roles of project manager and the consultant in project management, aiming to discover which of these lessons best supports each role.

Assigning of the 14 Steve Jobs' leadership lessons to the two roles


Exhibit 7 – Assigning of the 14 Steve Jobs' leadership lessons to the two roles

The following is a comment to the map built above, where Steve Jobs' lessons have been assigned to the two roles: it has been developed autonomously on the basis of the two lived experiences.

Focusing on just a few priorities is a key success factor for project managers, especially when days are full of events and the flow of happening things seems not to stop as well as the ability to guess when others stakeholders are going ahead and our team is staying behind: this situation requires the ability to leapfrog as soon as possible. “Put products before profits” is an important suggestion and lesson for project managers who must be able to concentrate on deliverables and their benefits, while the ability of “thinking so big that” is particularly important for shaping the progress of events (instead of being overeaten by them). Learning how “imputing” project managers will be able to give the right importance to presentation of both deliverables and information: Because it has great importance! Then project managers must be able to select the team and they must have the right ambition of lead teams with only “A” people! And they must be always active and “hungry” and — we can say — dreaming what others can ever imagine!

Steve Jobs' lessons for consultants have been put on the other side. “Simplify” is one of the most important as well as “taking the responsibility end-to-end.” Nothing is worse than receiving complicated suggestions and understanding that the thoughts behind are not end-to-end process oriented. We may be told that consultants must listen to project stakeholders: it's true, but they must keep the line and do not forget they are paid to introduce changes: so, focus groups are important only until they do not cause misinterpretation of the consultants' goals. Consultants must “push for perfection:” Project managers sometimes focus on project goals and they must know that they are covered on quality by consultants. Consultants must live the project's life and interact with the team and other stakeholders, possibly face-to-face as often as they can without forgetting to both pay attention to the “big picture” and having an eye for human attitudes project manager sometimes can forget for “some good reasons.”

In the following section, we abandon treating types of power and leadership styles and lessons — all issues we can manage in some way with training, exercise, and self-discipline — weare going to deal with human behavior.

II2 – Roles and behaviors

II2.1 – Relationship Awareness® and SDI® Strength Deployment Inventory®

To discover whether we are more fitting the role of project manager or we are more suitable for a role of consultant in project management, we must know something more about how we behave: this is the reason why we are going to introduce the Relationship Awareness® Theory of Dr Porter “that integrates quite diverse streams of psychological thought. In particular, in his theory, Porter acknowledges the purposive behaviorism of Edward Tolman, the empiricism of Kurt Lewin, the client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers, and the Neo-Freudian personality theories of Erich Fromm and Karen Horney” (Retrieved from, 2012).

Relationship Awareness Theory is based on the premise that one's behavior traits are consistent with what one finds gratifying in interpersonal relations and with concepts or beliefs one holds about how to interact with others to achieve those gratifications.

The theory itself is founded on four simple premises:

  • Behavior is driven by motivation to achieve self-worth: behavior traits arise from purposive strivings for gratification mediated by concepts or hypotheses as to how to obtain those gratifications (Tolman, 1967).
  • Motivation changes in conflict: we are predictably uniform in our behavior when we are free, and we are predictably variable as we meet with obstructing conditions in our stimulus worlds
  • Strengths, when overdone or misapplied, can be perceived as weaknesses: a personal weakness is no more, nor less, than the overdoing of a personal strength
  • Clarity and face validity enhance self-discovery: the more clearly the concepts in a personality theory approximate how one experiences one's self, the more effectively they serve as devices for self-discovery

Relationship Awareness Theory identifies seven general themes or clusters of motives known as Motivational Value Systems (MVS). Each MVS can be traced through the work of Freud and Fromm. Relationship Awareness describes them in terms of positive strivings for self-worth by adults in relationships.

The seven clusters of the Relationship Awareness Theory


Exhibit 8 – The seven clusters of the Relationship Awareness Theory

The basic idea is exploiting the large diffusion of these theory and correlated tools - SDI® Strength Deployment Inventory® — to seek which cluster better fits into the two roles of project managers and consultants in project management.

Considering the two experiences we have presented and on the basis of the roles and the responsibilities described, we sought to assign a color, to each of the two roles. Exhibit 9 presents our findings.

Clusters to roles association


Exhibit 9 – Clusters to roles association

In conclusion, we can roughly say that Red and Green and Red-Green persons can better cover the position of project manager than Blue and Hub and Red-Blue and Blue-Green persons who can better cover the position of consultants in project management. We had to simplify and shorten all these considerations, but the message we want to bring is: by improving knowledge of ourselves, we can discover the role that better fits us!

II2.2 – What animal should I be to be a good project manager and a good consultant?

This section is dedicated to investigating another tool that can help to discover which role we best fit in.

“Stefan Swanepoel's bestseller, Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life, provides a larger than-life metaphor for the problems and struggles humans and companies experience. The story reveals the primordial skills for overcoming adversity, conquering one's fears, and ultimately triumphing over all challenging conditions” (Retrieved from . The book profiles some skills analyzing the behaviors and characteristics of Serengeti wild animals.

Then, the website offers a quiz that tells the taker what animal profile he or she matches among the seven described below.

The seven skills


Exhibit 10 – The seven skills

Although, we cannot assign unfailingly these seven skills to the roles we are analyzing, we can seek in them some characteristics that are important for either project managers or for consultants. In Exhibit 11 we made an attempt to position skills on roles still on the basis of our experiences in projects. Lion, mongoose, and cheetah are skills with characteristics suitable for project managers. Crocodile, Wildebeest, and Giraffe are particularly similar to how we might shape consultants. Elephant characteristics are essential for both.

The seven skills assigned to roles


Exhibit 11 – The seven skills assigned to roles

II3 – Tool

All the presented reasoning became the basis for an Excel-based tool described below and thought to somehow measure the kind of professional we are. It is a sequence of four questions:

  • The first two questions focus on how the professional feels comfortable with different types of power and styles of leadership. The question the professional should have in mind is proposed above in the green area. The professional must select TRUE/FALSE where required, and the score is presented in the blue cell. A score close to “-1” means the professional is more of a consultant, whereas a score close to “1” means the professional is more of a project manager. A score around “0” means that both roles can be covered quite successfully.
First two questions


Exhibit 12 – First two questions

  • The third question requires knowing and answering the “SDI color” we are. If we do not know it, we can try to discover it by reading the short description in the help below the question, but we suggest taking the time to follow the whole SDI analysis process.
  • The fourth question requires you take the online test before at After that, the professional can choose the animal he or she discovered he or she is similar to and read the response in the blue area.
Third and fourth questions


Exhibit 13 – Third and fourth questions

In the Part III of the paper we are going to recap all the concepts we dealt with trying to compose a quick guide to discover what kind of professional we are.

Part III – The Path to Cooperation and Integration

III1 – Can the two roles cooperate?

The question we worked on until now was about the awareness of the type of professional we are. But it is not the only one that may arise. After sharing the idea that being/acting as a project manager is deeply different from being/acting as a consultant in project management, we want to deal with the question: How can the two roles cooperate?

Our idea can be well represented by the graphic in Exhibit 14, where experience is capitalized by the project manager who can interpret it and transform it in best practice, whereas best practices are the “food” to draw on through the knowledge a consultant can share to build new experiences. When project managers and consultants find themselves working in the same project, the consciousness of playing different roles should help to avoid competition and increase collaboration.

The virtuous cycle


Exhibit 14 – The virtuous cycle

III2 – A New Generation of Servant Project Managers and Leaders

“Agile [project management] promotes a servant leadership model that recognizes that it is the team members, not the leader, coach, ScrumMaster, or project manager, who get the technical work done and achieve the business value. The servant leadership approach redefines the leader's role in relation to the team. It focuses the leader on providing what the team members need, removing impediments to progress, and performing supporting tasks to maximize the team's productivity.” (Griffiths, 2012)

With this new emerging professional profile we can say that the two roles of traditional project manager and consultant in project management can converge on a single person — the servant leader — who should get the characteristics of both and be able to use them by necessity.

A new challenge for all project managers and consultants!


Bal, V., Campbell, M., Judith Steed, J., & Meddings, K. (2007–2008). Center for Creative Leadership. The role of power in effective leadership, White Paper.

Description of 7 skills and animals (2012). Retrieved from

French, J. R. P., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright and A. Zander. Group dynamics. New York: Harper & Row.

Griffiths, M. (2012). PMI-ACP, PMP, CSM. PMI-ACP Exam Prep. RMC Publications, Inc.

Isaacson, W. (2012). The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs. Harvard Business Review.

Lewin, K., LIippit, R., & White, R.K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271–301.

Mendez, Y.N., & Yerkes, L. (2008). Creating Lasting Changes: Tools and Techniques for Effective Consulting. PMI Global Congress Proceedings, Sydney, Australia.

Porter, E.H. (2012). Personal Strengths™. On the Development of Relationship Awareness Theory. Retrieved from

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®guide) — Fourth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

Project Management Institute. (2010). Project manager competency development (PMCD) framework — Second edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

7 skill test: what animal am I? (2012). Retrieved from

Definition of the word “power” (2012). Retrieved from

©2012, Maria Cristina Barbero, Luca Romano
Originally published as a part of the 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Vancouver Canada



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