Project Career Moves: Consulting
Project management consulting offers a career with flexibility, full of unique challenges and experiences. Developing your power skills, particularly listening, problem-solving and collaboration, is essential.
The complications and disruption of the last few years have caused many workers to take a pause to consider the things that are most important to them. According to a 2022 Gallup poll of 13,085 U.S. employees, higher pay and better benefits, work-life balance and personal well-being are the top imperatives, along with the ability to do what they do best. Consulting offers project professionals the freedom to achieve these goals by directing their own career track while acquiring new skills that will enable them to advance.
In a tight labor market, employing consultants also meets the needs of hiring managers, allowing them to match complex and specialized projects to project managers with the required skill sets. By acquiring the needed technical knowledge and experience to lead, a talented consultant can chart their own path and make themselves indispensable. Additionally, remote work and virtual meeting tools have enabled project professionals to choose their field and location without the geographic limitations of having to be on-site.
Consulting was once seen as a way to leverage years of experience at the end of a career. Now consulting gives future-ready project professionals at all stages of their career the opportunity to direct global projects in a wide range of industries. But they will need to keep up with the latest developments as digital disruption and economic turbulence continue to affect projectized industries.
Guide and Transform the Culture
To sustain a career advantage, project professionals in consulting will need the skills to help them transform organizational culture, according to Charley Miller, co-founder and co-CEO of OrgVitals, which supports consultants in many fields. “Consultants are brought in by organizations looking to transform something about their culture, if not the entire culture,” Miller says.
“We’ve really started to study what more we can do so that the guidance of these consultants gets supercharged,” Miller explains. “Of the power skills needed by consultants, the most important is one of my favorite soft skills, which is being a great listener. When we think about data and evidence, it is not just pure numbers. You must be able to listen to all different types of people — leaders and frontline workers and all the managers in between — and distill their needs, their problems, their hopes and dreams and understand there’s a story there.”
Charley Miller, co-founder and co-CEO, OrgVitals
For project professionals who seek a career path in consulting, Miller helped PMI identify several different approaches to help you succeed.
Build Your Reputation
Consultants must show that they will bring value to an organization by demonstrating effective leadership and domain expertise. “What wins most of your work is trust,” says Miller. “It’s people you’ve worked with previously who provide recommendations.” But what about consultants who are getting started? How do they win those first clients?
- Become an active community member in the spaces where your customers will be. Join an industry group, attend in-person and virtual events, or leave a comment in response to a thought leadership report or blog post.
- Build your domain knowledge by earning a certification, learning the specialized jargon in your areas, finding a mentor or researching and authoring an industry study.
- Network and cultivate relationships at each stage of your career. Miller says that each step should help plant the seed to build your reputation until you get into a conversation where someone taps you on the shoulder to say that they know someone who is looking for your kind of service.
Step Into a New Position
Consultants must be able to synthesize different pieces of evidence to provide guidance to their employers. “Just identifying the problem is half the battle because you can’t have a solution and provide answers until you really understand the problems,” says Miller. “It’s not enough to throw up bar graphs at stakeholders.” Miller suggests starting with a listening tour to get to know the different stakeholders one-on-one, understand the politics behind the scenes, and understand everyone’s needs and what’s going on in the current environment.
- Analyze evidence. Learn how to collect and understand qualitative and quantitative data, both of which contribute to telling the whole story.
- Communicate to motivate and engage your audience. “Say everything twice; three different ways,” Miller says. “Whatever you want to do, it’s about overcommunicating and setting expectations. What’s gonna happen? How’s it gonna happen? When’s it gonna happen? People need stories to help them understand complicated problems.”
- Respect individual needs. When individuals feel secure that whatever is going to happen will help them professionally, they will be more likely to support the mission of the business and there will be less resistance.
Consulting and the Future of Work
Despite recent reports of layoffs in technology industries, Miller expects a greater call for consultants who have facility with advanced technologies. “The AI tidal wave is finally here. AI can really assist all forms of work, so there’s going to be a lot of need for consultants who understand how to lead a new type of digital transformation to help people work more efficiently. That’s going to be a smart place for consultants to play.”
- Learn about AI and low-code or no-code tools. Miller says that organizations will increasingly lean on these tools to develop internal processes and systems, and maybe even some outwardly customer-facing systems.
- Look for recession-proof industries like construction, healthcare and education. Organizations in these industries continue to have massive problems when it comes to finding and retaining talent.
- Demonstrate value by providing guidance during challenging times. “Show that you already have a process in place and won’t need six months of training to do their job. When things aren’t going well, it’s time to bring in consultants and figure out the hard stuff,” says Miller.
Make Your Move in Consulting
“There are two things consultants should hang on to. One is to believe in themselves and their process and the consulting they’re doing. Second, they should know that at some point, it’s gonna flip. You will have a reputation large enough that people knock on your door and you can actually turn away opportunities. Most consultants get there who are good at what they do.”
— Charley Miller, co-founder and co-CEO of OrgVitals, USA