A consultant (from la|consultare "to deliberate") is a professional (also known as ''Expert'', ''Specialist, see variations of meaning below'') who provides advice and further purposeful activities in an area of specialization. Consultant Peter Block defines a consultant as "someone who has influence over an individual, group, or organization, but who has no direct authority to implement changes." He contrasts this with a ''surrogate manager'' who is a person who "acts on behalf of, or in place of, a manager." The key difference is that a consultant never makes decisions for the individual or group, whereas a surrogate manager does make decisions.

Role of a consultant

The role of consultant outside the medical sphere (where the term is used specifically for a grade of doctor) can fall under one of two general categories: * Internal consultant: someone who is employed by and operates within a client-organization (maybe as part of an ''internal consultancy unit''); or * External consultant: someone who is employed externally to the client (either by a consulting firm or some other agency) whose expertise is provided as part of a contract for a fee or rate.

Business case of a consultant

Traditionally, by hiring a consultant, clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be financially feasible for them to retain in-house on a long-term basis. Moreover, clients can control their expenditures on consulting services by only purchasing as much services from the outside consultant as desired. Additionally, consultants are key persons with specific domain-skills in creating strategies, leading change (e.g. digitalization), leadership coaching, interim management (also called ''consultant manager''), etc.

Delivery of service

Consultants provide their advice to their clients in a variety of forms. Reports and presentations are often used. Advice can be general (high degree of quality of communication) and also domain-focused. However, in some specialized fields, the consultant may develop customized software or other products for the client. Depending on the nature (also named mandate or statement of work or assignment) of the consulting services and the wishes of the client, the advice from the consultant may be made public, by placing the report or presentation online, or the advice may be kept confidential (under a Non-disclosure agreement or within the clients-company), and only given to the senior executives of the organization.

Employment status and career distinction

Consultants work for (consulting) firms or as freelance contractors. A consultant distinguishes from a temporary worker insofar as she or he has, as detailed above, a highly specialized career and domain knowledge. This could be true for a temporary worker too, however, for example a medical consultant will rather unlikely suddenly become a hotel receptionist, whereas a temporary worker might change domains and branches more frequently. Furthermore, a consultant usually signs a service-type employee contract (known as fixed-term, full-time, part-time), whereas a temporary worker will only be offered a temporary (and scope limited) contract or a work-results type contract (e. g. in Germany a specific type of contracted called ''Werksvertrag'') to fulfill or create a specific work. Additionally, a temporary worker might be directed and managed by a client, whereas a consultant is employed by a company (or self) and provides services for a client. This service comes without human-resource related interactions by the client, e. g. the client company will not assist in career progression of the consultant, will not provide work-related instruments or tools, but only the necessary infrastructure and accesses the consultants needs to fulfil the statement of work, e. g. access to internal IT networks or client-side laboratory, if this is even needed for performing the work. Moreover, a consultant might engage in multi-project services (matrix organization) for the client or for internal projects/activities at the employer firm. The consultant's career path is usually not at the client's side, however the consultant will very likely be introduced into the client's organizational program or project structure. Novel collaborations of expert-contractors or ''independent consultants'' especially in ICT sector, e.g. ThoughtWorks exist.

Subject-matter expert vs. Consultant

According to ''Institute of Management Consultants USA,'' "The value of a consultant s compared to a Subject-matter expert (SME)is to be able to correctly diagnose and effectively transform an often ill-defined problem and apply information, resources and processes to create a workable and usable solution. Some experts are good consultants and vice versa, some are neither, few are both." Another differentiation perspective would be that a consultant sells advice, but an expert sells his expertise; or of Consultants vs. Coaches or SMEs vs. Team Leaders.

Consulting scope

A consultant's activity can last anywhere from a hourly consultation, to a one-day service, three months, 12 months or more. For complex projects, a longer period is needed for the consultant to analyze, resolve the root cause, get to know the stakeholders and organizational-situation, etc. Usually the engagement has set legal boundaries under given law to avoid (specifically for freelance-contractors) the problem of false self-employment (see also Umbrella company). The person at client location is sometimes called a ''Resident''. By spending time at the client's organization, the consultant is able to observe work processes, interview workers, managers, executives, board members, or other individuals, and study how the organization operates to provide hers or his services. In some settings, a consultant is signing a specific contract and is hired as an interim manager or executive with advanced authority or shared responsibility or decision making of client-side activities, filling a vacant position which could and cannot be filled with an internal candidate. This is often the case by the client-organization due to other constraints, such as corporate compliance and HR-processes, which lead to prolonged hiring paths beyond six months, which is often inacceptable for leadership roles.

Work location

Though most of the research and analysis occurs at the consultants' offices (sometimes called back-office) or home-offices, in the case of smaller consulting firms, consultants typically work at the site of the client for at least some of the time. The governing factor on where a consultant works tends to be the amount of interaction required with other employees of the client. If a management consultant is providing advice to a software firm that is struggling with employee morale, absenteeism and issues with managers and senior engineers leaving the firm, the consultant will probably spend a good deal of time at the client's office, interviewing staff, engineers, managers and executives, and observing work processes. On the other hand, a legal consultant asked to provide advice on a specific property law issue might only have a few meetings at the client's office, and conduct the majority of his work at the consultant's office and in legal libraries. Similarly, the growth of online, highly skilled consultant marketplaces has begun to grow. Additionally, the on-going COVID-19 pandemic is fueling the need for staff to work from home (remotely) and to develop or evolve excellent online-work skills to continue business or operations.

Success factors of consulting

Bronnenmayer et al. investigated, by applying a structural equation model, and due to little empirical research, the management consulting’s success factors from a client perspective. It is found that Consultant Expertise, Intensity of Collaboration and Common Vision have strongest performance impact on success.

''Bronnenmayer's'' Success Factors

# Common Vision # Intensity of Collaboration # Trust # Project Management # Consultant Expertise # Provided Resources # Top Management Support Sindermann and Sawyer conclude in their book ''The Scientist as Consultant'', that a cientificconsultant is successful, if she or he has "achieved a viable mix of technical proficiency and business skills" with "technical proficiency" meaning excellence in competence, credibility, effective networking with colleagues, and ability to negotiate.

Consulting challenges


General issues faced by a consultant can be stress, productivity issues with meetings, general "technostresses", high-paced and changing business environments and situations, etc.


Consultants are often outsiders to the client organization. On one hand, this means their work methods, expertise, language, etc. different from the client's, and is exactly what the client needs, however it can also be a considerable disadvantage for a successful engagement and may lead to a less intimate cooperation with the client's business.


Next to general challenges, domain-specific challenges for consultants exist. In palliative medicine consulting, emotions, beliefs, sensitive topics, difficulty communicating and prognosis interpretation, or patients expectations despite critical illness are some of the challenges faced by the consultant.


There is no single qualification to becoming a consultant, other than those laid down in relation to medical, psychological and engineering personnel who have attained this level-degree in it or professional licenses, such as Chartered Engineer. Consultants may hold undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, professional degrees or professional designations pertaining to their field(s) of expertise. In some fields, a consultant may be required to hold certain professional licenses (e.g., a civil engineer providing consulting on a bridge project may have to be a professional engineer). In other types of consulting, there may be no specific qualification requirements. A legal consultant may have to be a member of the bar or hold a law degree. An accounting consultant may have to have an accounting designation, such as Chartered Accountant status. Some individuals become consultants after a lengthy and distinguished career as an executive or political leader or employee, so their lengthy and exposed experience may be their main asset.


Various accreditation bodies for consultants exist today: * CIMC - Chartered Institute of Management Consultants (US) *CMI - Chartered Management Institute (UK) **IC - Institute of Consulting (UK) *FEANI - European federation of professional engineers *Institute of Management Consultants (IMC USA) * International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) *The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI)

Code of Ethics

Accredited associates in all field (incl. medical) can be bound by a Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct.


For management consultancy services, ISO 20700 standard has been available since 2017.

Consulting domains

There exist various forms, types and areas or industries of consultants. The following list provides some examples:

Business (general)

* Business transformation consultants - Specialists in assisting business stakeholders to align the strategy and objectives to their business operations. * Human resources (HR) consultants - Specialists who provide expertise around employment practice and people management. * Interim managers - Often independent consultants who act as interim executives (any CxO) with decision-making power under corporate policies or statutes. They may sit on specially constituted boards or committees. * Process consultants - Specialists in the design or improvement of e.g. operational processes in specific sectors, e.g. medical industry * Marketing consultants - Advisors around areas of product development and related marketing matters including marketing strategy. * Public-relations (PR) consultants - Experts with public relations matters external to a client organization and are often engaged on a semi-permanent basis by larger organizations to provide input and guidance. * Performance consultants - Consultants who focus on the execution of an initiative or overall performance of their client. * Sales consultants - Professionals who focus on all levels of sales and marketing for the improvement of sales ROI, moving share from competition, etc. * Strategy consultants (more generally known as Management consultants) - Professionals working on the development of and improvement to organizational strategy alongside senior management in many industries. * Financial consultant - Providing financial advice and services to clients (individuals, small companies, large corporations, financial institutions, etc.) * Project Management Professionals (PMP) and related (e.g. ''Program Management Professional, Risk Management Professionals)'' - Certified experts in project planning, execution and management.


* Engineering consultants - Engineering-Specialists (certified or years of experience) providing services such as design, supervision, execution, repair, operation, maintenance, technology, creation of drawings and specifications, etc. in various fields such as chemical, aerospace, automotive, etc. * Information-technology (IT) consultants - Experts in Computer-technology disciplines such as computer hardware, software engineering, or networks.


* Architects - Specialists in building and constructions, e.g. Skyscrapers, Bridges (Structural engineer), etc. * Property consultant - Advisor in property investments, buying/selling, etc.

Other areas

*Educational consultants - Assist students or parents in making educational decisions and giving advice in various issues, such as tuition, fees, visas, and enrolling in higher education. * Immigration consultants - Help with the legal procedures of immigration from one country to another. * Consultant (medical) - the most senior grade of hospital doctor in the United Kingdom.

Legal & Politics

* Notary * Political advisors * Solicitors

Types of consultants

* Archaeological consultant * Biotechnology consultant * Cloud consultant * Consultant (medicine) * Consultant pharmacist * Creative consultant * Consulting psychology * Design consultant * Diversity consultant * Digital consultant * Educational consultant * Elevator consultant * Employment consultant * Environmental consultant * Faculty consultant * Financial consultant * Franchise consultant * Foreclosure consultant * Heritage consultant * Hospitality consultant * Human resources consultant * Image consultant * Immigration consultant * Independent contractor * Innovation consultant * Interim managers * Information technology consultant * Lactation consultant * Legal nurse consultant * Loss control consultant * Lighting consultant * Magic consultant * Management consultant * Market entry consultant * Media consultant * Medical practice consultant * Museum consultant * Performance consultant * Political consultant * Process consultant * Professional engineering consultant * Public relations consultant * Sales consultant * Statistical consultant * Supply-chain consultant * Tax advisor * Theatre consultant * Trial consultant * Urban planner

Further reading

*Nissen, Volker, ed. ''Advances in Consulting Research: Recent Findings and Practical Cases''. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2019. Print. *CMI - Management Consulting Journal * CMC - Management Consulting Journal *Treichler, Christoph. “Consulting Industry and Market Trends: A Two-Sided View.” ''Contributions to Management Science''. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2019. 253–272. Print.
Journal of Business and Management

Journal of Management Studies
by Stephan Hartmann of Roland Berger Switzerland, 2021
Management Review Quarterly
*Marsh, Sheila. ''The Feminine in Management Consulting''. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2009. Print. *Seebacher, Uwe G. ''Template-Based Management: A Guide for an Efficient and Impactful Professional Practice''. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2021. Print. *Roland Berger's Think:Act Magazine *Susskind, Richard, and Daniel Susskind. ''The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts''. Oxford University Press, 2015. Print. *Kipping, Matthias, and Timothy Clark, eds. ''The Oxford Handbook of Management Consulting''. London, England: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print. *TCS
Management Journal Perspectives

See also

*Adviser *Business school *Contingent workforce *Economic consulting *Interim Management *Project management *Procurement *IRS Reclassification *Management consulting *Permatemp *Political consulting *Public consultation *Umbrella company


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