A consultant (from "to discuss") is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as management, accountancy, the environment, entertainment, technology, law (tax law, in particular), human resources, marketing, emergency management, food production, immigration, medicine, finance, life management, economics, public affairs, communication, engineering, sound system design, graphic design, or waste management.
Consulting guru, 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.
A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. 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 operates within an organisation but is available to be consulted on areas of specialism by other departments or individuals (acting as clients); or
External Consultant - someone who is employed externally (either by a firm or some other agency) whose expertise is provided on a temporary basis, usually for a fee. As such this type of consultant generally engages with multiple and changing clients.
Overall the impact of a consultant is that clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.
'Consultant' is also the term used to denote the most senior medical position in the United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland (e.g., a consultant surgeon).
Ways in which consultants work
The range of areas of expertise covered by the term consultant is extremely wide. One of the more general attributions is as a Management Consultant but this is not an exclusive term.
The process of consulting and the means by which the (external) consultant is engaged vary according to industry and local practice. However the principal difference between a consultant and a temp is generally one of direction. A consultant is engaged to fulfill a brief in terms of helping to find solutions to specific issues but the ways in which that is to be done generally falls to the consultant to decide, within constraints such as budget and resources agreed with the client. (A temp on the other hand is normally fulfilling a role that usually exists within the organisation and is helping to bridge a gap caused by staffing shortages for whatever reason. They fall under the direction of the normal management structure of the organization.)
There is however a hybrid form where a consultant may be hired as an Interim Manager or Executive, bringing a combination of specialist expertise to bear on a role that is temporarily vacant (usually at a senior level).
Some consultants are employed indirectly by the client via a consultancy staffing company, a company that provides consultants on an agency basis. (The staffing company itself does not usually have consulting expertise but works rather like an employment agency.) This form of working is particularly common in the ICT sector. Such consultants are often called contractors since they are usually providing technical services (such as programming or systems analysis) that could be performed in-house were it not easier for the employer to operate a flexible system of only hiring such technologists at times of peak workload rather than permanently.
Common Types of Consultant
In the business sphere the most commonly found consultants are:
Strategy Consultants working on the development of and improvements to organisational strategy alongside Senior Management in many industries.
Human Resources or HR Consultants who provide expertise around employment practice and people management.
Process Consultants who are specialists in the design or improvement of operational processes and can be specific to the industry or sector.
Public Relations or PR Consultants dealing specifically with Public Relations matters external to the client organisation and often engaged on a semi-permanent basis by larger organisations to provide input and guidance.
Information Technology Consultants in many disciplines such as Computer Hardware, Software Engineering or Networks.
Marketing Consultants who are generally called upon to advise around areas of product development and related marketing matters.
Interim Managers as mentioned above may be independent consultants who act as interim executives with decision-making power under corporate policies or statutes. They may sit on specially constituted boards or committees.
A more comprehensive list of types is shown below.
Place of work
Consultants typically work at the site of the client for at least some of the time. The governing factor tends to be the amount of interaction required with other employees of the client.
There is no such thing as a single qualification to be a consultant other than those laid down in relation to medical personnel who have attained this level.
Internationally the accreditation of Management Consultants is overseen by the International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (ICMCI) which has around 50 member institutes covering the globe The award of Certified Management Consultant (CMC) status is currently the only internationally recognised accreditation that is not specific to the technical content of the consultant's practice. For instance this could be held equally by a Human Resources (HR) expert or a Chemical Engineer operating as consultants in their field(s) of expertise.
Chartered Institute of Management Consultants (CIMC) is a not-for-profit professional body chartered federally under Letters Patent granted by the Government of Canada. CIMC is also chartered under the Laws of the State of Delaware, USA. CIMC is also registered with the National Certification Commission, USA. The CIMC award Chartered Management Consultant Ch.MC designation as a global management credential. http://cimcglobal.org/index.html
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