As a consultant…who exactly is my boss?

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As I prepare to introduce myself to 100+ consultants at my new job, I started thinking about how I position my role and what I offer to the consultant.  Every company is a little different in terms of their leadership and infrastructure.  Over the years I’ve seen consultants report to their Project Director or Project Manager onsite with their client, have a Resource Manager, report to their sales person, have a Practice Director, or even report up to an executive such as a VP, COO, or CEO.  Regardless of which of these models your consultant firm uses, we all still have another boss…our client.  So this beckons the question, who exactly is my boss?

My first consultant job I worked for a newly acquired firm that had a pretty large infrastructure.  As far as I was concerned, my boss was the Project Director overseeing all consultants on site.  But I also reported to a Project Manager who was a full time employee of the client.  Things got more confusing when we were introduced to an Engagement Director, who now was the direct supervisor of all consultants.  The funny thing is I guess I was never really sure who my boss was, so I looked to my client directly for leadership and direction.

When I joined a smaller fast growing firm based out of Indianapolis, I reported to a sales person.  It seemed odd to me at first, but they were the direct contact to the client and negotiated my engagement, rate, contract duration, etc.  If I needed something I would let them know.  For the first time I felt like a professional contractor.  My firm represented me for contract placements.  My role was to provide services to the client.  My boss here was clear, the client.  It seemed to work, but was only focused on one engagement.  It was not uncommon to see consultants jump ship as their contract end date approached.

Over the next few years the world of healthcare IT consulting became highly competitive.  The company I worked for was looking at new ways to retain and develop talent so not to lose their consultants to competing firms.  The role of Practice Director was created.  This role focused on just that, create a culture of consultant support, growth, career development, and guidance.  The hope was that the consultant felt a part of the company, and stayed loyal to the firm between engagements.  It was a huge success for the most part.  Many consultants who had the mentality of being a contractor buckled at the leadership structure.  However, for the vast majority, this model led to the success of the firm and its employees.

Today, we are seeing firms reduce their overhead and return to a simplified support model for their consultants.  Some firms are merging the practices to have a single cross vendor resource manager/supervisor.  Others are asking executives to wear multiple hats and lead across practice groups while also supporting sales, marketing, and growth initiatives.  Smaller firms look to the consultants to be independent of any need of support.  In fact, use of 1099 IC resources seems to be increasing with these smaller firms.  The thought is with a single HR employee, a lawyer, and a handful of sales people a firm can operate just fine.

The one common thread through all these variations of leadership structure over the last twelve years is obvious, the client.  As a consultant I think we have to look at our client as our boss.  It’s their project support need that keeps us employed.  We need to be a part of the client’s team, not separate ourselves as contractors.  Our firm should provide a “boss” who supports this concept and offers assistance to ensure success and completion of a successful engagement.

The bottom line for me is aligning my role to the individual consultant need.  I can be the engagement director available to consultants for those large projects with thirty or more consultants on site and offer to be a liaison between the consultants and the client.  I can be a virtual support resource to ensure the consultant has everything they need to be successful.  I can assist with career development and future engagement alignment based on the consultants skills and desires.  I can also just be a good listener, while the consultant tells me about how their work is going for their boss, the client.

Let me know your thoughts.  Leave comments above.

 

2 Comments on “As a consultant…who exactly is my boss?

  1. My client has always been my boss, regardless of how the leadership structure changes. As long as I knew who to contact at my firm, I was good.

  2. Very well said! Truly in the end it is the client we are serving so they become the boss. Having said that, it is still nice to have someone within the company to assist with things outside the scope of the client. You gave several examples which fit that bill. Excellent and thought provoking article.

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