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Do great engineers make great consultants?

a dial switching from problems to solutions

We often hear about how the need for engineers is growing exponentially, and that demand will shortly outstrip supply. Coupled with the increasing demand projected for freelance (contract) consultants, it is logical that we will need an ever-growing army of engineering consultants to sate the need of both public and private organisations.

But do great engineers always make great consultants?

In this article I’ll assess what makes both a great engineer and what makes a great consultant and take a light-hearted look at whether the two are compatible bedfellows.

Engineering Schools lists the following as the Top 10 desirable qualities of a great engineer:

  1. Aptitude for analysis
  2. Attention to detail
  3. Excellent communication skills
  4. Continually improves their knowledge and education
  5. Creative
  6. Ability to think logically
  7. Mathematically inclined
  8. Good problem solving skills
  9. Team player
  10. Excellent technical knowledge

The Thinklike Centre suggests that these Top 10 qualities are required to be a successful consultant:

  1. Professionalism
  2. Time management
  3. Judgement
  4. Team player
  5. Good communication skills
  6. Expert knowledge
  7. Good listening skills
  8. Understands roles and responsibilities
  9. Involves other consultants
  10. Concerned about reputation

At first glance the two seem fairly compatible, right? Or maybe not…

I have had the pleasure of working with some of the finest engineering minds in my career; but it is safe to say that some of them should be kept in darkened rooms and never be allowed to engage with a client!

These go-to engineers represent the most brilliant minds in technology, statistics, modelling and analytics and would be the perfect team member in any pub quiz – as long as there were no questions on pop culture, celebrity, or the modern world in general…and if you could trust them not to attempt any social intercourse. No one wants to see a grown man cry with fear – or be slapped for ‘stating the obvious’! Tact is not a renowned trait of an engineer.

There is a serious point to make however, and it is that the brilliance of these fascinating minds often comes at the expense of tolerance and patience for the mere mortals who cannot grasp the ‘simple point’ they are making – often becoming noticeably impatient.

Listening skills, patience, concern for reputation and team work are often the furthest thought from such auspicious minds; and the Myers Briggs model would simply go into meltdown if you tried to match their traits with that of a consultant.

I’m not saying that you necessarily accept a mediocre engineer who excels as a consultant – nor should you employ an average consultant on the basis that she’s a great engineer. The point is that the engineer and the consultant are not always a great ‘two for one’, and one would be wise to carefully match personality profiles to clients as importantly as matching skill sets to tasks.

If you do have a great engineer who’s also a great consultant (and there are many out there), then cling to her for dear life – she’s worth so much more than her weight in gold.

What are your experiences with engineering consultants? Let’s keep it light-hearted and make it humorous (and anonymous) if possible in the comments section below.

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Comments 2

27 February 2016 Reply

My dad started his own civil engineering consulting firm while I was growing up. One challenge that many engineers can face while communicating with individuals that don’t have a detailed background in science and mathematics is jargon. Engineers have a lot of professional jargon that makes communicating with other engineers very efficient and technical. However, my dad learned that using analogies was essential while explaining things to individuals without his background. Having excellent communication skills as an engineer helped him to excel and distinguish himself in his field as a consultant.

29 February 2016 Reply

Anachronisms and TLAs (three-letter-abbreviations?) are certainly an issue, Alex. We often find that they don’t translate between industries and sectors too. Prime example being a SME (subject matter expert or Small/Medium Enterprise). There are others – but it’s only Monday morning….Great input – thank you.

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