Types of Consultants: Consulting Foundations – Part 4

Sections of this topic

    Part 1 of this series is What Do Consultants Do?, which defines a consultant (as Peter Block puts it) as someone who is trying to change another person, process, or organization, but who has no direct control over what they are trying to change. That post also listed numerous roles that a consultant might play. Part 2 of the series described some overall approaches that consultants follow when working to help clients in a consulting project. Part 3 described the overall working goals and assumptions that a good consultant should work from. Part 4 describes the major types of consultants.

    1. Technical consultants

    They usually provide highly specialized content expertise regarding certain specific systems and processes in the organization, for example, computer systems, financial and accounting systems, market research, or facilities management. Many organizations hire technical consultants. The types of services provided by these consultants are often referred to as technical assistance.

    2. Management consultants

    They help leaders and managers be more productive at planning, organizing, leading, and coordinating resources in the organization. Applications for their services might include leadership, management, and supervisory development. The types of services provided by these consultants might be referred to as either technical assistance or organizational development activities (see the next paragraph).

    3. Organizational development consultants

    This type of consultant helps organizations improve performance, often by focusing on changing a significant portion of the organization or the entire organization itself. These consultants often use a wide variety of approaches, tools, and techniques to affect various systems and functions across the organization, for example, technical assistance, coaching, facilitation, and training.

    There has been some confusion about the focus of organizational development consultants. Some people assert that these consultants focus mostly on “soft” skills regarding peoples’ beliefs, feelings, and perceptions, and less on “hard” skills regarding organizational structures, processes, and operations. Other people assert that organizational development consultants focus on both the “soft” and “hard” skills. (This author follows the latter assertion.)

    Many people believe there is a difference between the phrases “organizational development consultants” and “Organization Development consultants.” These people might use the latter phrase to refer to consultants who adhere to certain working assumptions and values commonly associated with the field of Organization Development.

    Generalists and Specialists

    Some people refer to specialists and generalists as overall, major types of consultants. They might refer to technical consultants as specialists. Many people would consider organizational development consultants to be generalists.

    Whether management consultants are generalists or specialists depends on the nature of their services. The more specific the nature of their services, the more likely they would be referred to as specialists.

    Functional or Focused Services

    Recently, the terms “functional” and “focused” have been used to refer to servicing a specific system, function, or process, for example, marketing systems, financial systems, or information technology. Functional and focused activities are considered similar or the same as technical assistance.

    Types of Consulting Can Overlap

    The distinctions among the types of consultants can be blurry. For example, a management consultant or technical consultant might operate as an organizational development consultant if they work in a manner that affects a significant portion or all of the organization.

    Also, each type of consultant might be needed at various times in a project. For example, if you are an organizational development consultant, you might work with a client to identify the most important problems in an organization. Later on, you might function as a management consultant to train and coach various leaders and managers during the change effort. You might also bring in various technical consultants to contribute their specific expertise to the change effort.

    What do you think?

    Look for the articles in this series, including:

    1. What Do Consultants Do?
    2. How Do Consultants Work?
    3. Most Important Goals and Working Assumptions of Consultants
    4. Major Types of Consultants
    5. Internal and External Consultants
    6. Good Reasons – and Poor Reasons – to Hire Consultants


    For more resources, see the Library topics Consulting and Organizational Development.

    Information in this post was adapted from the book Field Guide to Consulting and Organizational Development by Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D. For training on consulting skills, see the Consultants Development Institute. For more resources, see the Free Management Library’s topic All About Consulting.

    Carter McNamara, MBA, Ph.D. – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250 Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.