A principal consultant is a senior member of a consultancy firm who takes a lead role in a consulting project and may direct a team of analysts and junior consultants. The specific job title varies from firm to firm. McKinsey & Company, for example, refers to “associate principals” and Capgemini Consulting uses “senior consultants” for positions with similar responsibilities. The common characteristics of these job titles include seniority, experience, team leadership and responsibility for client relationships.
Experience at senior level is an essential quality for a principal consultant. PA Consulting, for example, selects its principal consultants from employees who have demonstrated their capability at consultant level or recruits people from outside the firm with significant experience at a senior level. Principal consultants must have experience delivering successful projects and a depth of knowledge of the business issues in their chosen field.
Principal consultants require good interpersonal skills to build relationships with their teams and their clients. A key responsibility for principal consultants is building project teams and developing the skills of team members. Associate principals at McKinsey & Company, for example, act as mentors to team members and other employees in the firm. Part of their role is to help others develop and grow through every project. The ability to develop client relationships at the board level is also important. At Capgemini Consulting, principal consultants begin to take responsibility for selling the firm’s services in addition to their project roles.
Excellent project management skills are essential for this role. Principal consultants take responsibility for delivering successful projects, either by a team or on their own. They must have the technical skills and knowledge to understand their clients’ requirements and to develop effective solutions, but they must also be able to make the best use of the entire firm’s knowledge and resources. They select and lead teams of analysts, consultants and junior consultants and take responsibility for the quality of the results and the profitability of the assignment. At McKinsey & Company, they take responsibility for managing a number of project teams simultaneously. This enables them to apply their knowledge and expertise to clients’ with similar requirements.
Principal consultants are good communicators. They hold meetings with clients to discuss their requirements and prepare reports or presentations that set out their recommendations. They communicate project requirements to members of their teams and prepare progress reports for clients and for the firm’s management team. At PA Consulting, they also take responsibility for developing thought leadership in the firm, writing papers, speaking at conferences and producing case studies.
Principal consultants must have excellent knowledge of business and consulting techniques. They would certainly have a bachelor’s degree and would be likely to have a higher education qualification, such as master's of business administration. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that 28 percent of people working as management analysts held masters’ degrees. Many have also enhanced their credentials through certification by an organization such as the Institute of Management Consultants USA.