Consulting Roles for L&D – Part One

Learning and Development Consultants - Friesen, Kaye and Associates

The Learning and Development profession continues to undergo major structural changes, one of which is the transition from a focus on learning as an output and toward a focus on performance improvement.

There must be people in the Learning and Development (L&D) function, frequently known as Performance Consultants, who are responsible for partnering with their clients in order to achieve the goal of performance improvement.

Consultants in general are specialists in a position to have some influence over an individual, group or organization. However, consultants often have minimum authority to make changes or implement decisions on their own.

Flawless Consulting book by Peter Block - Learning and DevelopmentConsultants, whether working as an internal or external consultant, may also assume one or a combination of three essential roles as conceived by Peter Block, in his book Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used; 3rd. Edition:

  • Expert
  • Pair of Hands
  • Collaborative

Expert Role

Consultants in this role are often called upon to act as an expert resource for the client. When a consultant has been placed in the expert role, the client and consultant roles breakdown as follows:

 The client:

  • Defines the problem, establishes objectives and evaluates results.
  • Holds the consultant responsible for results.
  • Responds to the consultant’s request for information. Although two-way communication is limited.
  • Makes decisions based on the consultant’s recommendations.

The consultant:

  • Uses specialized knowledge to solve the immediate problem.
  • Makes technical decisions on how to proceed.
  • Gathers and analyses the data needed.
  • Collaborates only minimally with the client.
  • Initiates communication with the client, although two-way communication is usually limited.

Pair of Hands Role

In certain circumstances, the consultant is called upon to act as an extra pair of hands for the client. When a consultant is placed in the “pair of hands” role, the client and consultant roles also break down as follows:

The client:

  • Defines the project requirements, makes all decisions and manages the consultant.
  • Retains all control over the project.
  • Makes all decisions on how to proceed.
  • Specifies the goals and objectives and the procedures to follow.
  • Evaluates and accepts or rejects the consultant’s recommendations.

The consultant:

  • Acts as an additional specialized worker for the client.
  • Applies specialized knowledge to the problem or opportunity.
  • Assumes a passive role, replying to the client’s requests.
  • Makes recommendations and suggestions for the client’s approval.
  • Implements changes only under the direction of the client.

Collaborative Role

In the collaborative consulting relationship, the consultant works jointly with the client to resolve a problem or address a business opportunity. The consultant’s specialized technical knowledge is joined with the client’s business knowledge of the organization in a joint problem-solving relationship. The roles when working collaboratively are:

The client and Learning and Development consultant:

  • Share responsibility for planning and implementation.
  • Engage in two-way communication.
  • Mutually agree upon implementation roles and responsibilities.
  • Make joint decisions.
  • Negotiate control issues.

Based on our experience working with learning and development professionals, the expert role is usually the most dominant role, and the collaborator role is next followed by the pair of hands role. Typically, the Learning and Development (L&D) professional will need to consider each of these roles based on the project, the client and the time-lines.

A great opportunity for reflection is to review a recent project and determine what role the consultant had. Ask the following questions:

  1. Did that role make sense and was it effective given the project?
  2. Is that the role the client wanted the consultant to have?
  3. Is that role the client wanted to have for the project?


This content for this blog is taken from FKA’s Performance Consulting workshop. For more information on Performance Consulting or to enroll in the workshop, please contact Geoff Nolan at


FKA President
Michael Nolan