We all have seen situations in our career where we are asked to play a role. The role is sometimes a broader one than we are used to. However, we can also be asked to play a role that is only a piece of what we can provide. In either case, we need to fulfill the desired role and add value without overstepping our boundaries. Employees are often given more freedom in this area which can make a large challenge as a consultant.
Every member of a team (whether in sports, business or otherwise) is expected to play a role. That is the function of a team. We bring together disparate skills and experience as a cohesive unit. That is important to remember when we feel stretched or under-utilized. Our lack of comfort is not a personal slight. Instead, we are being asked to fill a gap the team needs.
The challenge in properly filling a role is stepping up to a request or setting our ego aside to get the job done. We all can see how moving out of our comfort zone for the team is admirable. However, it is not always clear to see the value of such actions when we are in the middle of it.
I find that the most important factor to remember as a consultant is that we are expendable. The value a consultant brings to the table often revolves around the temporary nature of that relationship. A company does not have the same investment in a consultant as they do an employee. That allows them to hire more experienced workers for projects (rent a resource) or to increase their resources for a short time (staff augmentation). Thus, the role of a consultant is much more at the whim or desire of customers than an employee. Whatever we did in our day job as an employee may not be exactly what a customer (or new employer) desires from us.
The expectation a customer has is that you are good at playing your professional role. Note, that this is not your ability to use all of your skills, it is using a subset of them. On the other extreme, you are expected to be able to step into a new role or set of skills because of your track record.
The bottom line in these situations is to understand what is expected of you. It is much better to ask questions than overstep boundaries. That is what to remember when playing your professional role. Your employer or customer has requirements and they expect you to fill them.
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