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4 Certifications for Consultants to Impress Your Clients

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Published:
May 25, 2021
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11 minutes
Lynn Hunt
Lynn's diverse perspectives on business stem from her extensive experience as a management consultant - her role as a beloved wife, mother and grandmother adds further depth to her insights.

There are several reasons to consider certifications for consultants – and impressing your clients may well be one of them!

The problem with management consulting is that you have to be a Jack-of-All-Trades. Although you may have started your career in Marketing, IT, or HR and then moved to consult in these same fields, you soon learned that you also needed expertise in business analysis, finance, project management, strategy, and change. There is also a rapidly-growing requirement for technological capability as the world moves to digitalization.

Many of us have developed quite effective skills in these areas through reading (the number one requirement for consultants!) observation, and hands-on experience. However, we don’t have that magical piece of paper that proves what we know. Successful consulting is based on the client’s trust in you to handle their project – and a few credentials added to your resumé can only help.

Of course, successful consulting is also based on the actual expertise of the consultant. The discipline and effort required to complete a new qualification surely will improve your consulting skills – and should probably be the primary reason for acquiring certification. As Eric Hoffer says, “Those who have stopped learning find themselves equipped for a world that no longer exists.”

Thousands of certifications for consultants are available around the world. The ones you choose to complement or grow your specialty field will depend on what you can afford in terms of time, money, and qualifying criteria.

However, if you are an independent consultant and part of the online consulting marketplace, it might be helpful to look for programs and institutions that have international recognition. This article looks at some of these.

Certifications for Consulting

If you are presenting yourself as an independent consultant, it would be beneficial to back this up with proof that you have the technical knowledge and the ability to tailor that knowledge to the needs of the client organization.

APMG International provides a global accreditation scheme for consulting organizations and individual consultants.

The Independent Registered Consultants (IRC) program assesses influencing, communication, consulting competence, client management, and skills and knowledge transfer. The skills are assessed by APMG and confirmed by a 360-degree evaluation from clients and colleagues. There is a component of annual ongoing professional development, and the assessment must be repeated every five years. Three areas of specialization are available:

  • Portfolio, Programme and Project
  • IT Governance and Service Management
  • Organizational Change Management

To be eligible for the IRC, individual consultants must provide four professional referees and have at least two years of general management consulting experience plus three years in the chosen area of specialization. Alternatively, they might have five years of experience in the area of specialization plus a university degree or equivalent, or ten years’ experience without a degree. They must also provide a portfolio of evidence to show that the required standards have been met and present oral evidence of at least one completed management consulting assignment.

“Those who have stopped learning find themselves equipped for a world that no longer exists.” - Eric Hoffer, American moral and social philosopher

Certifications for Project Management

Successful consulting, regardless of the field, involves a certain level of project management. You must manage your work, there is an overall project plan for delivery, and there are generally several smaller projects running simultaneously. It is helpful to demonstrate that you are qualified to manage these projects and guide the client.

Certificate and higher education programs for project management are available in most countries. There are also training programs for specific methodologies, such as Agile, Kanban, and Six Sigma.

International qualifications are offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) , an American nonprofit professional organization, and by the International Project Management Association (IPMA). Both PMI and IPMA qualifications are internationally recognized and designed for project professionals at all levels in their careers.

Courses are available online, through self-study, or Authorized Training Partners. Examinations are completed online, some of them in multiple languages.

PMI has eight certification programs, ranging from the introductory Project Management Basics to the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and the advanced Program Management Professional (PgMP).

The flagship certification program is the Project Management Professional (PMP), accredited against the ISO 17024 standard and completed by more than a million people worldwide. It covers the domains of people, process (the technical aspects of managing projects), and business environment. The latest version of the PMP includes three approaches: Predictive (waterfall), Agile, and Hybrid.

There are stringent eligibility requirements for the PMP. Candidates with a four-year degree also require at least 36 months of project management experience and 35 hours of previous project management education or training. Those with high school diplomas or secondary degrees must have 60 months of experience leading and directing projects, plus 35 hours of previous project management education. The initial degrees can be in any field. The CAPM certification program would provide the necessary previous training.

Maintaining certification requires 60 hours of ongoing Professional Development over three years, spent learning, teaching others, or volunteering.

IPMA programs are offered at four levels, depending on past project management experience. Candidates who have had at least five years of experience, at least three of which were at a strategic level, are eligible for the Level A Certified Project Director qualification. Candidates whose experience was at a senior leadership level qualify for the Level B programs: Certified Senior Project Manager, Senior Programme Manager, and Senior Portfolio Manager

The Certified Project Manager qualification is at Level C. It may be useful for management consultants who are not project management professionals but have managed projects of moderate complexity or assisted project managers in complex projects. Those who cannot prove the relevant experience can complete the Certified Project Management Associate program at Level D.

Certifications for Financial Management

It’s challenging to sell a project to C-Suite executives if you cannot translate it into financial terms. Financial management certification for consultants will allow them to understand their clients’ business more clearly and communicate the financial implications of their proposals and decisions.

certifications for consultants, 4 Certifications for Consultants to Impress Your Clients

Leading with Finance is a 6-week interactive online course offered by Harvard Business School. It is available to those who are in non-financial roles. Modules cover financial analysis, finance vs. accounting, capital markets, creating value, valuation, and capital allocation. Participants must complete all six modules, quizzes at regular intervals, and a final capstone assignment that integrates and applies the concepts covered in the course.

APMG International is a global accreditation body and examination institute. It has an accredited Finance for Non-Financial Managers program in 25 countries, in Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish. It can be completed either in physical or online virtual classrooms.

If you are a finance professional already, there are many advanced certifications in specific or niche areas of finance. Here are some examples:

  • Corporate accounting: CMA (Certified Management Accountant)
  • Financial and tax analysis: CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
  • All areas of financial planning: ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant)

These courses require prior bachelor’s degrees or professional certification, several years of work experience, and membership in professional associations. Ongoing professional development modules must be completed to maintain certification.

Certifications for Business and Data Analysis

The move towards digital transformation and data-driven decision-making in organizations requires a crossover of business and technical skills. It has created a new management consulting role in data analytics. The skills required are similar to those for software development projects, but business and subject matter understanding is also needed.

APMG International provides certification in Analytics Translation. The program has been developed together with Xebia, a Netherlands-based IT consultancy. The course covers aspects of data science and AI and the move from ideation to experimentation and industrialization phases in product development. It is suitable for IT, Analytics and Business consultants, Agile Coaches, Subject Matter Experts, or Product Owners.

The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers a range of certifications for consultants who already have extensive experience in business analysis. One qualification stacks on the other:

  • Entry Certificate in Business Analysis (ECBA)
  • Certification of Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA)
  • Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)

In addition, the IIBA offers standalone certification for Agile Analysis. There are no eligibility requirements, but at least two to five years of agile-related experience are recommended.

Consultants who do not have a background in business analysis might benefit from the newly designed Certification in Business Data Analytics (IIBA-CBDA). It recognizes the ability to undertake analysis-related work and apply it to business analytics initiatives. The online examination requires you to examine a real-world business problem, identify the data sources, analyze and interpret results, and show how they can influence business decision-making.

Which certification is best for consultants?

Which certification is best depends on your circumstances, current qualifications, and the purpose for undertaking it.

However, whether you are a management consultant who wants to boost your profile with clients or supplement your existing qualifications, you are spoilt for choice with the vast range of available certifications for consultants. You will be able to find local programs at universities and reputable training institutions in your own country, although the geographic location is no longer the primary factor in choosing.

This article has considered just a few internationally recognized accreditation courses for the four areas of consultancy itself and financial, project management, and business analysis. All of them are needed in some measure for successful consulting, whatever your specialist field might be.