Consulting Skill: Getting Out From Under the Bus

Written by lewsauder

August 30, 2011

Consulting Skill

Consulting Skill: Getting Out From Under the Bus

Few companies hire consultants to be scapegoats.  The primary reason consultants are hired is to help the company solve a problem, take them in a new direction, or to provide a service that they don’t have the resources to do themselves.

But that doesn’t stop them from catching blame every once in a while.  They’re an easy target really.

When consultants are contracted to manage a large project, they assume responsibility for it.  It allows the client manager to deflect the blame when things go wrong.

Poor choice of words

Things come up on a day to day basis too.  I was once in a conversation with a client employee talking about the responsibilities of the client’s purchasing department.  We were discussing how we need to get purchasing involved early so that they are able to get everything done on time.  I told the client employee, “I want to get this information to them early so that they don’t become an obstacle to the project.”

Within an hour, I had a meeting invitation from the VP of Purchasing stating that he had heard that Purchasing had become an obstacle to the project and he wanted to call this meeting to perform damage control.  The CIO was copied on the invite.

As it turned out, my conversation was overheard by someone in purchasing.  This person wasn’t crazy about having a consulting firm come in to their organization making the changes we were making.  So they put a spin on it to make our firm look like we were badmouthing Purchasing.

I ended up having to do damage control to the damage control.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

The consulting skill of being careful

Like any management position, a consultant is responsible for many things outside of their own control.  I once had it explained to me by a former pilot.  While flying, you’re always monitoring for anything that can go wrong.  You’re always on guard for the slightest change in your environment in order to be proactive to circumvent a situation where you could be held to blame.

Additionally, you need to be very careful about how you word things.  I often watch politicians and the care they take in their speech.  They know that any sound bite can be taken out of context by the news to sound very different from the original intent.

Consultants should always think twice about the wording they use and make sure that what they say isn’t misinterpreted or cast anyone in the wrong light.  They should also make sure private conversations are not overheard by the wrong people.

The culture at some clients may be more inclined to blame their consultants for things gone wrong than others.  It’s just a good idea to always have your guard up to prevent negative press to avoid spending your time on damage control.

It’s not always easy to avoid this.  And when it does happen, the best thing to do is get over it and deal with it.  Whether it’s just is not the point.  When a client throws you under the bus, you get out from under it, determine the best way to correct the situation and move on.

See my related post: Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure

Getting revenge, trying to make the client look bad or doing anything to damage them back is not only unprofessional, it’s counterproductive.  If you think they may have misunderstood you, make sure to confront the situation to clear the air.  If they did it on purpose, do your best to fix the damage.  Then, moving forward, focus on moving forward.

Have you ever been thrown under the bus by a client?  How did you deal with it?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.


Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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