ICT consultant or ICT interim manager?

What are the differences between a consultant and an interim manager? 

It may be the case that you do not need to appoint a full-time employee for the post of educational technology manager. For example, if the post-holder is pregnant, on secondment, or ill -- in other words, if you expect her or him to return to work in due course -- it may make more sense to take on a temporary replacement, that is, a consultant, instead (and see Using An ICT Consultant for more reasons to hire one). 

Consultants and interim managers can help you avoid some dangers!One option to consider is that of the interim manager. An interim manager is, as the term implies, someone who takes on the role of a manager until a permanent one is appointed, or the post-holder returns to work.

There are some important differences between a consultant and an interim manager:

  • A consultant advises, whereas an interim manager carries out the responsibilities attached to the post.
  • A consultant has no formal authority, whereas an interim manager has full line management powers where appropriate.
  • A consultant is usually recruited for his or her expertise and experience in a narrowly-defined area, or for a discrete piece of work, whereas an interim manager will typically have a far wider brief.
  • A consultant would not normally be expected to attend meetings or other events unless they are directly related to the project and provision has been made in the contract, whereas an interim manager will be expected to attend all the meetings and events that a permanent manager would be expected to attend.

Both a consultant and an interim manager would typically be either self-employed, or employed by their own or another company. This makes them responsible for their own tax and other required contributions, but you should check this with your school's accountant or financial adviser. 

As a rule of thumb, a consultant should be hired in order to ensure the undertaking and completion of a particular project, whereas an interim manager should be hired in order to ensure that all of the functions of the manager are carried out.

So how might these roles look in the context of, say, a school that doesn’t have an ICT leader and cannot immediately fill that post. Or perhaps the post has been filled, but the person appointed cannot start for another three months.

You’d probably want to hire a consultant to take the reins of something like a project the pupils are engaged in, or to take on the responsibility of an examination group. (You could get a supply (substitute) teacher to take on the teaching and marking of the exam group, but you may prefer to be guaranteed the consistency of having one person responsible for all aspects of that particular area.) In other words, you would use a consultant for discrete, self-contained, pieces of work that need to be done. Or, as Bill Lord reminded me yesterday, consultants can provide the challenge aspect of the challenge and support that schools sometimes need. I agree. One of the problems schools can face is that they may not have an outsider with no vested interest to point out where or why their seemingly brilliant new idea could fail. Bringing a consultant in can serve as a reality check.

You’d probably be better off hiring an interim manager – in this case an interim ICT Leader – where you need to make sure everything is kept ticking over until the “real” ICT leader can take the reins. So, tasks like working out investment in infrastructure, staff development, lesson observation, representing ICT at senior leadership meetings, to name but a few – everything, in other words, that you’d expect from an ICT leader – would be carried out by the interim ICT Leader.

It has to be said that the line between the role of a consultant and that of an interim manager is not always clearly defined. For example, an ICT consultant may be hired on a retainer arrangement, whereby the school pays, say, for one day’s consultancy per week, without specifying either the day or the project(s), because they won’t remain the same. On the other hand, an interim ICT leader may not have to be full-time. You may, for example, specify their hours as Monday to Wednesday morning. Also, a potential consultant and a potential interim manager may have a similar skill set to each other, and may even be the same person.

Is the cost of hiring a consultant or interim manager higher than taking on an employee? Yes and no. “Yes” in terms of the (equivalent) daily rate, which will be much higher than the cost of hiring a teacher. But “No” from a longer-term point of view: you shouldn’t have to pay any on-costs like the employer’s pension contribution, holiday pay, or staff training.

Finally, I couldn’t publish this post without pointing out that I am an independent educational ICT consultant! For information on the kind of services I can offer, please see the Consultancy Services page.