Become a Subject Matter Expert in three steps

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Law H8r

Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) are the go-to people in an organization. If you want to know about “X,” who do you search out in your organization? Whoever that person is on that particular subject, they have oversized value to the organization as a whole. One could even say that being a Subject Matter Experts is more important than having a unique Personal Brand. Or that being a Subject Matter Expert enables you to have a Personal Brand.

Most of us don’t conscientiously go out to become a SME. Instead, we wake up one day realizing that we’ve forgotten more about a subject than most people know. It’s like the time I was in a team meeting and someone asked why Gen Y needed to be approached differently than other prospective employees and I rattled off five reasons right off the top of my head. I mean, doesn’t everyone know this? From the jaws hitting the floor, it was apparent it wasn’t so obvious.

But if you wanted to become a Subject Matter Expert in an area you picked, how would you go about it? Well, you can do really well if you follow these three steps to get you on the right path.

1. Read the publications and web sites dedicated to your area of desired expertise

It is amazing how much information you can find out and how much you can learn from targeted reading in the area of your expertise. This particular step is especially important to develop the theoretical side of the area of your expertise as well as understanding the trends for your area.

Doing a simple Google search on your area of expertise can yield ten places to start reading. As you do this daily, those sites will link to other sites on your subject. Going to those places will expose you to even more. After a while, you will settle on ten to twenty sites that provide you the kind of information you are looking for to learn more about your subject area.

2. Join professional organizations and associations in your subject area

These could be true professional organizations with local professional chapters (such as the Project Management Institute), intelligently selected groups on LinkedIn not associated with a professional organization, or an informal group of like minded individuals in your local area who work in the area you want to learn about.

The benefit of these groups is that you bridge the theory to the practical. A local professional chapter cares about the theory of something — but they want to solve a problem they have and will share how they did so with others in the group.

3. Answer questions. So you can get asked more questions.

Be willing to answer questions about your area from others. If you don’t know the answer, go research the question until you get the answer or answers. This will increase your knowledge. Plus, the person asking the question will appreciate getting an answer and will tell others. Getting asked questions, researching the answers, giving the answers and getting more questions will exponentially increase your expertise. This knowledge will consist of both the theoretical as well as the immanently practical answers to pressing problems. The more you know, the more you will be asked, resulting in knowing even more by researching the answers.

Subject Matter Experts add greater value

Of course, if you are a SME on Farmville, it won’t do you much good in your job or support your career. But if you choose your area wisely, work it and develop expertise, that expertise will be valuable to your employer. And other employers. Then, instead of job security, you build a bit of employment security.

Where’s your expertise?

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Comments

  1. Ann says

    I love this post …. I just floated the idea of creating what I now know are called SME’s in my company last week because we are all innundated with information we can’t remember daily and I’ve had too many employees say ‘you didn’t tell me’ – when I know they got the same email I did – but have forgotten they did.
    I want each employee to be the SME on at least one topic and they are the owner of that topic – to following the news about it; to post online in our intranet important info about it; to send emails when something changes that is a ‘you need to knwo this NOW’ kind of change.
    One of my staff though said ‘why would you expect us to do this? (become a SME on ONE topic important to the company) I”m too busy’. I was kind of stunned – I thought in my head “you suck knowledge out of everyone else around you – and you are not willing to give any back?” We’re still going to do it – I refuse to let it be one of the ideas that die like you talk about in another post…. just wondering though what would make someone not want to share knowledge?

    • says

      Hoarding knowledge is a classic way of acquiring or demonstrating power if the person is into power. Sharing means giving up power.

      Another reason is that they believe it will not make a difference. For example, great at sharing knowledge translates to….how many more dollars in a raise compared to someone who doesn’t?

      Another reason is sharing knowledge does not lead to achieving business goals laid out by the manager. If your efforts are on achieving results, anything extraneous to achieving the goals is unnecessary and even harmful to meeting them.

      The reasons for becoming a SME is for your personal development and creating more value for yourself in your work (not necessarily to your company nor your coworkers). To try and impose that on others creates the push back you are seeing — becoming a SME is not about helping the company (even though it does…).

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