Who is a Subject Matter Expert (SME)? There are varying descriptions, but put simply, it is someone who knows a particular subject well enough to have influence in decisions, and discussions, over others. These persons are usually the first to be called or to be asked an opinion about this particular area or subject.
As a “Leader”, it is critical that you become a subject matter expert in the area of your profession or business or the project you are working on.
You can be a subject matter expert in numerous areas; there is no limit. Most persons find that as they progress up the corporate ladder and towards their vision, they become more knowledgeable, and more of an expert in their fi eld by learning on the job. This could take years, but with the Internet and the plethora of information today, this can be drastically reduced, and you can become an SME much faster.
- Get Qualified/Certified
One of the best ways of becoming a SME is to get qualified or certified in your particular field. When you become qualified in a field, your confidence to tackle a task in that field gets boosted as you are better able to understand what is to be done, how it is done, and the possible anticipated results.
There are numerous ways you can get qualified or certified in a particular area. There is the traditional route of getting a university degree, which is something I would highly recommend. There are also executive courses being offered by many universities and other institutions, especially in the UK, almost every discipline has a chartered institute of the sorts attached to it. My Mom told us that the most important thing she could give to us was a good solid education and encouraged us to always keep learning and expanding our mind. She would say,
“I don’t have no property, nor money to give or leave to you when I die; but if I leave you with a sound education, I will die happy and at peace because that is something you can never lose, and no one can take it away from you”.
I have lived that mantra all my life and ensured I got qualified and certified in most of the disciplines I have worked in. I have more certificates for courses I have done than walls in my house to hang them on.
- Be a sponge; soak up the knowledge
Another great way of getting the knowledge you need to become a subject matter expert is to look internally within your organisation. Most companies nowadays have online training tools and courses that can be accessed anywhere. These online training courses and tools are a great way of building your SME arsenal. Seek them out, and start doing them. Make it part of your story and plan it in as an object, one of the steps in your “Goal Setting Blueprint”, or your career development plan.
Speak to your peers and colleagues who you feel are subject matter experts themselves. Ask for their guidance and learn from them. I found this to be extremely valuable, and they were always very helpful. Stop being afraid and thinking that they will not do it or that they will think you are not competent enough. Pretending that you know when you don’t know is dangerous for the team, the organisation and especially for you. This could result in missed deadlines, loss of profits etc., and everyone under pressure because you did not deliver. This is the last impression you want to leave as a “black bright spark”. If you don’t ask, the answer is always, No! So, go ahead and ask, you will be surprised at the answer and you might just save your reputation.
- Keep expanding your knowledge – READ!
If you want to be on top of your game and to become that SME, READ, READ, and READ. There are many books written on numerous topics and disciplines. I am sure you will be able to find many out there in your functional areas or discipline. Seek them out, and read them, or at least read the chapters that relate to your area or task. Get subscriptions to magazines and journals, especially those that are free, and there are many. Not just for subscription sake or to show off that you are getting these at the office and are “in the know”, but to read the articles and learn what thought leaders are saying and thinking about your discipline. Who can tell you might be inspired to write a rebuttal to an article you disagree with or to write an article for publication. This helps to build your credibility in the area, and Industry capital among your peers.
Most thought leaders of industries and disciplines have blogs; seek them out, and subscribe to them. They are usually very interesting reads, and I have gotten numerous ideas and “light bulb” moments from reading some of these blogs. Why not start a blog of your own? Just put your thoughts on issues out there. Most blogs are usually what people think or experience. Some people will agree; some will not, but at least you will be known as a contributor to the debate and be seen as having some authority in this area.
- Network with others in your interest area or discipline
There are numerous associations and groups in your area of interest and discipline. You only have to look on LinkedIn to find out the depth and breadth of these. For every single area of business that you can think of, there is an association or group for it. Most of them are free to join. Find one or two and become a member. Attend the meetings or the online chat sessions, participate and ask questions, no matter how stupid you think the question is. The whole point of questions is to get an answer; as they say, “questions were made to be asked”, so ask them, regardless.
There are also a myriad of workshops, seminars, talks and conferences held each year within your area of discipline and lots of them are also free. These are sometimes run by consultancies that are looking to share their point of view, or the next best approach to solving issues in the discipline. Sometimes these sessions are organised and put on by suppliers who want to showcase a product or just to have a discussion on where the industry is moving. Seek them out and attend.
You will find that you learn a lot from networking. For this reason I organise Executive Insight Leadership Masterclass every month, to give you the opportunity to meet the industry leaders, learn from their experiences, implement their theories that got them tremendous success in life and career and meet like minded people. LEARN MORE