Imagine, you have decided to start major improvement on a particularly important project. You have your problems defined and the budget acquired, the only thing left undecided: who will guarantee the success of your venture? Who needs to be on the team to maximize your chances? You will be surprised but there are special people for this job. They are called: subject matter experts.
WHO IS A SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT?
A subject matter expert (SME) is a person with a profound knowledge of a particular subject. In simple words, SME knows everything about the subject which can be anything: from a job, a piece of equipment, a software solution to certain physical material and its characteristics or historical information.
Normally subject matter experts obtain their qualification in two ways:
1) through intensive multi-level schooling;
2) through direct professional experience with the subject (we are talking years of it).
HOW SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS WORK?
SMEs can be especially helpful with process improvement challenges.
They can offer some gems of process knowledge that is not documented anywhere. Also, they can save you a lot of time by quickly killing bad ideas proposed by other team members on the solution selection stage.
SMEs are great trainers.
They can explain and demonstrate the process in maximally efficient ways that can drastically minimize the training for newcomers. In-depth levels of practical experience help them cut down on superfluous theory and save your team from numerous mistakes.
SMEs can enter organizations from outside.
Often, they operate like independent consultants. It gives them freedom of action and the ability to make unbiased judgments. That is why many subject matter experts make their living by appearing in courts and testifying on subjects that can dramatically impact a verdict.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON AREAS, WHERE SMEs CAN BE FOUND?
Although they can be often found in technical fields, subject matter experts can exist in any discipline or sphere of knowledge. But their most common environments are:
- information technology;
- software development;
- customer support;
- business consulting.
HOW TO BECOME A SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT?
No one is born an expert. So, if you want to make a good subject matter expert, you must start somewhere, right? Being passionate about a specific subject and thirsty for continuous learning, you can follow these steps to consider a future SME role.
Build A Foundation Of Your Expertise
To become an expert, you must first be a rookie. Build your education program on the subject of interest. Look for the most relevant courses you can find, pay for them (or find free ones) and start the learning process. Remember, you will be working with other professionals in this field. Therefore, you MUST know the basics and the theory to be recognized as an expert.
Never Stop Educating Yourself
You need to know the latest happenings and trends in your field of knowledge. Sharpen your saw: attend conferences, participate in chats on Twitter, subscribe to industry media. In order to be an expert, you have to stay constantly updated with the latest status quo not only in yours but also in a few collateral fields.
Develop Your Own Style
To become an SME, you should train the ability to come up with your own ideas during the process. The one way to do this is to completely deep yourself in the subject. Make sure to test your ideas in a safe environment before you advise them to clients.
Get Big On Social Media
Follow opinion leaders on social media and use hashtags search to keep up with the news on the subject. Use social media to promote your expertise. Jump into Twitter Chats or tweet along with live webcasts. Before presenting your opinions, you can start by sharing information from reputable sources.
Share Your Expertise On The Subject
Start a blog or a podcast where you can regularly share your knowledge and fresh ideas. Leverage on technology to spread the word. A YouTube channel is another option to consider. Be ready for questions, arguments, and dislikes – it is the price for publicity.
Become A Decisionmaker
This step is the closest to your goal and you’ll have to work your way here. But once you have a job with the authority to make major decisions, consider yourself a step away from SME. Being a social media influencer will increase your value as a subject matter expert – and today's industry will notice it.
After industry recognition often comes marketing and sales interest. But, to remain a trustworthy expert, you have to stay neutral. You won't be perceived as an authority on the subject if you are known for constantly pushing the products your current company is selling. Your reputation is what matters the most.
IN A NUTSHELL
Being a high-level specialist with a deep understanding of a particular topic, subject matter experts have years of experience and advanced scientific degrees in their area. But no one is born an expert, and with a great deal of discipline and motivation for continuous learning you can get there as well. And yes, then you'll be able to appear as an expert witness in court cases.