Your primary job responsibilities are already stressful, and on top of that you often find yourself answering questions and clarifying information about specific topics that no one else seems to understand as well as you. Guess what? You are a subject matter expert (SME)!
“Subject matter experts, also called SMEs, are professionals who have advanced knowledge in a specific field. As an authority in a particular area or topic, they are uniquely qualified to provide guidance and strategy. SMEs are especially in high demand in workplaces requiring a technical approach to operations and culture.”1
SMEs may be staff members or contractors. They often need to balance priorities, as they are responsible for their primary job functions while contributing to other areas of the business. Most SMEs are available remotely, though some still travel frequently to client locations. They can be both highly paid and highly stressed, with little time for reviewing or finalizing eLearning courses or blogs. With so much pressure heaped upon them, what can SMEs do to maintain their sanity while offering their knowledge to others?
- Manage time wisely. Like most SMEs, you’ve added “resident expert” tasks on top of your already full plate of regular job responsibilities. It’s imperative that you efficiently manage your time and understand priorities. Ask for a project timeline or schedule so you know when you may be needed for clarification and reviews.
- Improve teamwork skills. You may work with a lot of people, often at several organizations, and you’ll need to hone those teamwork skills to make interactions as successful as possible. Skills such as listening, collaborating, and rapport-building are critical.
- Communicate effectively. When you’re the expert in a topic that you’re passionate about, it can be difficult to explain complex concepts to people who do not have the same knowledge base. Take your time, communicate clearly, and be patient. If the project isn’t available online, suggest online tools that will allow you and the team to offer real-time feedback, as well as make the process much easier for multiple viewers.
- Incorporate basic knowledge management tools. You and the project team will often need to access previous work and documentation, which can eat up a lot of time. To minimize complications, centralize information for easier collecting, organizing, and reusing. Your best bet is to keep all the information where it can be accessed by appropriate members of the project team. This doesn’t have to get complicated — a well-organized, shared digital filing system can allow team members to access the information they need while you go about your day.
- Understand your role. You want to be helpful but assisting others in areas outside your regular responsibilities can lead to burnout. Understanding your role in the organization can help you avoid that, while allowing you to trust that others are as expert in their fields as you are in yours.
- Set expectations. Transparency is crucial to avoid work overload, especially when you are asked to meet tight deadlines. Be clear with the team about when they can expect your input and stick to it; this helps to foster trust. Sharing your process with coworkers sets expectations and enables them to understand how to best work with you.
- Tell the team how you best communicate. Do you prefer phone conversations over emails, or do you prefer a dedicated chat room for real-time conversations? The project team may not be able to cater to all your preferences, but there can be compromise once everyone understands communication preferences.
- Under promise, over perform. Overpromising may make the team happy in the beginning, but it can damage the relationship if you don’t hit your deadlines. Instead, deliver accurate information on a realistic schedule and establish your reputation as an honest collaborator.
In addition to these strategies, self-care is essential for SMEs. Make sure to take short breaks away from your screen, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to eat. There is a plethora of information out there regarding self-care but remember to do what works best for you. Self-care isn’t about spending money on services, but about what helps you fight stress and anxiety.
1“What Is a Subject Matter Expert? (With 5 Steps To Become One).” Indeed Career Guide. Accessed 11/15/22. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/subject-matter-expert