The Subject Matter Expert (SME), sometimes known as a Domain Expert, is a person with the highest level of expertise in performing a specialized job, task or skill within the business. Often this person is an experienced employee with authoritarian knowledge in a particular field or topic.
Generally speaking, SME is any individual who is an expert in one or more fields of knowledge. This expertise can be in content areas such as history or biology, or a professional field such as medicine, or computer technology. The term can also apply to a Tribal Shaman with no formal education sharing centuries-old secrets of natural medicine and herbal treatments, or the 14-year old next door who is an expert in the latest music genre, and the 95-year-old World War II veteran who is an expert on the Allied Invasion of Normandy.
SME earn this standing depending on the circumstances surrounding their knowledge. Some have many years of experience in a field; and have published articles or books, and very likely hold positions as educators in academic environments. Others may be recognized by their peers as the "best of the best" and earn the SME title by virtue of their reputation.
"THE SUBJECT MATTER EXPERT (SME) IS ANY INDIVIDUAL WHO IS AN EXPERT IN ONE OR MORE FIELDS OF KNOWLEDGE"
"... OR A TRIBAL SHAMAN WITH NO FORMAL EDUCATION SHARING SECRETS OF NATURAL MEDICINE AND HERBAL TREATMENTS"
"...OR THE 95-YEAR-OLD WORLD WAR II VETERAN WHO IS AN EXPERT ON THE ALLIED INVASION OF NORMANDY"
Although the role of the SME is well defined, not all SME have the same characteristics. Companies vary in size, business strategies, and training processes. Companies with a large population of employees will have a larger pool of individuals who qualify for the SME role, whereas small companies may have only one or two individuals who qualify. Whatever the case may be, a Subject Matter Expert will usually have at least one of the following set of characteristics.
- High Performing Individuals (HPI) - are those who learn quickly and adapt to change easily. They focus on doing a good job to satisfy clients and customers. High performers seek input and feedback from their supervisors, allowing them to negotiate their way to the understanding of business processes quickly. These employees are valued not just for their capacity, efficiency, and knowledge, but for their ability to establish a strong business network. Their knowledge, business connections, and willingness to collaborate make them a good resource for the SME role.
- High Performing Leaders (HPL) - probably started as high performing individuals, so they share many common traits. In addition, these leaders have accumulated years of experience and knowledge of the business beyond their own organization. Furthermore, they have responsibilities not just to the company but also to the people whom they lead. For small or family-based companies, the business owner falls into this category. All of these individuals will have a clear understanding of the business strategy. Their value as a SME relates to their global vision of the business and to their authority to make things happen.
- Trainers and Facilitators (TF) - understand the organizational culture and are often the best communicators in the company. They know exactly what the learners need in terms of training. These individuals help the learner achieve specific outcomes with active, participatory, learner-centered methods. They regularly evaluate the process of employee training and can measure how well the participants achieved the stated outcomes at the end of the process. Their capability to deliver knowledge and provide feedback on training processes makes them a valuable option for the SME role.
- Expert & Specialized Professionals (ESP) - are usually valued for their extensive knowledge in a particular field, gained after years of work experience, research, and study. Many of these professionals hold academic positions as educators. These individuals are no longer dedicated to just one company so they will not possess the connectivity and knowledge of the business like a permanent employee. Instead, their vast knowledge on one or more fields of knowledge is what makes them a desirable SME in certain situations.
The Subject Matter Expert is an essential part of the Enterprise Training team. This individual will provide and verify the content used in the training of entire workforces. Still, some of the most challenging situations described by many Training professionals involve the process of dealing with the SME. You will read more about the role of the SME in future articles. Your relevant comments and suggestions are always valuable.