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Can Subject Matter Experts Transition To Executive Roles?

There are many benefits that come with being a Subject Matter Expert (SME). If you’re a SME, people depend on you for not just your knowledge of a particular area or topic, but your ability to come up with solutions to current problems and potentially stop new ones. Sounds like a great field to be in, and one where you can be valued, but if you aren’t careful, you could jeopardize losing out on other positions that are outside your expertise. Related: 3 Executive Resume Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make In fact, some SMEs can become so good at their job, that sometimes, they are not considered for leadership opportunities, explained the co-founder and CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance, Susan Tardanico. “When you’re steeped in your subject matter, sometimes it’s challenging to remember to build your awareness, knowledge, and acumen in other areas and aspects of the organization/company. But this is what you must do if you want to move into a broader executive role,” wrote Tardanico in an e-mail interview. It’s also important that influential people in your organization are aware of your extensive leadership abilities, added Tardanico. In an article titled, How To Make the Leap From Expert To Executive, Tardanico gives some suggestions on how SMEs can expand from being the subject matter go-to person and into a more executive position. Among her suggestions is expanding one’s knowledge about the business to show the people in charge you are strategic. But how does one go about doing this? “Volunteer to help with special projects or organization-wide teams that are assembled to address a major challenge or opportunity,” wrote Tardanico. “If these teams aren’t readily apparent or available, then be proactive and identify something that your boss is struggling with – and think about how you can use that need to showcase your broader capabilities.” One Fast Company article titled, Are You A Star At Work?, notes that having “organizational savvy,” or knowing how your company works, will also let you know what doesn’t work, which can make it easier to strategize and see which projects will work and which ones will not. All in all, the main goal is to identify any opportunities where you can get noticed by your employer, added Tardanico, especially if it’s a skill you don’t get to show off every day. If you’re not already in a leadership role where you can manage a team, the same rule applies. Take some initiative, identify a key problem in the business you would like to address and assemble a team of your own. “What’s the downside? Obviously this means more work, and it could be challenging to recruit a team,” wrote Tardanico. “But if you present a compelling enough case for the project to your boss and other senior leaders, they could assist in naming people to serve on this ad-hoc team.” If you’re looking to grow out of your SME role and into a more executive position you definitely don’t want to stay as an SME for too long, warns Tardanico. “Don’t lobby for a broader role until you’ve done the work to broaden yourself – your leadership skills, your business acumen, etc. Don’t stay focused on execution of tactics.”


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