I don’t believe anyone should go around and call themselves an expert, but I do believe people should feel that way when they are with you. Here are four skills to strengthen your expertise over time:
1. Know your industry
Since 1991 I have worked to position myself strongly in the Canadian music therapy community, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes due to opportunity. I feel that my experience as student, intern, emerging therapist, certified clinician, internship supervisor, business owner, and president of the national association gives me the perspective to understand and relate to many of the layers and people of my industry.
I’ve been called a subject matter expert (SME) and a trailblazer by some, and this level of specialization has provided me a multi-spectrum lens and therefore an opportunity to support my industry in a way that feels very meaningful. Here are some suggestions to deepen your relationship within your own industry:
- Stay up to date with the research. You can do this by subscribing to your favourite journals or magazines or setting up Google alerts for new studies.
- Engage in social media networks. This means not just reading but being an active participant on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn groups (you can find me at all these links) by asking questions and sharing information you have learned recently or over time, all the while helping you stay on top of the latest trends, research, and language within your unique industry.
- Join a board or committee and attend conferences, workshops and seminars within your industry. As you participate in these events, be aware of how your mindset may impact your desired outcomes.
2. Pursue lifelong learning
I don’t know about you but learning has become far more interesting and engaging as I get older. My life is enriched by the courses I choose to take, the places I visit, and the people I speak to and ask questions of. Take the time to fill any gaps in your expertise. Regular self-assessments can help identify these areas.
A note of caution: You may not know what you don’t know. Coined in 1999, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias whereby people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. It can go even further – those same people who fail to recognize their incompetence may also feel confident about how well they are doing. To pursue the best learning for you and avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect:
- Pay attention to and respond graciously to both solicited and unsolicited feedback. Remain open. Not all feedback will be on the mark but if you are hearing the same feedback from multiple sources it may be something to consider.
- Take a course that deals with the issues you are passionate about. Economics was perhaps the most critical course I took as a social entrepreneur (and I would like to study it more). Economics addresses how everything works together, and in our case for good – government, public, corporations, social needs, policy, regulation, government laws.
- Identify the bottlenecks in your company. If you are unable to solve them with system changes, you may need help with the topic. Innovation sometimes requires education.
3. Be good at your job
What makes you fall in love with a certain business? What makes it your favourite coffee shop, supermarket, gas station, airline, repair guy, or hair salon? What is it that keeps you going back? Chances are they are always there when you need them, it’s convenient, it’s the only place you can get the one service or product, and/or the quality is consistent. These are the same things you want to be recognized for as a subject matter expert.
Like any business, public perception and reputation matter a lot for the social-purpose business. It’s crucial that you consistently survey your clients to ensure you are meeting their expectations. As a small business owner, I have to be good at several roles: CEO, manager, clinician for multiple client populations (mental health, palliative care, visual impairment, hard of hearing), author, marketing/branding, networker, public speaker and I am sure a few more hats I can’t think of right now. Strategies for excelling at your many job(s) may include:
- Work hard and act professionally. No matter what your job is, it’s important to be serious and focused on what you do, and act professionally in all situations. Professionals are courteous, friendly, ethical and tactful.
- Express a positive attitude and cultivate relationships. Relationships are the crux of any company’s culture and success.
- Think on your feet, problem solve, and fail faster. Be part of the solution. Problem solvers are a valuable commodity in every workplace.
4. Keep creating
Creating is where you produce content that secures your expert status. This blog series is helping me reach my ultimate aim of publishing my second book and sharing my Good Work keynote as often as possible. If you’re really serious about being recognized as an expert, try your hand at writing an article or a book. Use these tips to keep creating:
- Use music or your favourite art form to motivate and inspire you throughout the week. Have an idea book near you at all time, where you can jot down things you want to write about later – on your blog or on social media. Little moments of creativity can go a long way.
- Get outside, walk, meditate, pray, have a bath, or go wherever you go to find your inspiration. Ease your mind and let the imagination flow.
- Brainstorm with colleagues or hold your own private Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank. Spark your creativity by discussing your mission and strategies with others.
According to Undercover Recruiter, “an expert is someone that knows their stuff more than other people in their field.” But what I feel is even more important is that YOU can’t call yourself an expert. It is up to your clients and professional colleagues to determine if and when you are, and it is their unsolicited feedback that will confirm your expert status.
So where do we go from here? As we continue this blog series we’ll now shift our focus away from the CEO/owner and to the team as a whole. A social-purpose business is never just one expert, but a team of leaders who are qualified in their jobs, feeling satisfied in their work, and all striving towards the same mission – but this isn’t always easy to achieve.