Moving from Subject Matter Expert to Technical Lead

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Congratulations, as a Subject Matter Expert (SME), you are a recognized expert in your chosen profession. So what’s next?

Congratulations, as a Subject Matter Expert (SME), you are a recognized expert in your chosen profession. Before discussing how to move from SME to Technical Lead, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that many people make the personal decision to stay technical, not to move into the management ranks, and have phenomenally successful careers. My suggestion to you is don’t be an accidental manager. That is to say, don’t accept a management position just because you are the best techie, take it because you have made the specific career decision to move into a supervisory position.

As an SME, your challenges are divided into four categories:
• Task execution
• Keeping current on new products and advancements in your technical area
• If appropriate, keeping current on the business area your technology supports
• Thought leadership

Regarding task execution, that’s “job one” in any hands-on type position, particularly in an SME role because you are a recognized expert. Superior task execution can greatly enhance your professional brand and thus, your marketability and upward mobility.

The reason that keeping technically current is listed here as a challenge is because when working on a specific project, particularly if you have tight deadlines and are overworked, it can be very hard to look up from your daily tasks to keep abreast of what’s going on in your technical area. The problem is that, over time, not staying current with the technological trends and product releases will reduce your marketability and stature as an SME.

If your technical expertise is directly tied to a specific business area, for example heath care patient records, then you must also keep a watchful eye on trends and changing regulations in the business area you support. If this is you, one of your greatest values as an SME is your ability to understand and converse with both business and technical people. You are truly the point where business and technology converge.

Your last major challenge as an SME is being considered a thought leader in your area of expertise. Thought leadership first requires the types of knowledge and expertise previously discussed, but additionally requires your willingness and ability to share your knowledge with others. In today’s world, knowledge and expertise is most valuable when you are willing to share it with others.

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