Subject Matter Experts

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Subject Matter Experts

A subject matter expert (SME) is a highly knowledgeable individual who performs specialized functions in given organizational processes. SMEs work either as external consultants or internal staff, and they provide technical advice on process designs and product specifications that organizations must adopt to maximize returns on investments. SME practice spans across different fields of professions such as education, human resource management, law, engineering, accounting, military, public relations,

marketing, information technology, sales, health, mining, architecture, and fashion.


SME practice has a long history that can be traced back to great philosophers such as Socrates (469399 b.c.e.), Plato (429347 b.c.e.), and Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), who offered some of the earliest authoritative views in their fields of specialization. The subject also received immense contributions from twentieth-century behavioral theorists such as Edward Thorndike (18741949) and B.F. Skinner (19041990), whose works bear impact on the instructional framework and learning processes that organizations adopt to implement SME practices. During the First World War (19141918) and Second World War (19391945), SMEs were widely used in the development of military strategy and equipment such as air and sea navigation devices. In the field of administration and management, SME practice was perfected by leading contemporary management theorists such as Henry Fayol (18411925) and Douglas McGregor (19061964), who proposed management models that are widely practiced in organizations throughout the world.

Modern management practices rely heavily on the services of SMEs in research and development processes as well as in routine organizational operations to achieve greater productivity and efficiency. Some of the roles that SMEs play in organizational business processes include:

  • Analytical evaluation of the activities of the organization to determine the viability of resource allocation and utility
  • Documentation, communication, and illustration of organizational information and processes in comprehensive and concise manner
  • Translation of technical information into comprehensible language
  • Modification and programming of test cases and requirements for business development models and designs
  • Evaluation of the strategic intent alignment to organizational processes and management
  • Exploration and recommendation of suitable innovative, technological, and logistical solutions that can be implemented to enhance performance improvement
  • Recommendation and development of employee training programs and review of human resource practices in the organization

The wide scope of SME responsibilities can easily lead to management crisis because of ambiguity and duplication of responsibilities in organizations. The management of business organizations can avoid such problems by developing appropriate guidelines for monitoring the activities of SMEs. One such move should involve spelling out specific roles for a SME in such ways that enable the SME to gauge the objectives, expectations, and specific expertise that the organization is seeking to fulfill. This process can be perfected by: documenting reference instructions; detailing all the project activities, monitoring, and evaluation processes; and stipulating all deadlines during which a SME must deliver the periodic and the final results.

Consistent administrative support to SMEs is a central determinant of project success, especially if SMEs are external consultants. SMEs should be provided with adequate access to information processes, current testing procedures, organizational databases, management tools, and any shared resources in order to be able to inject new ideas and provide precise judgment on the organization's processes. Managers should encourage bonding and free flow of information between SMEs and the routine staff of the organization to enable SMEs to gain deep insights of a specific project or the entire organization.


Project and organizational managers must justify the need for SME services before enlisting the services of an SME. The organization must vet a SME to ensure that the SME possesses the relevant expertise that the company is seeking to utilize. In an Internet article titled Maximizing the Effectiveness of a Subject Matter Expert, Jose Farjardo suggest that managers must enlist the services of SMEs who possess competent qualities such as the ones listed below:

  1. Relevant professional qualifications and experience
  2. Expertise in business processes
  3. Expertise for evaluating and understanding organizational structures
  4. Ability to make authoritative decisions
  5. Flexibility for attending appraisal meetings regularly

The performance and progress of a SME can be tracked and measured effectively by conducting frequent meetings between the SME and the project or organizational managers. Meetings should be facilitated and conducted through standardized procedures that allow both the SME and the facilitator to plan in advance on how best to present their contributions, queries, and concerns. Regular meetings enable the company management or project management team to establish frequent information feedback mechanisms between the SME and the management. Managers must also ensure that they

document the proceedings and outcomes of all meetings and initiate immediate implementation of corrective measures suggested by SMEs.

SEE ALSO Project Management


Boehle, Sarah. Solutions to Entice Subject Matter Experts to Deliver Training at Your Organization. Training Magazine, 3 April 2007. Available from:

Boque, Robert. Anatomy of a Software Development Role: Subject Matter Expert. 2008. Available from:

Fajardo, Jose. Maximizing the Effectiveness of a Subject Matter Expert. Available from:

Nokes, Sebastian, and Sean Kelly. The Definitive Guide to Project Management: The Fast Track to Getting the Job Done on Time and on Budget. 2nd ed. Pearson Education Limited, 2007.

Price, Alan. Human Resource Management in a Business Context. 3rd ed. Cengage Learning Business Press, 2007.