Upping Your Game: Transforming from an SME into a Thought Leader


In my line of work, I run into a lot of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These are people who have been practicing in the field of study for a long time and have gained deep knowledge about their craft.

In business, SMEs are critical to the success of any organization. They can be found throughout a company, whether it be on the assembly plant floor, the finance office, or in the sales showroom. They are the keepers of the business intelligence that is the lifeblood of every company.

The irony behind being a Subject Matter Expert is that many SMEs go along in their jobs with little recognition or acknowledgement of their skills. Internally, these people know that they are the best at what they do. But externally, they may be perceived as just another dedicated worker for the company.

This is the crossroads where an SME has the opportunity to become a Thought Leader.

The definition of a Subject Matter Expert is an individual who demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge of their field of study through measured performance over time. In business, SMEs are the people that consistently do a good job for their company.

 A Thought Leader is someone who takes their subject matter expertise and begins to apply it outward, beyond just their job responsibilities. SMEs can become thought leaders by projecting their expertise out into new audiences.

So, how do you do it?

Transforming from an SME into a Thought Leader requires a few things:

  • A New Field of Vision – Thought Leaders are able to see beyond their expertise, gaining a new perspective of how their field impacts their company, their industry, and other related fields
  • Validation of Their Expertise – Thought Leaders seek to validate their expertise in other professional circles. This is done by publishing articles, winning awards, writing books, and accepting public speaking opportunities
  • Curious, Continuous Learning – Thought Leaders are lifelong learners. They keep on top of their field through constant research, collaboration with peers, and ongoing training while remaining practitioners in their profession.

To become a Thought Leader, you can start out small. Some people take the expertise within their current position and simply join an existing organization with similar affiliations. This can lead to deeper discussions, exploration, and opportunities for speaking and publishing. This is how the seeds of Thought Leadership get planted.

The key to becoming a strong Thought Leader is in your willingness to lead. People look to Thought Leaders to provide direction, guidance, and perspective for their field — a powerful voice of influence in your industry.

Just so you know, Thought Leadership isn’t for everyone. As Spiderman knows, with great power comes great responsibility.