Do you know the definition of an expert? An expert is defined as:
“…a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field.”
That means that if you gain more skill and knowledge in your workplace in a particular area, it’s possible that people at work could consider you an expert. And that includes your boss. It is this expert status could be what it takes to get you better work assignments, raises and promotions.
It really isn’t that hard to become an expert. Remember — it’s all relative. Here are three steps you can take to become an expert at work.
Pick a topic
This is kind of obvious. But you need to focus on a field of expertise. Ideally, it’s a field that doesn’t have a lot of experts locally. Otherwise, what’s the point? You want to be the only person in the office who can answer questions about a particular subject.
Pick something that already interests you. This would be the best option since you’ve already started becoming an expert. Or you may narrow it down from a general interest. For example, if you’re interested in computers, you may want to focus on database technology or a new programming language.
What’s important to your organization. Very few accounting firms value animal husbandry experts. So you need to make sure your area of expertise is valuable and understand how it will benefit the company.
What SHOULD be important to your organization. This is where you really can make a difference. There may be knowledge your company does not have access to because it doesn’t know it needs it. Not only do you become an expert but an evangelist who persuades management that they need your expertise. This isn’t an easy road but it pays off well in the long term.
Let me explain how this worked for me. In the early ‘90s, I worked for small, local newspapers. This was when the Internet was gaining popularity. I was fascinated with it and dove into it. Yes it made me look geeky. But it also made me the go-to guy for any questions about the Internet. So when it came time to put the paper online, management knew I was the most qualified to run the operation.
Cultivate your sources
You need to learn some things. So start collecting your research. This is where the Internet is going to help immensely. It’s a huge index of what you need to find out. Here’s how you’re going to develop your expertise:
Find people who already are experts. Remember the definition of an expert. All you need to find is anyone who knows more than you do. Then develop a relationship. It can be as simple as a friendship or as formal as a mentor. But ask questions and find out how to learn more.
Join associations and groups. You will find lots of experts and learning opportunities here. Just being around people in your target field is a learning experience. And these memberships are also something you can use on your resume if you decide to take your expertise to another employer.
Join LinkedIn Groups. This is a directory of virtual professional associations. Any field you may want to learn is here. This is a great place to learn and find experts who can help you. And there’s a bonus benefit. Your connections at work can see your membership in these groups. Which helps build your reputation as an expert.
Read blogs, magazines and books. Again, the Internet is a huge collection of information. Get comfortable with how to find experts and the information they publish. This also is how you keep up with developments in your area of expertise. But don’t neglect old school areas such as the local library.
Take classes. Up to this point, all your learning has been on your own. Which is fine. But sometimes formal classes can help you understand difficult subjects. Look for classes at local colleges and adult education outlets. You may benefit from online courses too. Your employer may have access to training too. And don’t be afraid to see if you can get reimbursement for education.
Share your knowledge
None of this does you any good unless you actually share it with your colleagues. Explaining what you know instead of listing credentials will gain attention and goodwill. This takes careful balance. You want to show off without being seen as a showoff. So pick your opportunities to exhibit expertise carefully.
Talk it up at the water cooler. Let your coworkers know what you learned lately – especially if it can help them do their jobs.
Write for the company newsletter. Do you have an outlet to share articles or columns with coworkers? Some quick pieces that introduce people to what you know will give you a pretty good reputation.
Create a blog. Just start writing what you learn and link to sources. Use social media that connects to your colleagues to promote it. Make sure it’s all professional. (No party pictures.)
Give speeches. Join Toastmasters. Talk in front of civic groups about your area of expertise. This will build a reputation that can work its way back to your company. It also gives you valuable experience for the day your boss says, “We need you to give a five-minute presentation on why we need to take this seriously.”
Share source material with coworkers and supervisors. When something pops up that you think will interest someone, e-mail them a link. Hand them a print out or copy of a magazine article. Help them understand what you know.
Display info at your workstation. Put a file on your desk labeled with the field you’re studying. It becomes an opening for you to explain what you know when they ask about it. Books and magazines serve the same purpose.
And if it doesn’t work…
No knowledge is wasted. You’ve probably learned a lot that helps you do your job better. If that isn’t enough, you may be able to find another employer who will value your expertise. Or it’s possible you’ve learned enough to become a consultant in the field.
(Image courtesy of Mai Le under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution generic license.)
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