Overworked and underappreciated: your guide to surviving as a subject matter expert.

Written by Dominic Johnson 08 Jul 2022

Want to accelerate your career as a trusted subject matter expert? Want to be more involved in strategic work rather than routine stuff? Want to have more influence and add more value. These tactics may help you achieve your aspirations.

Being the go-to person can have disadvantages

To become an expert in your field you’ve likely digested a lot of material, thrown yourself into new situations to practice skills & maintained a learning mindset. You’ve likely gained trust & respect from others, & may now be the “go to”.

But having a brand of someone who is an expert & “gets shit done” isn’t always a positive.

We work with a lot of experts passionate about their field, but feeling like they’ve been gifted a mountain of work with little sign of appreciation. What’s more, they often find themselves being dragged into menial tasks that don’t showcase the true value they can offer, & are often invited into more exciting strategic activities too late in the game - again not enabling them to deliver their best work. •

Secrets of survival

So how can you not just survive, but thrive at work?

  • Balance discernment with curiosity. As an expert, we can quickly judge a problem as something we’ve seen before & jump into solution mode. Slowing down & demonstrating curiosity - asking questions to truly understand the challenges others are experiencing (i.e. how is it showing up & what’s the impact? What would an ideal solution look like & how will that make a positive difference?) - can enable us to transition from reactive problem solver to strategic partner, prioritizing activities that will offer the most benefit to the business &/or community.

  • Focus on shared outcomes. Conflicting priorities can often be a source of contention. You can develop value-aligned partnerships & a clear path forward by exercising strong listening skills in the information gathering phase, & then agreeing on mutual goals & aligning priorities with strategic objectives.

  • Become a thought leader & talent developer. Share knowledge & ideas to benefit others, & don’t be afraid to speak up where appropriate. (Note: Research suggests time spent talking is an indicator of perceived influence - but not necessarily actual expertise - so it’s important to confidently contribute your expertise in order to be heard).

  • Follow trends. Look at where your industry is headed, what factors may impact your field, & how you can help future proof the organization.

  • Strengthen your network. Consider what existing relationships you can strengthen & capitalize on, & who’s not in your network that could help you to be even more successful in your role - both now & into the future.

  • Balance emotion with logic. When looking to influence, use data to tell a story, & consider how you can address the goals & pressures of others. Facts alone don’t mean much - you’ll generate more buy-in, & be more memorable, by appealing to emotion.

About the author

Dominic Johnson is a successful author, and Principal Consultant at Expertunity. He co-authored the break-through book on Expertship, Master Expert. He consultants to major organizations around the world on how to help their technical subject matters experts fulfil their potential, and add extraordinary value to them employers. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Download Coaching for Experts for further reading