Subject Matter Experts Role in Knowledge Management – a Competency Approach

A Subject Matter Experts (SME) is a fascinating creature, both those within an organization and those considered a SME outside their organization – for example by a professional society.

A SME is engaged in knowledge management activities, what we want is for those activities to be a explicit and systematic management of the processes of creating, gathering, validating, categorizing, archiving, disseminating, leveraging, and using knowledge – whether for improving the organization and the individuals in it or the broader profession.

The thing is, this is another skill set for most SMEs. There will be SMEs out there who can do this from practice, but we need to be more deliberate in providing the skills. To provide the skills we must understand what we need to teach, which is where a competency model is valuable.

For the purpose of this post I’ll use the same three levels the ASQ Human Development and Leadership technical community uses for their competency framework:

  • Basic: Possesses general, conceptual knowledge or awareness of this concept OR a limited ability to perform this skill. Needs reference materials to complete tasks related to this concept.
  • Intermediate: Able to apply knowledge of this concept in work OR can perform this skill consistently with minimal guidance.
  • Advanced: ¬†Provides expert advice and make sound judgments using knowledge of this concept OR provides consultation and leadership to others using this skill. Can foster greater understanding of this concept among colleagues and stakeholders.
CompetencyLevel to build towards
Knowledge of principles of knowledge management, for example conceptualizing, managing, preserving, and/or maintaining organizational knowledge.Advanced
Knowledge of methods and techniques for capturing and codifying knowledge, for example storytelling, data mining, cognitive mapping, decision trees, and/or knowledge taxonomies.Advanced
Knowledge of methods and techniques for disseminating and/or sharing knowledge across individuals, groups, and organizations.Advanced
Skill in designing and implementing knowledge management strategy.Intermediate
Skill in identifying the quality, authenticity, accuracy, impartiality, and/or relevance of information from various sources, for example databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations.Advanced
Skill in organizing and synthesizing information from multiple sources, for example databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations.Advanced
Skill in curating instructional content, tools, and resources, for example researching, evaluating, selecting, and/or assembling publicly available online courseware.Basic
Skill in identifying the type and amount of information needed to support the development of others in the topic.Advanced
Skill in developing, managing, facilitating, and/or supporting knowledge networks and communities of practice. Advanced

We need to recognize that not every SME will get to this level, or have the time to consistently apply it. This is why it is important to have knowledge management experts to support, nurture and step in where needed to assist.

Building the Risk Team

Good risk assessments are a team effort. If done right this is a key way to reduce subjectivity and it recognizes that none of us know everything.

An effective risk team:

One of the core jobs of a process owner in risk assessment is assembling this team and ensuring they have the space to do their job. They are often called the champion or sponsor for good reason.

It is important to keep in mind that membership of this team will change, gaining and losing members and bringing on people for specific subsections, depending on the scale and scope of the risk assessment.

The more complex the scope and the more involved the assessment tool, the more important it is to have a facilitator to drive the process. This allows someone to focus on the process of the risk assessment, and the reduction of subjectivity.

Risk Management is our Ability to Anticipate

Risk assessment is a pillar of the quality system because it gives us the ability to anticipate in a consistent manner. It is built on some fundamental criteria:

CriteriaAsksEnsure
ExpertiseWhat sort of expertise is relied upon to look into the futureDiversity in expertise. Drive out subjectivity
FrequencyHow often are future threats and opportunities assessed?Living risk assessments, cycles of review.
CommunicationHow are the expectations of future events communicated or shared within the system?Risk register. Knowledge management. Continuous improvement. Management review
StrategyWhat is the model of the futureSensemaking
Time horizonHow far ahead does the system look ahead? Is the time horizon different for different organization areas?System building
Acceptability of RisksWhich risks are considered acceptable and which unacceptable? On which basis?Controls
CultureIs risk awareness part of the organizational culture?Risk-based-thinking. Mindset
Anticipation Criteria to apply to Risk Management

Balancing Expertise

Quality professionals are often defined by our technical knowledge, and with that can come a genuine and intense love and interest in the work. In the pharmaceutical/med-device work, I work in this is defined by both a knowledge of the science and of the regulations (and that stuff inbetween – regulatory science).

The challenge here is that we start defining ourselves by our role as we progress as representing the highest level of expertise in this technical expertise, which means senior Quality (as in the department) jobs are defined in terms of in service to our function – patient safety and product quality (safety, efficacy, and quality). This can then lead to seeing people as the “means” to that end. This inevitably leads to prioritizing that outcome over people.

Do not get me wrong, results matter, and I am a firm proponent of product quality and patient safety. But this approach is reductionist and does not serve to drive fear out of the organization. How can people be safe if they are considered a means to produce value? We need to shift so that we realize we can only get to quality by focusing on our people.