Situational Awareness and Expertise

One of the key aspects of being an expert is the capacity to apply situational awareness: the perception of relevant information, comprehension of their meaning and the projection to future events.

Developing this situational awareness is a critical part of problem-solving and we can map the 4Cs of trouble-shooting onto these three elements.


The ability to perceive important information is a critical first step to being able to problem-solve, and one that takes time to develop especially in the highly complex and demanding environments most of us operate in. Knowing which information is important and have an understanding of the many subtle cues to evaluate is one of the hallmarks of an expert. But even for experts it can be difficult, which is why building perceptual cues in our checklists, procedures and such is important.


From perception we can draw meaning and significance, allowing the expert to combine, interpret, store and retain information. Integrating multiple pieces of information to arrive at a determination of relevance.


Experts are able to project from current events to anticipate future events and their implications.

Model of situation awareness in dynamic decision making (Endsley, 1995)

Further Reading

Practice Paying Attention for Good Problem Solving

Situational awareness is built on perception. Problem-solving requires it. Perception is a building block of agile-thinking and pretty much everything else we need to do to succeed in today’s idea-based businesses.

As individuals we should be striving to develop perception, and as organizations we need to be developing training and practices to reinforce. There are few aspects we need to build.

Look inward to analyze previous mistakes

How often have you or some expert said “No one could have predicted that” or “It wasn’t my job to see the warning signs.” Rarely do you hear them acknowledge their own responsibility with comments such as “I didn’t think about how that change could affect our organization” or “I didn’t ask for more information.”

When a problem arises consider the decisions we’ve made and the role you and your team played. Did you miss warning signs? Is there an incentive to overlook what was going on? What are your weak spots and how can you fix them to prevent future problems?

Take an outsider’s view:

If you’ have ever encountered the “things aren’t done that way” response to new solutions, push harder. There is usually no logical reason why a change can’t be made, and there is a bad habit that needs to be broken.

Look for signs, symptoms and syndromes

  1. Signs – something is not right or expected
  2. Symptoms – some signs are symptoms, but usually signs point to symptoms, an underlying problem or set of problems
  3. Syndrome – false beliefs that can generate symptoms, usually part of a wider set of causes

Avoid Willful Blindness