You Are an Expert, and It’s Time to Own It is a blog post by guest author Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA
In the world of knowledge work, expertise is everything. Gone are the days of the master builder who knew every trade and could do it all. Employers look for people with more and more experience in smaller and smaller niches. Experts are linchpins in their organizations in every industry.
Needless to say, being able to lay claim to any kind of specialty is very valuable in one’s career. It’s something every engineer should be pursuing in one form or another.
Luckily, developing expertise isn’t anywhere near as difficult as most people think. In fact, when you stop and think about it, it can be very easy to develop real expertise quickly and to reap the benefits in your career, even if you’re just getting started. The only trick is to re-frame the way you think of expertise.
Don’t ask permission
The first mistake people make with respect to expertise is that they think they need others to validate them as an expert. That’s nonsense. If you know more about a given subject than 80% of people, you’re an expert. You don’t need to be in the top 1%. You don’t need a PhD. All you need is to know your stuff better than most people.
I still remember the first time I was recognized publicly by someone else as an expert in engineering leadership and management. It felt great to be validated that way, but it also got me thinking; their recognizing my expertise didn’t change a thing about the knowledge or skills I had. I was already an expert – I had just been afraid to recognize it.
Small steps, big gains
When I run professional development seminars with engineers, I explain that even taking the smallest of steps towards an interest can snowball quickly into being recognized as an expert.
One time, I signed up for a free short course on systems engineering through a professional association I was part of. Since the sessions were webinars being held over lunch hour, I invited some of my colleagues to join me in a conference room to take it in with me. I was just getting started in systems engineering at the time (I was taking an introductory course, after all) but was very quickly recognized as a “systems guy” because it was my initiative to invite others to the webinars. That recognition led to being offered systems roles on several projects, which further grew my expertise. Soon, my interest developed into a legitimate area of expertise for me.
The point here is that it doesn’t take much to get the ball rolling in developing expertise. Be bold enough to take a first step, and you would be amazed at how quickly things can develop from there.
You are already an expert
There’s a good chance that you’re already an expert in something. The trick is figuring out what you have expertise in and giving yourself permission to see yourself that way. For mid- and senior-level engineers, its easier to see where your expertise is. For junior engineers, it might take more digging, but they have expertise, too. Maybe it’s a better understanding of modern software tools. Maybe it’s in technology that didn’t exist when your mentors went to school. You are an expert at something.
For me, it was really hard to see myself as an expert early on in my career. I once had a partner in the consulting firm I was working for tell me I was a generalist and that I should foster that. He meant it as praise, but I felt sick about it – I wanted to be really good at something. I didn’t want to be OK at a number of things. It didn’t strike me until much later that being a generalist is a specialty, too, and that that expertise can be extremely valuable to others.
Whatever your background, age, or interests, you have expertise, and you can use that to your advantage in your career.
My challenge for you today is to take a good long look at yourself, your skills, accomplishments and training. What about you is different from your colleagues? What do people come to you and ask you about? And what problems do you love to work on because you’re just really good at dealing with them? Chances are, these will lead you to discover where your expertise lies. Understanding that is the first step to really branding yourself as such, and for charting a new, exciting path in your career.
About Patrick Sweet
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA is a systems engineer, engineering management consultant, and the founder of Tandem Consulting Co. He helps organizations create profitable products, boost productivity, and manage complexity. Get a copy of his new eBook on leadership for product developers, innovators and engineers for free here.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on branding yourself as an expert.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success