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August 19, 2016

Building and Sharing Expert Knowledge

Ed Pearcey

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There's little doubt that the more expert knowledge a colleague demonstrates, the more respect he or she receives. Someone with an excellent overall understanding of a process, and a good grasp of the details, will be appreciated by co-workers as a valuable member of the team. 

But, problems can arise when a colleague who is supposed to have expert knowledge is unwilling or unable to demonstrate it. You start to wonder what his level of knowledge is, and to doubt his capabilities.

I encountered this problem many years ago, and it led me to form an utter, and barely concealed, dislike of a work colleague. Let’s call him Mike.

Where's the Expert Knowledge?

The reason for my animosity toward him was quite simple. As a senior manager and editor at a large publishing company, he needed to demonstrate a high level of editorial expertise to his colleagues. He needed to lead by example, and to show his team that he understood the editorial process. And, on occasion, help out and take on some work.

Sadly, never at any point in my four years of working under him did he do any of that. Well, certainly not in front of me, and, from what I gathered from my colleagues, not in front of them either.

Personality Traits

He offered criticism (almost always not constructive), mild sarcasm, pomposity, and occasional bullying, but never any practical help or advice. For all I knew, he may have been an excellent writer or editor. But there was simply no way for the dozens of people below him to find this out.

The longer the doubts over his expert knowledge persisted, the less he was respected by his team. His rather unfortunate personality traits could have been overlooked if he had had a more “hands on” approach, and (just occasionally) showed what he could do with a really tricky article.

Little Interaction

A person with expert knowledge doesn't need to be particularly sociable or friendly in the workplace. Of course, it helps if they are. Their role is simply to provide answers and guidance when problems arise, and practically demonstrate solutions.

Apart from the very occasional, early morning, silent loom over the shoulder, Mike hardly interacted with any of his team about editorial matters.

His power came from his reputation — which he acquired during his time in a different part of the company, in a different type of role — not from his team accepting his authority or expertise, based on his expert knowledge.

I gave this guy the benefit of the doubt on numerous occasions. Maybe he’s busy, maybe he’s doing things behind the scenes, maybe he just doesn’t feel the need to get his hands dirty at the coalface.

Remain Professional

But, eventually, I was pushed toward one simple conclusion: he just wasn’t very good at his job. He had numerous opportunities to show what he could do, but never did.

We maintained a fairly good professional relationship and never argued. I pride myself on being fair minded, calm and pretty easy to get along with. Whether or not I am in reality is another matter, but I like to think that I do at least make the effort to remain professional at all times.

But, to this day, I still believe he was a man promoted way beyond his talent. Thankfully, this rather unpleasant incident remains a unique occurrence in my career.

So, what's your experience of working with someone with expert knowledge? How did you deal with someone who wouldn't or couldn't show what they could do? Join in the discussion below. For tips on building your own expert knowledge, take a look at our article here.

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