Necessary Leadership Skill – Technical Skill 2 – Competency as a Subject Matter Specialist (SMS)

Dr. Donna L. Roberts
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Subject matter specialization is classified as a technical competency referring to, “knowledge of the content of a given function or discipline being addressed” (McLagan & Suhadolnik, 1989, p. 37). Subject Matter Specialists (SMS) are experts in a particular field or specialty utilized by an organization to recommend solutions to a problem or deliver a certain service.

Through their special knowledge, skill and professional experience, the experts are commissioned to provide a unique service to the organizational client. Often, though not always, they function as consultants, being external to the organization, and are appointed to respond to a management need such as a training deficit or as a process facilitator.

In general, when consultants function as informational experts, the organization is responsible for defining the problem and determining the objectives of the consultation. The SMS typically assumes a directive and didactic role, demonstrating substantive knowledge with a focus on facilitating understanding of either content or process. Depending on the exact nature of the organization’s need, the consultant may also perform such functions as advocate, program planner, collaborator, mediator or process counselor (Nadler, 1990).

In the current context of increasing organizational complexity, productivity concerns, quality control, downsizing, rapid change and technological advancements, the need for expert assistance from a specialist is becoming more common. Often, the most successful consultation occurs when external and internal consultants team consult, allowing for both an objective perspective and a first-hand knowledge of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses.


McLagan, P. A. & Suhadolnik, D. (1989). Models for HRD practice: The research report. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development.

Nadler, L. & Nadler Z. (Eds.). (1990). Handbook of Human Resource Development, 2e. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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