Expertise is highly situational — that is, it depends on the need or the gap being filled. In that case, an “Expert” is defined as the right person who can help you move forward on your project. “expertise” could be described as skills and talent, sector or industry, or seniority and experience.
Expertise is, by nature, an ambiguous term.
- Does it relate to talent and skills — like woodworking or technical writing?
- Does it relate to a specific sector or industry — like healthcare or aerospace engineering?
- Does fluency with technical jargon or terminology define expertise?
- Is expertise reflected in job titles, years of experience, or advanced degrees?
When doing work for the US. Federal Government expertise is highly regarded and coveted. Suppose you are a small to medium size consultancy that has been a subcontractor on a few prime contracts. You have all the team’s wonky technical information, experience, and knowledge from the previous contract work. And you are aware of an upcoming RFP for similar items for the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But you don’t have anyone on your team with experience writing a persuasive proposal for HHS. In that case, that is the expertise you need. It would help if you had a technical writer with experience writing recommendations for HHS.
Suppose you have all the proper customer knowledge, writing, and proposal capabilities, but you need an expert to help you understand biomedical waste management processes. In that case, that is how you define the expertise you need for that situation. It would be best to have a technical expert who understands the challenges and hazards of bio-medical waste management and the correct procedures.
So the true answer to “what does expertise look like?” is all of the above!
Expertise may be talent and skills, sectoral and industry-specific, highly technical, and likely to be acquired through seniority and years of experience.
The important thing is not to rule out which categories should be defined as “Expertise.” The important thing is to understand what you need at that moment.
And at the most fundamental level, all those categories can be broken down into knowledge and information.
If an expert has talent and skills, they can speak knowledgeably about those talents and abilities.
If an expert has sectoral and industry expertise, that expert has knowledge and information about those sectors and industries.
If an expert has 30 years of experience, 2 PhDs, and a lofty job title, then that expert also has all the knowledge and information from a long and successful career that got them to where they are today.
For that reason, the vast majority of “expert requests” we support at OnFrontiers, start as knowledge consultations. Our customers engage with experts for value-based conversations to understand better the specific areas of expertise they are searching for and how those experts might be able to support the team in different ways.
From those first knowledge calls, those relationships often evolve into more profound knowledge mentioned above — contracting with the expert for a technical writing project, hiring an expert full-time to be a customer lead, or submitting an expert as a program manager on a proposal.
Expertise is what you make of it, but you have to know what you’re looking for.