Are You An Expert? The Simple Way To Tell

5 min readJan 9, 2020
Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

And some ways to leverage that expertise

It is easy to claim expertise, but simply claiming it is not enough to be recognized as a subject matter expert, aka SME. You have to demonstrate your knowledge and experience level. There is a simple self test to determine whether you may be on the road to expertise. But before I reveal it, I’d like to set some guidelines.

Don’t declare yourself an expert

This is a reputation management issue. Reputation is not made by saying you’re great, declaring yourself an expert, etc. It only comes when third parties, with reputations in the field, recognize your expertise. This generally means they hire you as a consultant, commission or buy a book or speaking gig from you, refer you to others, or give you social proof like a signed testimonial. If journalists seek you out for comments on a development in your field, you’re probably getting there.

But this validation has to come from others.

Understand what an expert is

An expert is not just a person who has a lot of information about a subject. That is a necessary start but expertise is based on actual experience in the field, hands-on experience. Ironically having a couple of failures under your belt is part of the path to expertise, because most of your peers in the field have made the same mistakes. But experts learn from those mistakes and, specifically, seek to find what they should have done.

Expert = Experienced

Expertise is specific and targeted

All of us have access to the world’s knowledge, all of it, if we dig hard enough. Too much, in fact. I love being a generalist, but it is the targeted expertise I have that makes the money. So, how do you target? For most people I know who are legitimate experts, it happened seemingly by accident. They may have stumbled on something while looking for something else, and it caught their interest. It may have come out of a hobby. It very often comes from doing work with someone who is an expert and takes you under their wing. You may get paid to become one.


Mastodon:, Writer, nine non-fiction books, two novels, Buddhist, train lover. Amateur cook, lover of life most of the time!