Subject Matter Experts: 4 Tips for Building Strong SME Relationships

In my last blog I shared with you the importance of onboarding your Subject Matter Experts and provide several tips on how to achieve a successful onboarding of SMEs. However, it is important to remember that you must continually work at building your relationship with SMEs over the life of the project.

Here are the top four things that you can do to grow a strong SME relationship.

  1. Build a Partnership – Your relationship with SMEs needs to be a partnership. Nobody wants to be just another resource. Make sure that the SME knows that they add value to the project and that you recognize their expertise. One of the best ways to do this is to approach the relationship as if you are there to help them be successful rather than the SME just being a person that give you content. When I am working with a SME, I always ask them what I can do to help them be successful rather than what they can do to help me be successful.

  2. Guide Them Along – Most SMEs do not have a background in Instructional Design or learning theory. They often do not understand why you ask for specific types of information or content. This is really frustrating to a SME. To help with this, you need to guide them along the way. Help them to understand how and why you approach the project the way you do. You also need to do this in different ways at different times in the project. Make sure they understand how and why you gather information, provide feedback, and conduct reviews. The better they understand these processes, the more successful they will be as SMEs.

  3. Meet Them Halfway – Just like every relationship, each person is going to have different preferences and work styles. Don’t assume that the SME will adapt to your style. In some cases, it is better to adapt to the SMEs style. By showing the SME that you are willing to flex for them, they will be more willing to adjust to your needs as well. To help with this I make sure to ask the SME simple questions such as:

  4. How do you like to communicate?

  5. How do you like to provide/receive feedback?

  6. Do you prefer to meet in person or over the phone?

  7. Do you prefer to meet once a week for an hour or twice a week for 30 min?

  8. Be Their Advocate – SMEs can often get overwhelmed. As mentioned in previous blogs, rarely are they a 100% resource to the learning development. They will have role specific tasks that will compete for time. This can be a struggle for even the best SME. If you find that a SME is struggling, it is better to be their advocate than to be advisory. Take the time to think about how you can help them meet their goals.

  9. Can you advocate for extensions to the timeline?

  10. Can you advocate for someone to aid them in their role?

  11. Can you take some of their tasks off their plate?

  12. Can you streamline your process?

In Summary

Having a strong relationship with any team member is important to the success of the project. But special considerations need to be taken when building the relationships with SMEs because they have commitments outside the project. As you start thinking about the project that you are currently on, think about the work relationship that you have with your SMEs. Challenge yourself to make sure that you are making it the best experience possible for them and see how the effectiveness of the project improves.


To find out more about the BCR onboarding approach, email me at Curtis.Glenn@blueresourcing.com

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