Leading the Team with a Subject Matter Expert

July 13, 2021 by Lynn Faughey

The Difference Between a Project Manager and Subject Matter Expert

The past several months have been quite the whirlwind for Rose and me with our acquisition by Network Partners. It’s an exciting time for everyone as we come together and work to integrate our organizations. Both FlexPro and Network Partners bring different strengths to the table and we’re working on blending all of our talents together while providing an opportunity to expand our services in the Life Sciences Industry.

“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” 

H.E. Luccock

What does a Project Manager do versus a Subject Matter Expert?

There are many reasons why our two companies are such a good fit, and in some cases it’s because of our differences as much as our similarities. As an example, at FlexPro we’ve always been more project manager based with some subject matter experts. Network Partners is more Subject Matter Expert based with some project managers. So, what’s the difference? Sometimes there isn’t one. Subject matter experts provide expertise in a specific subject or area. They are to ensure the facts are accurate and deliverables can be met. Many PM’s are subject matter experts as well, having been in that role previously in their careers. However, now as the PM, their role is to bring in the best people for the job (the SME’s) and manage the team and the project. While project managers steer the direction and timing of a project, it’s the breadth of their knowledge that helps to ask the right questions of the subject matter experts. The SME’s have generally spent a great deal of time fine tuning and honing their expertise and it’s the PM’s job pull it all together. Everyone on the same page, everyone on the same team.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is a success.” 

Henry Ford

The Benefits of Hiring a Project Manager versus a Subject Matter Expert

There are some benefits of the PM also being an SME. Being able to understand and assess issues that arise or navigate technical language can be most helpful. Though, it’s interesting to note that it may not always benefit the project if the PM is also a subject matter expert. It’s sometimes just too tempting not to jump in and get involved in details, losing sight of the bigger picture and taking time away from other objectives. Who doesn’t like to show off their skills? As tempting as it can be to fall back into the SME role, I find it’s best to step back and manage, leaving the gritty details to the experts!

Both PM’s and SME’s have earned a seat at the table and need to depend on each other to fully take advantage of each other’s strengths. Our belief is that PM’s with prior expertise as subject matter experts make great team leaders, drawing on their expertise from both sides to bring the team together and the project to a successful conclusion. 

 “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” 

Steve Jobs

Want to get the best of both worlds? Book a call today to discover how we can help deliver your next project on time and on budget.

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