Subject Matter Expert Role: Tasks, Expectations, And Skill Requirements

Subject Matter Expert Role: Tasks, Expectations, And Skill Requirements
Summary: Is your Subject Matter Expert living up to their end of the bargain? In this article, I share tips to find and retain the best person for the job.

What Your Subject Matter Expert Should Be Like

What is the Subject Matter Expert role in your next eLearning project? You might find your Subject Matter Expert somewhere you least expect them. They could be sitting on the board or running your factory operations. Whatever expertise you are looking to find, make sure you don’t limit your search in any way. The key to building a rapport with your Subject Matter Expert is communicating clear expectations. That’s essential if you want them to sign up for the work they will need to deliver. They should know from day one—actually, well before day one—exactly what they are being asked to do. And they should understand what they are going to get in return.

What Does A Subject Matter Expert Look Like?

Subject Matter Experts can be anywhere, but there is one thing they all have in common: they’re usually the “go-to” person in their department. If you’re asking around and people keep mentioning the same name, then you’ve probably found your Subject Matter Expert. Another thing they all “look like”: a very busy person. Their skills and expertise mean they are highly in demand. If they manage people too, it can be very difficult to convince them to dedicate time to your eLearning project. That’s where being clear about a few factors can help up front:

  • Describe the time commitment in terms of eLearning project deliverables. Be specific and realistic about the percentage of their week they will need to dedicate.
  • Give them a Subject Matter Expert contact they can talk to. If you have a previous Subject Matter Expert that can act as an advocate for the role, put them in touch. Real-life experience from someone that has done the real thing is far more impactful than any other method.
  • Provide an example of an eLearning course you have created. It always helps to be able to provide something tangible as an explanation.

What Will They Need To Do?

Once you’ve piqued their interest, nail down the details. You’ll both need to be sure that this role can be delivered effectively to ensure eLearning project success. Be prepared to describe their Subject Matter Expert role in three categories: tasks, expectations, and skills. The clearer you can be in your planning, the happier you will be with what’s delivered.

1. Do They Have The Time?

You’ll need to know, to the week, when they will be needed. Describe what tasks will be done, and when. If you are getting a lot of resistance around time, you may need to reconsider your Subject Matter Expert choice. Be creative around options, and be prepared to negotiate a little.

2. Do They Have The Expertise?

If deep, complex knowledge is required, ensure that your Subject Matter Expert can provide what you need. Some people just aren’t great at knowledge transfer, however expert they are in their role. For example, they're unsure how to sum up the key takeaways.

3. What Will They Be Expected To Deliver?

Are you expecting your Subject Matter Expert to sit in virtual meetings and hold court, imparting their wisdom? Or would you expect them to create eLearning content for you? You might want them to write the eLearning course script. They may only expect to provide notes. Make sure you are completely clear about the commitment involved. They may not be able to give you everything you want, so be realistic.

4. Will Just One Subject Matter Expert Be Enough?

If you think your eLearning course topic has overlaps in several areas, consider involving more than one Subject Matter Expert. It will make it easier on the individual. The coordination will be more complex, but you will probably find you are able to deliver richer materials.

5. When Does Their Involvement End?

You will likely want to run questions past your Subject Matter Expert as you are designing the eLearning course. You’ll also want them to review as you go along, to avoid a hefty change at the end. Don’t anticipate that the Subject Matter Expert’s involvement will be front-loaded. You want them to be a stakeholder throughout.

Essential Skills Subject Matter Experts Should Possess

Every eLearning project calls for unique talents and expertise. However, there are a few core skill sets that all Subject Matter Experts should bring to the table to ensure eLearning success:

1. Communication

Subject Matter Experts must be able to understand the learning objectives and then articulate the takeaways. They also need to communicate with every member of the eLearning team to achieve the goals and produce a high-quality finished product.

2. Teamwork

Most Subject Matter Experts don’t work alone. In fact, they’re a valued member of the eLearning team who coordinates and collaborates with Instructional Designers, LMS admins, and other key players. As such, they need solid teamwork skills to get the job done.

3. Problem-Solving

They may not have to deal with budgeting issues or overcome admin challenges. But Subject Matter Experts have problems of their own to contend with. For example, figuring out how to convey the information to corporate learners in a way that’s easy to digest with the available resources and without going over the deadline. Therefore, they require strong problem-solving skills and lateral thinking abilities.

4. Time Management

There’s only so much time to research the topic, whittle down the relevant information, and package the content. Subject Matter Experts need time management skills to complete all their tasks without causing their fellow collaborators to go over the deadline. For example, a Subject Matter Expert delay could hinder your Instructional Designer’s timeline and so on. It’s a domino effect.


As you work through the process of engaging a Subject Matter Expert, you’ll realize that you must have the right foundations in place. At the very beginning, your Subject Matter Expert should know what they are expected to deliver. You must both feel confident that they can handle the time commitment and that they’ll provide the knowledge you need. Your Subject Matter Expert needs to feel like a valued part of the team. Give them the appropriate thanks and recognition that goes along with hard work and dedication. The right Subject Matter Expert, when handled well, can be the basis for an exceptional eLearning experience.

Find the best Subject Matter Expert for your eLearning project. Post a job on eLearning Industry to review online resumes, accept applications online, and manage your top candidates.