Project Management

Who is an Expert?

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Who is an Expert?  What makes them an expert? 

I don’t pretend to be a cognitive scientist, nor have I done much research on the topic – but it is a fascinating field.  And there is a *lot* of literature, books, theses, and studies on the topic to choose from all the way back to Plato and perhaps before.  This blog entry is based upon what I’ve read plus personal opinions and thoughts.  The question “What is an Expert” was planted in my brain by the good folks at who have asked me (and others) to participate in “Ask the Experts.”  

Please let me know if you disagree or feel I need to add something!   

An expert is generally considered to be a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on a combination of personal research, experience and occupation and in a discipline.  In our case, Project Management and related topics.

I found a  scale by which experts can be judged within a specific field (Germain's scale 2006) that  gives some interesting hints…

  • Specific education, training, and knowledge
  • Required qualifications
  • Ability to assess importance in work-related situations
  • Capability to improve themselves
  • Intuition
  • Self-assurance and confidence in their knowledge

More down to earth definitions exist.  Mark Twain defined an expert as "an ordinary fellow from another town." Will Rogers described an expert as "A man fifty miles from home with a briefcase."

Application to Project Management

I’d going to tailor this write-up for Project Management as well as drift away from academic studies and simply express my own views.

  1. Has experience: There is clearly a level of experience required to be an PM expert.  My guess is that 10+ years as a full-time PM are required.  This experience can be either specific to a field or it could be spread across many different fields that have projects.  I don’t think that makes much difference.

  2. Survived failures: I also believe that an expert has had a lot of failures, and made a lot of mistakes; big and small.  I don’t mean to say that an expert always fails, or only fails, but that their projects stumble and recover or may even fail outright. That’s the hard learning that occurs during the years of experience in number 1 above.   Perhaps if a project manager had never had a failure, they could not be an expert… 

  3. Is observational:  A PM is always observing what works, what doesn’t what almost worked and is thinking about what to do next time.  So, combined with item 2, It’s not just about recovering from mistakes, it’s about recovering the project in the smartest, best way and learning what *not* to do next time and how to avoid getting into that mess again.   They also observe small details in the project’s operation that don’t appear to be important.  These are all signs that can be read and parsed out to see how things are going and what the general health of the project is. 

  4. Highly Confident: An expert PM has confidence in what they say and do.  Of course, this combined with number 2 makes for a wild ride.  We’re letting loose people that, with confidence – make mistakes and then recover, which leads me to point number 5.

  5. Story Teller:  I’d like to substitute the often-quoted top-job of a PM is communication with the most important skill a PM has is 'Story Telling'.  I’m not talking about making up stories, I mean explaining what has happened, or what is expected to happen in an easy-to-follow cogent fashion.  *They don’t lose the listener*.  How story telling is learned is something I’m still struggling with.  I have a few ideas, but of course practice helps!

  6. Strong Sense of Mission: The expert Project Manager carries within them a “sense of mission” in other words, a sense of the value of the project.   It’s the answer to “Why are we doing this anyway?   Every action, decision and communication is made with the internalized, overriding strong sense of mission of the project.  It’s expressed in meetings, to people working on the project, to stakeholders – everyone and, the PM believes it… strongly.

  7. Feels the Flow of the Project:  Once all the above are in-place, confident, has failed (and recovered) many times can tell the story of the failure, and can sense the smallest details of a project and how they inter-relate, they’ve arrived.  I’d declare them to be an expert. 

OH!  They’d have to have at least one PMI certification as well! 

Posted by David Maynard on: September 06, 2017 07:53 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
You can also add this quote about experts: "no prophet (expert) is accepted in his hometown." - Luke 4:24, New International Version

Good one Stéphane! There's a lot of truth in that. Not only hometowns but companies too. Say, yesterday I told someone that was looking for a vacation spot to go to your Island. So add about 3 to your population signs this summer.

Thanks, David. Of course, we are more into the "shoulder" part of summer at this point. With any luck they'll be here for the International Shellfish Festival (September 15-17).

Great article, David!

Love this post! Expert is relative but definitely a storyteller, willing to share hard truths, loves messy problems, willing to stay late, show up early and all hours in between but most of all a student of leadership willing to embrace the challenge to add value to projects, teams and organizations.

Spot on David!

Thank you, David. Great write-up.

Thanks. A clear differentiator for PM experience in Item 1 will be equal to the knowledge of the industry that the projects are executed and the ability to relate previous experience with achieving the benefits identified for the organization.

Thank you. Good post.

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