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What's the Difference Between a Thought Leader and Subject Matter Expert?

What's the Difference Between a Thought Leader and Subject Matter Expert?
Maryanne McWhirter
What's the Difference Between a Thought Leader and Subject Matter Expert?

Whats the Difference Between a Thought Leader and Subject Matter Expert

Who wouldn’t want to be a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in their field?

If you're an SME, are you automatically a ‘thought leader’ too?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, you CAN be both, and in fact, it's ideal. The good news is if you're reading this blog post, you're one step closer to that ideal. Understanding the difference between an SME and a thought leader is essential in growing trust (and. therefore. growing business)!

Let’s dive in!

What is a Subject Matter Expert? 

According to Indeed, SME’s are “professionals who have advanced knowledge in a specific field. As an authority in a particular area or topic, they are uniquely qualified to provide guidance and strategy. SMEs are especially in high demand in workplaces requiring a technical approach to operations and culture.” 

It's highly debated online as to what qualifies you as a subject matter expert and how to become one, but general agreement is that you must have significant experience, ongoing education on the subject of your expertise, and be recognized as an authority by others. 

What a Thought Leader Does

What is a thought leader?   

Similar to an SME, a thought leader is someone with extreme industry experience, knowledge, and insight, but what makes them different from an SME is the recognition of it.

Being influential, trusted, and inspiring with your expertise is what takes you from an SME to a thought leader. To become an SME, you can rely on just yourself, but to be a thought leader; you need the trust and interest of others. 

I have said it before, and I will say it again: social media platforms, and specifically LinkedIn, should be your first stop for your energy to be spent in becoming a thought leader. This is a free platform that business-minded individuals spend time. LinkedIn is the perfect place for you to build your brand to be seen as an authentic resource while simultaneously developing deeper relationships with others. 

How to Be a Thought Leader on LinkedIn

Other Ways to Pronounce Your Expertise to Become a Thought Leader

  • Utilize many methods to distributing your knowledge (film a video, speak at a live event, write blog posts, post on social outlets, etc) 

  • Participate in community and industry events.

  • Share your insights and not just facts. As an SME, people want to know your opinions, predictions, and thoughts- dig deep! 

Subject Matter Expert or Thought Leader?

Turning expertise into thought leadership takes time and consistency.  Building trust in people doesn’t happen in a week or even a month! There are so many benefits to being a thought leader for both you and your business, but it's not a title you can just declare upon yourself. You have to earn it by proving it to the world and have others look to you in that way. Take the time to invest your knowledge and expertise in sharing it with others to turn yourself from an SME to a thought leader! 

Thought Leadership Resources:

Different Types of Thought Leadership Content [VIDEO]

Sell Smarter. Sell Faster podcast

About Author

Maryanne McWhirter

Maryanne is an Inbound Marketing and Sales Consultant for LeadG2. She is energized by problem solving and implementing new strategies to drive results for her clients. Maryanne lives with her husband, toddler, and two dogs in Nashville, Tennessee.

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