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Saint Vincent College Faculty Blog

The Role of Experts

Posted by Michael Urick on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 @ 10:08 AM

This summer, I’ve been quite busy working on projects and presenting at conferences related to the topic of intergenerational interactions at work, my primary area of academic research. While attending the Academy of Management annual meeting in Atlanta, the most prestigious international conference for management academics where a Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence student (Alperen Arslantas) and I presented on this topic, we interacted with many other experts in the broad field of management.  Throughout this and my other experiences this summer, I’ve been contemplating the role of experts.

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Before I discuss an expert’s role and importance, it’s perhaps useful to define the term “expert” and consider how experts emerge. I consider someone to be an expert if they possess advanced knowledge in a particular area or unique skills crucial to the functioning of a group. As the word “expert” is closely related to “experience,” an expert emerges once they’ve had experiences related to a certain knowledge domain or role. These experiences occur over time through certifications, advanced degrees, rigorous research or simply becoming a top performer in a particular field.

Experts have a responsibility to inform others. The most effective become teachers or mentors to pass on their knowledge to others who seek to eventually become experts themselves. Experts are less effective when they act in a condescending manner to make others feel more inferior, in essence talking down to those whom they should be trying to lift up. For those who have been reading my blog for several months, you know I’m a fan of “Star Wars.” My favorite character is Yoda because he possesses a deep knowledge, acts in an unassuming manner and mentors younger learners who seek his help. These behaviors are fictional exemplars of the role of an expert.  An expert’s primary role, then, is to influence others in a positive way. However, an expert must always continue to learn in order to remain an expert.

In addition to continuous learning, experts have other responsibilities. Someone who possesses great knowledge or skill must develop ways to influence others in a positive manner. According to the French and Raven classic (1959), people become more influential when they are perceived as possessing multiple traits such as: being likable; offering something tangible needed by others; having authority to discipline others; having a formal title within a social group; and emphasizing how some specific knowledge, skill or ability they possess is of value in a particular context.

For those seeking to learn: find an expert in the area that you want to explore and listen to her or him. But be cautious – not all those who claim to be experts actually are. Just as there is a lot of misinformation passed off as “news” on various websites and media, there are some people who pose as experts but may not be. The challenge is that, with the ever-increasing capacity to post and access information on the internet, it is likely that many people turn to Google or their own personal social networks when in need of expert advice (Stillman & Stillman, 2017). Yet, such sources could be biased or contain inaccurate information. It’s important to always learn, and part of this is to also question (and understand) the limits of some information. 

There is a caution to experts as well. There are many influential experts knowledgeable or skilled in particular areas. As an optimist, I believe that most of these individuals use their influence for the benefit of others. However, some individuals may use their influence to convince others of ideas not related to their areas of expertise. It would be silly for Yoda to try and teach Luke Skywalker how to fly a spaceship – that’s not Yoda’s strength! Likewise, it would be hazardous for an organizational behaviorist (such as myself) to try and teach physics without a deep knowledge of this area. As HR professionals can attest, it would be ineffective to hire someone into a role in which they do not have (or cannot develop) the necessary knowledge, skills or abilities. Similarly, when offering opinions in an authoritative manner, experts must reflectively ensure that these are in line with their areas of expertise. It is, therefore, crucial for experts to not extend their influence into domains in which they are not well versed. Thus, it is equally important for others not to blindly follow in areas in which influencers have limited experience.

Who are some of the experts in your field? Why do you trust them and what makes them influential? What are their limits? I am always happy to hear your thoughts! Write me below, email me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu, or connect with me on social media (www.facebook.com/urickmj and www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/). 

 

Michael J. Urick, M.B.A., M.S., Ph.D.

French, J. R., Raven, B., & Cartwright, D. (1959). The bases of social power. Classics of organization theory, 7.

Stillman, D. & Stillman, J. (2017).  Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace.  Harper Collins: New York, NY.

Topics: experts, influencers, teachers, knowledge, learning, growth

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Assistant Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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