I have an acquaintance who is one amazingly smart woman. She has an interdisciplinary PhD in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience and has all sorts of interesting insights into the world and people. She is married to a physician. One day, when her young daughter was musing that daddy and mommy both had Dr. in front of their names but only daddy worked in a hospital, her father told her: “That’s because your daddy solves problems, dear. Your mother just thinks about them.” He said this with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, but it zings because so many of us academics know the discomfort of not being (publicly) recognized for our expertise.
As someone new to the coaching profession, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about expertise and where and when to claim it. Recently, I gave a talk on public speaking to a group of women entrepreneurs in my city. I am not a public speaking expert. My stepfather has a decades-long career teaching forensics and public speaking; I don’t. So, I’m not “a world-class expert” on the topic of public speaking. But, with over a decade of university teaching and conference presentations and job talks in the rear-view mirror, I confidently stepped into my expertise as a public speaker to talk to a group of other non-specialists. Each of them, in turn, is an expert in their field: fitness, mortgages, catering, dog training, candle making, etc. Their businesses, their “brands,” succeed to the extent that they can embody and project their expertise in their fields. Their ability to sell a client or customer on their expertise is what makes their business succeed or fail.
You may have come across articles, like this one, encouraging academics to develop and “market” their personal brand. You may have shuddered internally when you read it, too. While I’ve obviously gone down the entrepreneurial path, I’m not invested in telling you to do the same and turn into an #academicentrepreneur if that isn’t your jam. But, there is a way of talking about your specific expertise, and claiming that expertise in public fora, that can have a big impact on the way your colleagues and the public view you and your scholarship.
Your research niche, your pedagogical specialty are areas in which you are an expert. How many people around you know about that? Does your university’s media office know? Does your departmental administrator know? Does Twitter know?
Once we start thinking about our areas of expertise, our gremlins come out to play and ugly imposter syndrome rears its head. This is where embodying our expertise becomes critical. In what we say, how we hold our bodies, how we use our voices, and the audiences we choose for our words, we can reinforce our expertise or call it into question.
What can you do (more of) to claim your authority and expertise?