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Subject Matter Expert vs. consultant: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A subject matter expert (SME) is an individual who is considered an expert in a particular area or topic. A consultant is an individual who provides professional advice or services to organizations. Both SMEs and consultants play important roles in their respective fields, but there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between SMEs and consultants, and we provide tips for those interested in pursuing a career as an SME or consultant.

What is a Subject Matter Expert?

A subject matter expert (SME) is a person who has a deep and detailed level of knowledge about a particular topic, subject or area. SMEs are often consulted by businesses or organizations to provide their expertise on a particular issue or to help solve problems. They may be called upon to provide training to other employees or to develop new processes or procedures. SMEs typically have many years of experience in their field and are recognized as experts by their peers.

What is a Consultant?

Consultants are experts in their field who use their knowledge and experience to advise companies on how to improve their operations. They are hired to provide unbiased, objective advice to help companies make informed decisions. Consultants typically have a deep understanding of their industry and can offer insights and recommendations that a company may not be able to obtain on its own. In some cases, consultants may also be hired to provide temporary or interim management to help a company through a specific challenge or transition.

Subject Matter Expert vs. Consultant

Here are the main differences between a subject matter expert and a consultant.

Job Duties

Subject matter experts carry out their work within a specific field or subject. They’re often called upon to provide advice on particular topics and can assist with creating educational materials for use by others in their industry. Their job duties are focused on researching and learning about a particular topic so they can advise others on it.

Consultants perform a variety of tasks as part of their jobs, depending on the needs of their clients. They may create reports, develop strategies or conduct research as part of their consulting services. The duties of a consultant depend on what their client requests of them.

Job Requirements

Subject matter experts (SMEs) are typically required to have a bachelor’s degree in their field of expertise. They may also be required to have several years of experience working in their chosen industry. For example, an SME in the medical field might be a doctor who has been practicing for 10 years or more. In some cases, an SME might also have a master’s degree or higher.

Consultants usually need at least a bachelor’s degree, but many have a master’s degree as well. They might also be required to have several years of experience working in their chosen industry. However, consultants typically don’t need to be experts in their field. Instead, they use their skills in problem-solving and critical thinking to help their clients find solutions to their problems.

Work Environment

Subject matter experts work in a variety of environments, depending on the industry they’re working in. For example, an IT subject matter expert may work for a technology company and spend their days in an office setting. Alternatively, a marketing subject matter expert might work for a marketing agency or business and travel to different locations to meet with clients.

Consultants typically work in an office environment, but some consultants also travel to client sites to provide services. Depending on the type of consulting firm they work for, consultants may have more freedom than subject matter experts to choose where they work.


Subject matter experts and consultants share some similarities in the skills they use on the job. Both groups need to be excellent communicators, both written and verbally, as they often need to explain complex concepts to clients or colleagues. They also both need to have strong research skills to be able to find the information they need to do their jobs effectively.

However, there are some key differences in the skills each group uses. Subject matter experts tend to focus on a specific area of knowledge, becoming an expert in that field. As a result, they need to have deep knowledge in their area of expertise and be up-to-date on the latest developments. Consultants, on the other hand, typically have a more general understanding of business operations and management. While they may not be experts in any one particular area, they are able to see the big picture and offer advice on how businesses can improve their overall operations.


Subject matter experts can earn an average salary of $101,765 per year, while consultants can earn an average salary of $84,847 per year. Both of these average salaries may vary depending on the size of the company at which you work, location of your job and the level of experience you have prior to pursuing either position.


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