When Experts Become Leaders


The technical expertise that we bring to a role is often a core strength and the primary reason that we join an organisation.

Over time a technical role can begin to morph, either by accident or design, into a position of leadership.

The expertise upon which we established our reputation and value may be side-lined by other activities such as agreeing budgets, facilitating meetings, setting goals, reviewing performance, managing relationships, and more.

A leadership role will require us to have impact in conversations and meetings where other people have more expertise, or where our expertise isn’t relevant to the topic. This can have a negative effect on our confidence. A PhD in financial modelling may not be very useful when making decisions about brand design.

The change, in how we see ourselves and how we are perceived by others, can require new thinking and behaviour. It presents us with opportunities to stretch and grow.


As an expert you likely used a narrower set of behaviours to get things done. For example, a strong reliance on facts and analytics to influence decision making.

As a leader you may need to make decisions based on limited data and competing perspectives. Sometimes the decision will need to be based on emotions or instinct rather than hard facts. And you will need to be able to tell the story behind the decision to others in a way that gains their buy-in.


The range of situations you need to navigate each day is likely to be more varied and require shifts of energy so that you can meet the needs of a complex set of stakeholders.

You might not be used to working in large groups or feel confident about your ability to coach team members. You may find giving feedback difficult – either being too timid or too robust. You might be unsure how to formulate a decision from diverse perspectives, or how to get buy-in to your ideas.


The secret to impactful leadership is behavioural agility.

When others are looking to you for clarity and direction, rather than getting into a debate based on your ideas and reasons you might simply need to be clear what you want them to do next.

When faced with an array of conflicting perspectives that must be distilled into a concrete plan, you might need to shift the climate and look for some common ground, inspiring others to work together.

As a newly promoted leader you’ll need to rely on and build the expertise of others, listening and exploring to understand their strengths and challenges.

Moving from expert to leader means putting active thought into the way you interact with others and developing an authentic and flexible approach to leadership.

Top tips


1.    Set an objective

2.    Prepare to be agile

3.    Use allies

4.    Seek strength in diverse perspectives

5.    Create psychological safety


1. Set an objective


  • Knowing what you want to achieve will help you choose the right behavioural approach.
  • A SMART objective means you can reflect and assess whether you’ve been successful.

2. Prepare to be agile


  • A clear objective will help you decide whether to push or pull in the moment.
  • Prepare to shift your energy as each meeting or conversation develops.
  • Think about how you will disengage if you need time to regroup.

3. Use allies


  • With a trusted colleague, talk through your approach to an upcoming meeting or conversation and get support and challenge.
  • Is your objective clear? Are you influencing the right person?
  • Is this an opportunity to try a new approach? Get feedback. 

4. Seek strength in diverse perspectives


  • Pull others into the conversation to build connection and buy-in.
  • Be genuinely curious about opposing views – use Listening and Involving to explore under the surface.

5. Create psychological safety


  • Be honest about your challenges at work and give permission to team members to do the same.
  • Use Disclosing to ask for help with specific tasks.
free group coaching session

Running on 5 and 6 June, and available to all our programme alumni, the theme is Leadership. Bring your own situation or use one of our scenarios to practice, get feedback, and prepare for success.

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Free Alumni sessions: 5 and 6 June

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