So the question is – what are the rules for an effective working relationship between authorities (leaders and managers) and those with authoritative knowledge (technical experts)?

And the prompt for the question is that this traditionally decent relationship has deteriorated.

Reasons for that disconnect:

1. When younger more inexperienced people manage older experienced people

2. When politicals manage civil servants

3. When external factors prompt a rush to change established norms and safeguards

The step by step deterioration usually goes something like this:

1. Expert sees problem that leader or manager does not OR leader or manager makes unrealistic demands or does something inadvisable

2. Expert tries to bring it to leader or manager’s attention

3. Expert is ignored

4. Expert blows whistle

5. Expert suffers retaliation

…and at that point it can easily tip over into an ugly, costly, public, drawn-out legal matter, fodder for the headlines.

From my own observation here are some things that authorities and authoritative experts can do to eliminate the disconnect:

All Parties:
1. Have respect for what the other person can do – these are different skill sets

2. Appreciate the pressure on the other person

3. Focus on fixing the problem, don’t make it a power struggle

4. Insist on having a process, even if the process is to suspend process – minimize chaos and confusion

5. Make it a practice to consult formally or informally with third party experts outside the immediate work unit – don’t fall into the insularity trap, where your world becomes the whole world

For leaders & managers:

* Call on the right person to do the right job – never work with an expert through an expert’s boss and never randomly assign a task to someone who is expert in a very particular thing

* Give experts special projects – they actually like those, it’s not a negative thing

* Verbalize to the expert how much you appreciate their skills in XYZ – and be very specific about those skills, experts hate phony b.s. talk and meaningless compliments; praise the in public

* Give them a wide swath of control over the work, their time, their personal space

* Don’t turn experts into project managers, they are not administrative types and they are not team thinkers either

* Leave the expert alone unless you need them – do not take up their time needlessly; never micromanage

* Do not make a big deal about every little thing – know when to let things pass; avoid needless confrontation

* Treat the expert as a peer

* Never ask an expert to do something you know is wrong.

For experts:

* Respond to requests for help right away – pick up the phone, answer the email

* Work extremely hard and produce – don’t just spin your wheels

* Do a great job at whatever THEY need – understand that there is political and cultural stuff going on all the time, and you are a part of that show – it’s not always going to make sense to you

* Be proud of what you know, but keep the ego out of it – you’re not the only expert in the world

* Tone down the language, e.g. be diplomatic

* Talk about evidence not opinion

* Offer solutions that can be implemented, not pie in the sky

* Make the authority look good where possible

* Say: I am going to speak truth to power – then say it respectfully (never mouth off)

* Never go along with wrongdoing.