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Knowledge Management Skills

In this section I will draw upon several sources to outline the skills necessary for a career within knowledge management. Evidently, different positions will emphasize different aspects of KM, with leadership positions requiring a great ability to manage, influence, and organize, while technical positions would focus more on IT skills (relatively speaking). Over the years, there have been several approaches to defining these skills from various perspectives. Below I will talk first about the skills of the knowledge worker and then specifically of knowledge managers and the CKO or CLO (henceforth referred to as the CKO).


The Skills of Knowledge Workers

On a very general level, Mohanta (2010) identifies six characteristics that all knowledge workers need to some degree:

  1. Possessing factual and theoretical knowledge
  2. Finding and accessing information
  3. Ability to apply information
  4. Communication skills
  5. Motivation
  6. Intellectual capabilities.

This provides a foundation for understanding the basic knowledge management skill set, but it does not include the skills needed for more specialized positions, e.g. within management or IT systems.

For this we turn to the knowledge management skills map presented by TFPL (2000). TFPL is a UK-based recruitment, training, and consultancy company for the knowledge, information, and data industries. Their knowledge management skills map is the result of an extensive survey of over 500 organizations. According to their research, they defined the following general categories, each consisting of a large set of skills:

  • Strategic & Business Skills: Includes business planning, industry knowledge, strategic thinking, leadership, and organizational skills.
  • Management Skills: Includes business processes, people management, process mapping, team building, and measurement.
  • Intellectual & Learning Skills: Includes problem solving, mentoring, conceptual thinking, being analytical, and the ability to deal with ambiguity.
  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Includes listening, negotiation, marketing, team working, and consulting.
  • Information Management Skills: Includes codification, content management, information processes, taxonomies, and IT applications.
  • IT skills: Includes database management, information architecture, programming, software applications, and workflow.

Depending on the specific KM position, some of these skills will be emphasized ahead of others. For example, according to TFPL, a knowledge worker would rely more heavily on communication & interpersonal skills and thinking & learning skills, while requiring least ability within management. By contrast, a CKO would require little skill within information management and IT, and high skills in the other categories (particularly within strategic & business skills).

Another useful skill is identified by Skyrme (2011), who notes that "knowledge networking" is considered a key ability for their KM team members. Knowledge networking is explained as the ability to connect with people and continuously expand one's networks to include other knowledgeable persons.


Knowledge Managers and the CKO

McKeen & Staples (2002) conducted a survey of 41 knowledge managers and from it they created a tentative portrait of the knowledge manager:

  • Highly educated
  • Already a seasoned organizational performer. Chosen for KM based on proven performance.
  • Seeks new knowledge
  • Likes "being at the forefront of something new and exciting"
  • Derives more motivation from a challenge than from formal power
  • Receives intrinsic rewards from helping others
  • A risk-taker
  • Sees KM as a way to "make a mark within the organization".

Looking more closely at the CKO, TFPL regard the most important characteristics of a CKO to be first and foremost strategic & business skills, followed by thinking & learning skills and communication & interpersonal skills. Baren 2011 offers a similar though more specific perspective, by identifying five core areas within which CKOs should possess as many skills as possible:

  1. Knowledge Management Experience
  2. Learning Industry Experience
  3. Technology Project Management
  4. Matrix Management Skills
  5. Industry Subject Matter Expertise

Again, the emphasis is on very strong management skills, though with certain specializations. For instance, in his experience within technology management, the CKO should have rolled out new solutions and acted as a liaison between business and technology. His matrix management skills should include enabling cross-functional teams and being comfortable in a "matrix reporting environment" (Baren 2011).

This concludes this article on knowledge management skills. Hopefully, it should have helped shed some light on the type of skills required by knowledge workers, and particularly on what constitutes a competent knowledge manager and/or CKO.


Alan Frost M.Sc., 2012

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