The knowledge management (KM) discipline has seen an increase in awareness in recent years, yet many might be left feeling puzzled by what exactly KM is, and what career bucket it falls into. With many KM practitioners and advocates arguing for standardisation of the industry and the opportunities embedded within it, this article aims to become the first point of reference for those considering a career in the burgeoning KM space (or even looking to better define a role they find themselves in already).
One of the most authoritative voices within the industry, Babson College’s Tom Davenport, gave the following definition: “Knowledge Management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge”. In effect, this means guiding a company’s learning strategy, influencing change within that organisation, and coordinating external educational input.
Building on this, typical KM roles include:
- Knowledge manager
- Records and information managers
- Content managers
- Community managers
- Corporate librarians
- Learning & development managers
- KM system specialists e.g. Microsoft SharePoint, Confluence, etc
In larger organisations, the KM function may be consolidated under the banner of a chief knowledge (or learning) officer or a director of knowledge management. These businesses may also have a scattering of full or part-time staff working within KM, while startups and SMEs may call on other staff to perform KM duties as part of a broader role. Differentiation between KM roles is largely dependent on business size for these reasons. Whereas a KM project manager might have their focus solely on helping that business innovate, a content manager at a start-up might use facets of knowledge management to bolster their support documentation and content marketing.
Perhaps one of the few factors that unified respondents in a 2019 Knowledge Bird poll of those working in the KM space was a graduate degree. Amongst those, the arts, business, ICT and librarianship were the most popular academic gateways into knowledge management. Yet, only a slim majority (52%) of those surveyed claimed to have “KM-specific” qualifications. More important than formal qualifications seemed to be industry or subject-matter experience; 75% of respondents claimed to be “subject-matter experts.”
Given the seemingly endless range of positions and work environments within KM, it pays first to ask:
(1) What skills, experience, and industry positioning one has to offer;
(2) What sort of organisation, work environment and level of responsibility match with your interests.
One of the benefits of working within the KM space, unsurprisingly, is the level of flexibility it offers. While many of the above-cited positions reflect a traditional employer-employee relationship, many academic and consulting roles come with a level of autonomy comparable to freelancing. For many, this can be one of the more exciting aspects of a career in KM, coupled, of course, with the opportunity to share the knowledge and information that they have built up over time.