The Research

Transition Expertise

Research on career transitions amongst expert performers
A research project led by Christopher Connolly, PhD

The Idea of Transition Expertise

At the beginning of this 4-year project I reviewed the major theories on careers and career transitions. I was surprised that, despite extensive research on the skills and competencies required for any given career position, there was little substantive data or insight into the skills, abilities and attributes that enabled performers – expert or otherwise – to succeed in career transitions. Seeking to understand this absence, I further analysed most of the research related to expert performance, in particular the acquisition and generalisation of expertise. A constellation of abilities, skills and attributes that could enable successful career transitions emerged. I called this composite profile Transition Expertise.

The Research Study

Having worked for a number of years with elite performers in business, sport and music, I was able to run a cross-domain study with senior leaders in all three of these fields: my aim was to determine commonalities and differences that characterised how high performing individuals in high performance fields made repeated successful career transitions from expert performers to leadership. In business I studied traders who became group vice presidents, automotive engineers who became CEOs, research scientists who became heads of divisions. In sport I studied football players who became managers of premiership teams, athletes who became national directors of their sport’s association, and sports people who became chef d’équipe of Olympic teams. In music I studied musicians who had become heads of faculties, principals of conservatories and vice-chancellors of universities. I used qualitative and quantitative methods to analyse the data I had collected. A number of important patterns emerged in individuals, within specific professional fields and across all three fields.


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