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Do I Hire a Compliance Specialist or Program Manager? What to Consider.

At Legal and Compliance Hires we often see job descriptions that are looking for a true omnipotent individual that can do everything and anything related to the compliance function within the business. A list of requirements may look something like this:


· Experience/Knowledge of (insert technical elements of the job requirements and associated acronyms here, e.g., FCPA, HTS, HIPPA, ECCN, ITAR, AML, ABAC) · Conducting investigations, assigning corrective actions, and addressing a rolling action item list. · Responding to Government enquiries. · Training individuals and large teams on all matters of compliance. · Building and enhancing a compliance program that requires cross functional support.


While there are certainly a number of potential employees that tick all of the boxes above, there is real and true value for the hiring manager that is searching for qualified candidates to re-familiarize themselves in some of the specialisms within compliance-based roles to find the best fit.


The Compliance Unicorn: The employee that knows all the technical aspects around your area of Compliance, but can is also an excellent communicator, can craft procedures with ease, and is a dab hand at cross functional program building and management.


If you had to choose, what is the priority for the compliance role? Is it a technical expert, or a strategic program manager. (Yes, we know you want somebody that can do both...) Let’s unpack some of the different skill sets that we see across candidates that we often work with.

While both technical and strategic roles are essential in ensuring an organization’s compliance, they do have distinct responsibilities and skill sets. Here, we'll explore these differences to help hiring managers make informed decisions when recruiting compliance specialists.


Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) (The Specialists)

Subject matter experts are individuals who possess deep knowledge and expertise in a particular subject area. In the context of compliance, an SME would have an in-depth understanding of the relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards. They may also have experience in implementing compliance programs and addressing compliance issues.

SMEs play a critical role in ensuring that companies are compliant with applicable laws and regulations. They are often called upon to provide guidance and support to other departments, such as legal or operations, to ensure that the company is meeting its compliance obligations. SMEs are also responsible for staying up to date on changes in regulations and adjusting compliance programs accordingly.


The Technical Specialist will be likely be strong on the technical nature of Compliance - for example, the interpretation of regulation the application of that to a business need or issue.

SME’s need to be able to tactically handle the issues they face and effectively communicate this throughout the business. Indeed, a survey conducted by Compliance Week, the most important skills for compliance professionals are technical knowledge (92%), problem-solving (85%), and communication (80%). SMEs are particularly valuable for their technical knowledge, as they are experts in their field and can provide guidance on complex compliance issues.


Program Managers (The integrators and overseers)


Program managers, on the other hand, are responsible for overseeing the entire compliance program. They work closely with SMEs and other stakeholders to develop and implement policies and procedures that ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Program managers are also responsible for monitoring and reporting on compliance activities to senior management and regulatory bodies.

Program managers play a critical role in ensuring that compliance programs are effective and efficient. They are responsible for developing strategies and plans that align with the company's goals and objectives. They also collaborate with other departments, such as HR or IT, to ensure that compliance is integrated into all aspects of the business.


The Program Manager may not be as familiar with all nuances and directions within regulations, but will typically work with specialists to understand how the business will, collectively. adhere to compliance requirements. They will often build tools, draft directions and measure performance metrics to measure compliant activity.

Like the SME, a Program Manager has to be an efficient communicator. According to a survey by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE), the most important skills for compliance professionals are leadership (88%), communication (85%), and critical thinking (81%). Program managers are particularly valuable for their leadership skills, as they are responsible for managing a team of compliance professionals and ensuring that everyone is working together effectively – but they may not know the technical intricacies of compliance related issues.


Key Differences While both SMEs and program managers are critical to ensuring compliance, they have distinct responsibilities and skill sets. SMEs are experts in their field and provide guidance on technical compliance issues, while program managers oversee the entire compliance program and develop strategies and plans to ensure that the company is meeting its obligations.

Hiring managers should consider the specific needs of their organization when recruiting compliance specialists. If the organization already has strong SMEs in place, a program manager may be needed to oversee the compliance program as a whole. On the other hand, if the organization is in need of technical expertise, an SME may be the better fit.

Hiring Managers should understand the differences between subject matter experts and program managers when recruiting compliance specialists – even though we know you want somebody that can do both!. While both roles are critical to ensuring compliance, they have distinct responsibilities and skill sets. SMEs are experts in their field and provide guidance on technical compliance issues, while program managers oversee the entire compliance program and develop strategies and plans to ensure that the company is meeting its obligations.

By understanding these differences, hiring managers can make informed decisions when recruiting compliance specialists and build a strong compliance program that meets the needs of their organization.

Legal and Compliance Hires can help you find the right candidate, whether you are looking for the Specialist, the Program Manager or the Unicorn that can do both. Get in touch with one of our team today to learn more.




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