Ready, Set, Innovate! The Success Story Of Susanna Lawson, OneFile

Susanna Lawson worked in the health and social care sector and witnessed huge inefficiencies in the training delivery models which drove her to develop OneFile, the leading e-portfolio software in the education sector. Susanna is also the overall winner of The Forward Ladies National Awards 2017, so we caught up with her for a quick chat to see what’s the secret to her success.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

Best parts: getting customer/user feedback telling us that using our software has revolutionised how they work or made huge efficiencies. Or from learners saying that they have been able to get a promotion, get a new job or go on to do a degree because our system made it easier for them to complete.

Worst: the feeling of responsibility now the team is the size it is.  When we were working from home – even though we were working literally every waking hour – it was just the 2 of us. Now I look around and see all the faces we need to support! It is exciting but the responsibility can feel heavy.

What are the most important decisions that you face daily as a leader in your organisation?

Where to focus attention – day to day issues pull you back into working IN the business. Maybe an issue with a staff member or a customer. But then you need to also concentrate on working ON the business and strategic direction. It can be very challenging to stop yourself getting drawn back into operational issues.

Also as a business owner you identify many business opportunities. It can be difficult to identify the best ones for the company at that time and not get distracted by another shiny idea!

What advice would you give a new employee going into a leadership position for the first time?

Take time to get to know and .understand your employees and what makes them tick. What motivates one person will demotivate another.

What are the most useful resources that you would recommend to someone looking to gain a better perspective into becoming a better leader?

Other business leaders – as a high growth business leader/owner there is no one that understands what I am experiencing better than others in the same position.  My family and friends, whilst interested, do not necessarily understand what I am doing and more importantly WHY I am doing it. The other business owners get me and the challenges I face.

What are the most lacking traits among the leaders today?

Empathy – you need to understand your employees and your customers. You need to understand why someone would feel or behave in a certain way. You don’t necessarily have to agree but you understand.  By having empathy it enables you to build a much stronger relationship with the person involved.  Old school leadership methods of shouting and telling off don’t work. If you have a member of staff who has been taken into a room for a ‘telling off’ when they go back to their desk they won’t be motivated to work – in fact they will probably be distracted and be counterproductive.

What are the most important traits of successful leaders today?

Ability to forgive failure and learn from the mistakes

Empathy – need to be able to understand why people behave how they do.

What are the most pressing challenges that leaders are facing today? And why?

Recruitment of the right people – as a high growth business it can be difficult to recruit people with both the necessary skills AND attitude. I have learnt that if someone has the right attitude then the skills can be taught later. It is much more difficult to ‘teach’ someone the correct attitude.

What are you doing daily to ensure your growth and development continues as a leader?

Coaching the team. My default is to tell people what needs to be done or how I would do it. Every day I am working on an improved coaching style – encouraging others to come up with the solution themselves, using questioning to get them to think for themselves. It may not always be the direction I would have taken but people need to the opportunity to try for themselves.

I do not find it easy but I am trying every day!

What are you most proud of?

Achieving the Queen’s Award for Innovation 2017 – this is one of the highest business accolades you can achieve.

When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?

You have to get on with them – if you don’t get on personally then doing business together won’t feel right.

If a person or business is trying to encourage you to engage or sign to something you feel uncomfortable with – don’t do it!


If you’d like to be considered for an award, or would like to nominate someone else, nominations for our 2018 Awards are now open – for more details see here: