Susan Henderson is a program manager with Tuva. She has been with the Akima family of companies for one year.
Susan Henderson once had her heart set on joining the Air Force. But her fears kept her on the ground—and held her back from numerous other opportunities. Years later, a supervisor finally forced her out of her comfort zone, and Susan, who now oversees a team dealing with some of the most sensitive national security data, has a career that’s soaring.
In 2004, after a stint in various jobs in law enforcement and the medical field, Susan landed at the Department of Energy, taking a job as a processing/vault clerk. Shortly after, she moved to several other positions within the organization, working first as an administrative assistant and then as a vault supervisor. In 2009, when her supervisor Devin Patterson was leaving, he encouraged Susan to apply for his job as the processing team lead.
Despite the promise of a title bump, Susan said she was still plagued by fears she couldn’t handle the job, in part because she didn’t know enough about processing.
“I always feel like I need to know everything in order to be successful,” she says.
When the application deadline was nearing, she still hadn’t submitted the paperwork. Devin kept pressing the issue, telling Susan she’d be a perfect fit. Finally, she gave in. She applied and got the job.
A few years later, Susan faced the same scenario. A program manager was leaving, and Susan was asked to step into the role. Once again, doubts set in and Susan, at first, hesitated.
“I was faced with, do I take my chances and accept this position and go further and learn more to enhance my career, or do I stay in my current position and have that stability and comfort,” she says. “I decided it was time to keep on climbing.”
And climb she did. Today, she oversees 43 workers on multiple teams who process security clearances for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the DOE agency that ensures the security of the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
“I try to do a lot of everything,” she says. “I enjoy doing it because it keeps me fresh. I always feel like I’m reaching further up, and I’m not afraid to learn things.”
That approach has paid off. Susan elevated the processing team’s ratings on contract performance after working for nearly seven months to implement quality assurance measures. The result is clear: between 2010 to 2017 the team received “exceptional” ratings from the government. She cites that as one of her biggest career achievements.
“I do look at that as something I paid very close attention to and put in place for the team,” Susan says. “Of course, I give most of the credit to my team because they’re the ones who do all the work.”
These days, Susan states she’s always ready for a challenge. “It might be scary, but I know I can do it,” she notes, and it’s a message she conveys to those on her team too afraid to take a leap.
“I let them know that if you don’t take a chance, you’re not going to get noticed,” she says. “That was my problem; I was always so afraid to move into a higher position or do something new because I was afraid I wasn’t going to be successful at it.”