What Makes an Award Winner?

Industry Insights

By Donna O’Toole

The Seven Priceless Qualities it Takes to Win Awards

When it comes to awards there’s not much I haven’t seen or done.

I have judged, written, directed, coached, created, re-imagined, analysed and interrogated more award entries and presentations than I can possibly count. From both sides of the table.

And I have been very lucky to have delved behind the scenes of many awards programmes across the world, and gotten under the skin of many of the people entering them!

Naturally, I look for patterns, trends, and data that give me the insights I need to be able to support people to win.

And what I find is always interesting and valuable. But nothing fascinates me more than the human behaviours and qualities that I see on my journey.

Yes it’s important to produce numbers and evidence in order to have a good chance of winning. But it’s the emotional drivers behind our human connection that make the difference between a close second-place and a winner.

So here are seven qualities that I regularly see in award winners, and I believe are fundamental to their success. How many of them will you demonstrate in the next awards you enter?



They are honest, and make a true emotional connection through their stories. They don’t try and paper over the cracks or pretend to be superhuman. They face challenges head-on and talk about them openly. They laugh at their mistakes and tell you the truth about how they feel. They rise in the face of adversity and learn from their setbacks. They don’t dish out blame, they are accountable, proud, and willing to share every part of their journey.


They actually care. No really, they do! They put themselves in other people’s shoes to truly understand the experience they are creating for customers, employees, partners, and the community around them. They are objective, realistic, and inclusive. They are able to look at their product, service, and business behaviours from multiple perspectives. If they don’t like what they see and hear, they change it. And if they do, they still try to make it better.


It’s fair to say that some industry sectors, awards, and categories don’t make it easy to showcase an inspiring story. But some award-winners can make even the dullest sounding award category a truly inspirational experience. They are able to use their industry knowledge and insights to deliver something special. They have a clear purpose and the passion to motivate, move, and inspire others to think deeper, try harder, and achieve more.


Possibly the most overused and misunderstood word in the awards dictionary, and yet it’s one of the important qualities award-winners show!

In plain English, innovators are doing something that is truly ‘new and unique’. It may be enabling a small but important change, or it might be creating a major industry shift, but game-changing award-winners are undoubtedly pioneering a new way. They might not even consider themselves innovators, but they are working smarter and faster, and they don’t stop until they find different ways of doing things that improve the customer experience and employee experience, and they get great results!


This is a quality that many could benefit from, but only the special few genuinely show. Being able to reflect back on their actions gives award-winners the ability to measure, understand, and clearly communicate their achievements. And it gives them the power to change and improve. They never stop reflecting, tweaking, adapting, and re-measuring, which means they know what works and what doesn’t, and it helps them to get better and better.


These award-winners use their own energy to carry you through their journey effortlessly. Their enthusiasm creates a natural buzz, and their presence empowers and energises the people around them. They light up the room and exude natural warmth. They carry their colleagues when they need support, and they know when to stop and refuel so they don’t become a drain. They are productive and driven, but never to the detriment of others.


These winners naturally care about someone or something that doesn’t simply benefit themselves or their business. There are no egos to manage here. They are selfless in small or big ways, but those ways have meaning, and come from the right place. They are not faking it to make it. They have a real interest in the impact they are having on people, the planet, and the causes close to their hearts, and they do what they can to make a difference.


Actually, my list could go on. There are so many positive qualities I’ve seen on my awards journeys.

What qualities do you think make award-winners stand out? I’d love to know what you think makes a difference.

Or do you think you have the right qualities to be an award winner? If so, take our Awards Generator and find out which awards you can be entering and winning!

Contact Us

Contact us now to find out which awards you could be winning.

Contact Us

Latest Tweet

Sign up for our newsletter

You might also like