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Leadership and Psychological Safety

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

I strongly believe that psychological safety is an essential element in creating a healthy, productive, and inclusive work culture. Leaders must be skilled in their knowledge about psychological safety. It can help to remove barriers to honest communication and improve team performance, for the road ahead.

What is Psychological Safety? Dr. Amy C. Edmondson, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, explains it well. She said, “psychological safety is a shared belief that the work environment is safer to speak up, raise concerns, offer ideas and admit mistakes.

Psychological Safety really begins with leadership. Good leaders help create an environment where people are comfortable being genuine and honest and feel heard, valued, and respected. Good Leaders also welcome candor, listen and respond with a positive attitude.

Why does Psychological Safety matter in the workplace for the road ahead?

Organizations can miss great opportunities, such as creativity and productivity of employees and it is one of the building blocks of inclusion. In addition, it is not possible that employees bring their whole selves to work and want to be inspired to thrive and succeed without experiencing a sense of belonging.

Leaders must take greater initiatives to foster psychological safety in the work environment. This begins with individual teams which will have positive impacts for the organization, starting with these basic steps for leaders:

Be Vulnerable:

When leaders acknowledge their own mistakes and react respectfully and supportive when others make mistakes, it demonstrates to team members that it is a safe environment for the team to learn and grow.

Monitor The Verbal and Non-verbal:

Be aware of nonverbal cues that signal stress and uncertainty, such as facial expressions, fidgeting, and lack of eye contact. Leaders can notice nuances by practicing active listening, including attention, attitude, and adjustment.

Habitually Ask for Feedback:

Especially in a remote environment, where it is too easy to keep the mute button on, encourage all team members to share their viewpoints. If these differ from the larger group or leader, it is especially important to acknowledge your appreciation for the feedback. It is not easy for employees to feel comfortable speaking up with a dissenting viewpoint, and the team will take their cue from leaders’ reactions to these situations.

Encourage Respectful Debates:

This is a productive way to explore ideas and creative approaches to problems. This signals to the team that leaders value all employees and diverse points of view. Nurturing a culture of psychological safety is the antidote to a toxic work culture in which employees avoid challenging the status quo because of the fear of criticism, embarrassment, or punishment.

Measure psychological safety:

We have all heard the saying, “what gets measured, gets done.” It means regular measurement and reporting keeps you focused, and you can find out what is working and what is not. From anonymous surveys to regular one-on-one and team discussions, leaders should prioritize assessing whether team members feel they can speak up, raise concerns, and admit mistakes. This builds trust, increases employee engagement, and uncovers areas that need improving.

Both employees and leaders should have training on what psychological safety is and why it is essential as an initiative-taking step. Organization can use this approach to remove barriers to honest communication and improve team performance. Practical behavior-focused training turns concepts such as psychological safety, empathy, trust, and transparency into relatable learning experiences that can motivate employees to engage in open and ongoing conversations and collaboration.

Psychological safety is at the heart of many of the critical challenges facing organizations since the pandemic and will continue preventing employee burnout and high turnover; improving employee well-being; and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. By learning and practicing the supportive behaviors of psychological safety, leaders can empower employees to voice their opinions, share their experiences, and inspire the creativity that drives innovation and team success for the road ahead.


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