Psychological Safety Leadership: Why It’s Important and How to Develop It

Do you find it difficult to speak out in the workplace? Do you keep your opinion to yourself or refuse to acknowledge a problem for fear of being made an outcast? If you said “yes,” then you have a common problem. A 2021 Dale Carnegie survey of over 6,500 employees from 21 countries revealed that this is common; in fact, only 1 out of 5 employees are open enough to make constructive criticism at work.

This addresses a broader issue in the workplace – psychological safety. This issue can be addressed starting from the leadership position. It is a leader’s responsibility to cultivate a company culture where everyone is able to speak up. This is called psychological safety leadership. Find out exactly what it is and how it can impact productivity in your workplace.


What is Psychological Safety in the Workplace?

There are some workplaces that make you feel like you are a part of the family, while others don’t. The difference between these two types of workplaces is psychological safety.

Of course, you can’t always find a workplace that you can completely relate to and feels like a family. It would be ambitious to say that should be what everyone should aim for. However, the goal for leaders would be to foster a work environment wherein every member of the team feels safe and secure.

Everyone must be free to be who they are. In a psychologically safe work environment, everyone can unleash their full potential because they don’t feel humiliated or embarrassed when they speak out or share their ideas. Instead, they feel welcomed and encouraged to open up because that is the kind of culture that you have in the workplace.

importance of Psychological Safety Leadership

Introduction to Psychological Safety Leadership

As mentioned above, leaders play a crucial role in forming a psychologically safe work environment. This is called psychological safety leadership.

This term was coined by Dr. Amy Edmondson who created a scale that allows employees to rate their psychological safety in the office. On the lower end of the list, employees might feel uncomfortable about taking a risk in the workplace as they do not want to be singled out or criticized for their actions or opinions. On the other hand, there are employees who feel safe enough that they are not afraid to make mistakes or speak up because their opinions and knowledge are valued.

The goal of psychological safety leadership is to establish a work environment where there is a sense of autonomy in the latter group. You have already invested time and resources towards the recruitment of talent in your workplace. Therefore, you must trust them enough to share their ideas, be creative, and give constructive criticism. If not, then why hire them in the first place?

With that said, a lack of psychological safety can stifle creativity and ideation in the work environment. It makes your organization incapable of adapting with the changing market conditions because everyone is afraid to change the status quo in fear of being reprimanded. Psychological safety leadership is the new approach to possess and implement in order to create a work space that encourages everyone to speak up.


How to Foster Psychological Safety Leadership

You already know the value of having a psychologically safe work environment. At this point, it is important to know how to foster this as a leader. A leader plays a crucial role in establishing the company culture. It begins with the leader until everyone else adopts the mindset that you’ve committed to in your organization.

A lot of business and organization leaders these days engage in executive coaching. And many of these coaching and training sessions include psychological safety, particularly when assessing teams to improve management and collaboration.

Foster Psychological Safety Leadership

These are the 5 ways that you can promote psychological safety leadership within your organization:

1. Encourage space for transparency

Psychological safety is primarily having a sense of belonging. It is a basic human need to feel of a community. As a leader, you need to create a space that gives everyone in your team a voice – an opportunity for them to give their opinion. In addition to being able to speak up, develop collaborative systems that give everyone the transparency they need and allows maximum involvement from everyone.

Whether you rely on basic or advanced systems, it does not matter, as long as everyone has a contribution to make that makes them feel like a valued member of the team.

2. Identify suppressors

Observe how your team members operate and identify potential areas where opinions and ideas might be suppressed. You need to address it from the root before it develops into a habit among your team members. The goal is to encourage everyone to share their ideas and opinions, not suppress or judge those who have them, especially if they are not in alignment with everybody else’s ideas or opinions.

3. Respect others’ opinions

As a leader, you must lead by example. If anyone in your team shares their opinion, give them the opportunity to speak up, and actively listen. Taking the lead will let others in your team see how you can encourage a psychologically safe work environment.

4. Establish a feedback culture

Instead of penalizing someone for committing a mistake, use it as an opportunity to share feedback and encourage development. Having a feedback culture in your organization will make everyone feel comfortable enough to voice their opinion, which will in turn make it a norm in your work environment.

5. Encourage connection among team members

The crux of a psychological safety leadership culture is to strengthen personal connections. The members of your teams should look at each other as not just co-workers, but friends and family. If you can do that, they will feel less attacked when they give out criticism towards each other. Instead, they will embrace these criticisms as opportunities for growth and use them to correct mistakes.

A change of culture is not always easy to deal with. Some employees might resist it at the start. However, the growing pains involved as you transition to a psychological safety leadership style will be worthwhile as it will result in more open collaboration and honest communication among members of your team.


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