Leadership development plays a key role in developing psychological safety in the workplace. Check that each of these skills is addressed in your leadership development plans to strengthen truly inclusive people, managers, and leaders throughout your organisation:
1. Communication skills: practice active listening and curiosity
Ask team members to weigh in with their thoughts and expertise. This is especially important to practice at times in which their opinions may challenge your thinking.
Dive deep, ask questions, and ask for feedback from other team members too. Don’t assume team members are wrong just because you disagree. Peel the onion and learn from your team as much as they learn from you (if not more).
Just as important as curiosity is the role of active listening. Active listening ensures people feel valued and that they can contribute to the team. Ideas to improve listening include:
Leave phones at the door (or on the desk) during meetings
Show understanding by repeating what was said
Encourage people to share more by asking questions
If certain individuals rarely speak during meetings, actively ask them for their opinion
2. Conflict resolution skills: promote respect
If a team member engages in undermining, shaming, or any behaviour that discourages others from speaking up, don’t condone it. But also, don't ignore this behaviour.
Intervene and share how such statements can impede creativity and innovation, including the sharing of concerns, ideas, and questions.
3. Accountability: lead by example
Anyone in a position of responsibility should set an example for the rest of the company. This is applicable from senior management, down to team leads and managers. If done properly, the set of behaviours should become a norm across the company.
Ask for upward feedback
Acknowledge your mistakes
Be open to opinions that differ from your own
Be approachable and encourage reports to ask questions
You can't expect team members to perform a certain way or feel safe if you don't lead by example. This means apologising when you make a mistake, demonstrating considerate communication, showing empathy, and asking for help when you need it.
4. Vulnerability: embrace the uncomfortable
According to Edmondson, leaders owning their vulnerability and fallibility is a mark of true strength. It shows a willingness to improve, and a recipe for encouraging open and honest feedback. When leaders acknowledge their own fallibility, it allows the team and the organisation to learn and improve.
Importantly, it creates space for others to admit their own and models that ownership of mistakes is valued by the company.
5. Empathy: foster an open conversation (with a growth mindset)
Pay attention to how teams operate. Is everyone given an opportunity to speak up? Are some more silent than others? Work to foster equal speaking time for everyone.
Use ice breakers and calm environments to quickly get over any awkwardness or tension. Consider having company outings or virtual hangouts so team members can feel free to let their guard down and be themselves.
This is also a great time to get to know each other on a deeper level.
In order to break free of judgment and strengthen the relationship between team members, it’s important to have an open mindset. Often, we look at things from our own lens, but approaching them from a different angle can help bring perspective.
In order to develop an open mindset in the workplace:
Encourage teams to share feedback with one another
Help them learn how to respond to input from others
Encourage teams and individuals to see feedback as a way to strengthen and build upon their ideas and processes.
6. Self-reflection: empower others from your place of privilege
If you’re someone who isn’t underrepresented in your community, make efforts to leverage your privilege to empower underrepresented colleagues.
Examples of this include highlighting team members’ accomplishments among others. Creating an environment of psychological safety takes self-awareness and a commitment to learning new behaviours. But the trade-off is more than worth it — and necessary.
Beyond the obvious advantages of avoiding groupthink and creating an efficient team, dedicated resources will help. This helps to establish the behaviours that lend themselves to psychological safety.
Long-term, your entire organisation will benefit.