Leaders are Responsible for Psychological Safety
There is increased interest in the importance of creating a psychologically safe work environment, and organizations worldwide are investing significantly in this effort.

Psychological safety refers to an environment where individuals feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks, such as speaking up, expressing opinions, or admitting mistakes, without fear of negative consequences or judgment.

It fosters trust, open communication, and collaboration within teams, ultimately enhancing creativity, innovation, and overall performance.

And yet, according to an article published in Forbes magazine in December 2023, recent research from Wiley claims that there is a growing psychological safety disconnect between leaders and their employees. Wiley found that leaders tend to overestimate the level of psychological safety on their teams compared to the actual level of safety team members are experiencing.

This means that leaders may be operating under the assumption that if there are workplace problems or employee needs are not being satisfied, employees will speak up about it. However, the reality is, if employees don’t feel safe, they won’t speak up.

Leaders need to be intentional in allocating the time to understand what the needs of their team members are and how they feel about psychological safety in the workplace.

This is even more important when workers are working remotely some or all of the time.

The Role of Trust

Everyone knows that Trust is an essential part of creating a psychologically safe work environment but specifically, what behaviors are needed to create the kind of Trust that allows people to feel safe to speak up or even to disagree with their manager?

Many years of research into what it takes to build and sustain trusting relationships has allowed us at Intégro to establish the Intégro Trust Model based on the four behaviors essential to building Trust. These four behaviors are particularly relevant when leaders want to create a psychologically safe environment.

They are:

Acceptance – accepting people for who they are, being nonjudgemental.

Knowing that you will not be judged negatively for saying what you think or questioning how things are done is essential for feeling psychologically safe.

Openness – openly expressing your ideas and opinions, knowing they will be listened to, and being open to listening to the ideas and opinions of your colleagues. Openness can only flourish when there is a high level of Acceptance – an absence of judgment.

Congruence or Straightforwardness – being able to say what you mean and mean what you say without sugarcoating and learning to be direct and tell the truth while at the same time being respectful and accepting of the other person.

Reliability – following through on commitments and doing the best you can on everything you do. Team members need to know that they can rely on each other to achieve the best results.

All four of these behaviors combined will create a culture of Trust where everyone feels valued and can be confident about having uncomfortable conversations.

People Want to Do Their Best

Over the years, I’ve engaged in conversations with numerous managers who hold a somewhat cynical perspective on employees, viewing them as primarily motivated by their pay and inclined to do the bare minimum to maintain their employment.

However, Intégro’s decade-long survey of over 20,000 employees contradicts this belief, as our research findings do not align with such a viewpoint.

The research questions included:

How important is it for you to fulfill the responsibilities of your role? and… How important is it for you to do your best in everything you do?

On a ten-point scale where ten is essential, both questions average 9.4 out of 10. This means that the vast majority of employees believe it is very important that they fulfill their responsibilities and do their best every time.

That’s the good news!

The challenge for leaders is that it takes effort and commitment for people to do that, and the workplace culture must support people to take that responsibility – it requires a psychologically safe environment based on a high level of Trust.

See part 1 to see how to cultivate Trust based on DiSC characteristics.

Excerpted from “Leaders are Responsible for Psychological Safety” by Keith Ayers. Get the full White Paper here:

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