22 June, 2023

What is Psychological Safety? | Video

In this video, I answer the question, ‘What is Psychological Safety?’ I’ll also discuss why it’s important in Project Management.

This video is safe for viewing in the workplace.

This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

Psychological Safety

Do you feel like you can say what you think at work, without risk of punishment or humiliation?

If you don’t, then it’s likely you’ll suppress some of your ideas or your concerns. And that will be to the detriment of your project, your organization, or your client. They can miss out on real opportunities, or incur significant harms.

The idea of Psychological Safety was first articulated by psychologist, Carl Rogers, in the 1950s. This, he said, is a key condition to bring out people’s creativity.

Definitions of Psychological Safety

In 1965, Edgar Schein and Warren Bennis defined it as:

‘an atmosphere where one can take chances … without fear and with sufficient protection.
Thus a climate is built which encourages provisional tries and which tolerates failure without retaliation, renunciation, or guilt.’

Amy Edmondson and Team Psychological Safety

Its modern form emerged in the late 1990s, in the work of organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson, at Harvard University. Edmondson described ‘Team Psychological Safety’ as

‘a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’

The sorts of risks she had in mind include things like:

  • Saying you don’t know or don’t understand something
  • Expressing a concern that something won’t work, or is dangerous
  • Suggesting that there is a better way to do something

Taking a risk around your team members may sound simple. But it is a tough task to make people feel safe when they know what they say may meet resistance.

Edmondson’s Measure of Team Psychological Safety

Edmondson devised a simple way to measure a team’s level of psychological safety. She asked team members how strongly they agree or disagree with these statements:

  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is often held against you.
  • Members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues.
  • People on this team sometimes reject others for being different.
  • It is safe to take a risk on this team.
  • It is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.
  • No one on this team would deliberately act in a way that undermines my efforts.
  • Working with members of this team, my unique skills and talents are valued and utilized.

How to Foster Psychological Safety on Your Projects

Edmondson suggests three simple things you can do as a leader:

  1. Acknowledge your own fallibility.
    And set the expectation that mistakes and lack of knowledge or understanding are a part of the process.
  2. Model curiosity and ask lots of questions.
    That’s how we fill out our knowledge, deepen our understanding, and test out solutions.
  3. Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.
    This is especially relevant to us in the Projects world, where every task is, in some way, novel. Treat failure and mistakes as part of the learning process – not as a source for blame.

I would add that you can also:

  • Involve your team in planning and decision-making processes
  • Set up clear team processes so everyone knows exactly what to expect
  • Encourage the formation of strong working relationships among team members
  • Recast team conflict as a collaborative search for solutions
  • Support team members with encouragement as they struggle to solve problems and resolve issues

Psychological Safety Improves Outcomes

In an environment of Psychological Safety, we see outcomes like:

  • More innovation and creativity
  • Greater staff engagement
  • Reduced stress levels

In Summary…

Psychological safety is the feeling that we won’t be criticized, punished, or humiliated if we offer our ideas, questions, or concerns. And that mistakes will be accepted as part of the process.

First, a set of videos that answer the question, ‘What is…

And some other selected videos:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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