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Improving Team Effectiveness Through Psychological Safety

Professional Development

Team leaders strive to establish work environments that enhance team creativity, inclusivity, and retention, all critical elements of psychological safety. It is important that leaders be familiar with the actions that promote psychological safety and those that destroy it.

Since the early 1950s, engineers have undertaken extensive efforts to improve process safety in plants worldwide. Approaches involve hazard identification, prevention, and elimination to reduce the risks associated with materials, chemicals, and process technology. Continual attention to the need for such safety measures at all organizational levels has paid significant dividends (1).

In addition to physical safety, the effective and productive operation of any organization requires psychological safety. A psychologically safe workspace fosters collaboration, inclusion, learning, creativity, productivity, job retention and satisfaction, engagement, accountability, and mental wellness (2–5). Plant and workplace safety also rely on personal behavior and mindset.

A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (6) indicated that 84% of American workers feel that poorly trained managers create unnecessary work and stress; 50% of American workers feel that their performance would improve if their direct supervisor received additional training in people management. According to the survey, the top five skills where manager improvement is needed are effective communication, development and training of the team, time management and delegation, cultivation of a positive and inclusive team culture, and management of team performance.

Since the early 2000s, recognition of the importance of psychological safety to enhance job satisfaction, engagement, and performance has increased, and the concept is now well-entrenched in the lexicon of leadership methodologies. Captain Scott Kelly, the astronaut, engineer, and naval aviator, drew a connection between physical and psychological safety when he remarked, “Safety has to be everyone’s responsibility… everyone needs to know that they are empowered to speak up if there is an issue (7).”

This article defines psychological safety and how it fits into the context of industrial process safety programs. This article also outlines actions that promote psychological safety and describes common behaviors that erode psychological safety in the workplace...

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