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Psychological safety: 3 ways leaders can create a safe space

Build healthier working relationships with this key ingredient.

Psychological safety: 3 ways leaders can create a safe space
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Healthy relationships take work. Whether personal or professional, they require one key ingredient above all others: psychological safety. Without psychological safety, it’s impossible to have trust, two-way communication, and productive collaborations. There’s no motivating my team to make progress on stretch goals without it, nor for my teen to improve his GPA. Put succinctly, there’s no success without a safe space.


It’s defined by industry expert Amy Edmondson as a shared expectation that no one will be “punished” or judged for speaking up with feedback, questions, or concerns. It’s also the reassurance that it’s okay to ask for support when needed. In the workplace, this looks like people expressing their needs, openly disagreeing, delivering critical feedback—even to superiors—and handling occasional mistakes and misunderstandings without embarrassment, rejection, or exaggerated consequences.

In a two-year study, Google found that psychological safety—more than any other specific skill, talent, or trait—was key to building high-performing teams. While it certainly takes an organization-wide effort to pull off, creating a culture of psychological safety is key to all kinds of good things—among them innovation, agility, and mental wellbeing. Why? Because it makes workers feel confident and comfortable taking calculated risks, learning new things, and pushing the limits of creativity. At the same time, it empowers employees to speak up when work-related stress becomes too much or when they’re struggling with their mental health.

As a people manager, I’m particularly aware of my role in creating psychological safety for my teams. While I’m only one person, I know that my position as a leader means that my words and actions hold more weight. In fact, a recent study showed that managers have roughly the same impact on people’s mental health as a domestic or romantic partner and more than a doctor or therapist.

Connecting with and caring for my team is essential to who I am as a leader, and I know that can’t happen if they don’t feel safe. I make an effort to show my team through my words and actions that our workplace is a safe space where their authentic selves are welcome.

Here are three ways I have found to be successful in building psychological safety in my organization.


To feel safe at work, people need to feel part of the whole. That means understanding what’s happening and why. Keeping people looped in reinforces their role as part of the wider team, which keeps everyone motivated as they work toward shared goals. For example, when our go-to-market strategy took a left turn at a previous company, I made sure my team knew not only what was happening but also why, and how I expected that to impact our next steps and long-term goals. Looped-in doesn’t mean top-down-only decision-making; it includes seeking feedback and input throughout the decision-making process.


Being honest and open about when things don’t work out as planned shows your employees that missteps happen—and that it’s what you do to move forward that matters. This sort of realness strengthens relationships and is especially important when you’re asking your team to tackle ambitious goals and learn new skills. What comes to mind for me here is an occasion when a nearly-signed deal fell through. By choosing to speak to my team about how I felt—not great—but focusing on what I learned, I made three critical things clear. 1) Sometimes things don’t work out as planned or hoped, and that’s okay; 2) It’s okay to have feelings about it; and 3) When things go wrong (as they sometimes will), there’s always something to learn.


Part of enabling your teams to be vulnerable, take risks, and grow is backing them up and boosting morale—in other words, championing. For me, first and foremost, championing means making sure that my employees have the support they need from the organization and from me personally to achieve their goals. That means making it clear that they can come to me to problem-solve if they’re having trouble; I’m happy to help.

And when things go well, we celebrate successes together, even the small ones! As a leader, I also make a point of championing my team publicly and privately by regularly presenting my teams’ contributions and our progress toward shared goals to senior leadership and the wider organization and offering positive feedback and thanks in departmental meetings and 1:1 sessions. By ensuring my teams know I will back them up and cheer them on, I show my employees that I value their time and work, respecting them both as individuals and as part of the team.

One last, but not least, part of championing your team is anticipating any blockers and working proactively to resolve them. If our commercial team is gearing up to partner with a new client, I am actively looking at all aspects of our organization’s readiness to ensure a smooth roll out.

When we put people’s wellbeing first, we make working together easier, more productive, and, perhaps most crucially, psychologically safe. Because I care about my team, I want the workplace to be a safe space for them—and I know that how I communicate and take responsibility is a big part of that. Some days it’s easier than others, but I’ve seen its impact on my current team at Koa Health, at previous organizations, and at home. I do this work because I know it matters.

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Jennifer Gendron is the global chief commercial officer for Koa Health. More

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