Board Briefing: Boardroom Psychological Safety Impacts Decision Making

Board Briefing: Boardroom Psychological Safety Impacts Decision Making

Boards that function effectively as a team have 800% greater impact on firm profitability than any one well-qualified board director.

The inaugural People + Science Boardroom Psychological Safety Benchmark 2020 -2021 (Australia), gauges the level of psychological safety in Australian boardrooms and the impacts on decision-making, organisational trust, leadership cohesion and advocacy for leadership and board positions.

Carolyn Grant, who authored the Benchmark, said that one of the most significant findings was the impact on psychological safety on the quality of decision making.

“We found that psychological safety is a lead indicator and precursor of quality decision making with a positive correlation of 0.63. Leaders need to apply focus and effort to measure, monitor and improve psychological safety or otherwise be exposed to risks at both personal and organisational level,” Ms Grant said.

“Our regulatory environment has acknowledged this by providing real focus and commitment to psychosocial hazards as part of Workplace Health and Safety.”

The study of 623 Australian board members found that:

  • 4/10 board members feel psychologically safe
  • 3/10 report high levels of trust with fellow decision-makers
  • 25% of respondents felt their strategic decisions were highly effective
  • 35% of respondents believed that they have been highly effective within their decision-making teams due to the level of psychological safety.
  • 45% say that it is hard to voice a dissenting opinion
  • 56% believe that it is a lack of people skills and facilitation skills that contributes to “silence”.
  • 14% believe that their skills and strengths are being optimised in their leadership team
  • 27% believe that there is accountability for performance and behaviours within leadership teams, whilst 40% believe there is no accountability.
  • 36% of employees trust the decisions delivered by leaders

Claire Braund, Executiver Director of Women on Boards, said the study was very timely as the regulatory focus on psycho-social hazards increases across the country.

“COVID-19 is a threat to everyone’s sense of psychological safety. We really don't know what to expect and how to behave. We are working virtually where connection can be difficult. It is clear that boards need to be across these issues will be more likely to be able to respond in this time of great disruption and change.”

The study highlights (3) steps boards and leadership teams need to take:

  • Seek a Boardroom Briefing for your leadership team on psychological safety .
  • Understand the regulatory and legal environment with psycho-social hazards.
  • Ensure psychological safety is measured, monitored and actioned for improvement on your leadership teams and in your organisations.

Ms Grant said that psychological safety is an organisational imperative. But it starts with our leaders and our leaders need more support now than ever before to manage the priorities of managing people and managing performance.
“According to the benchmark survey we have a long way to go and our training and support needs to be targeted, specific and supported with accountability.”

About the Research

The inaugural Benchmark, conducted in Australia throughout 2020 and 2021 with 623 respondents who participate in boardroom decision making including executive and non-executive directors and executive leadership teams.

About psychological safety

A psychologically safe environment as one whereby people feel part of the team, feel comfortable asking for help, sharing information and challenging the status quo, without the fear of negative consequences.

Psychological safety is not about being nice and getting along. It’s about giving and receiving feedback, intellectual debate, openly admitting mistakes, learning from each other, and giving each other permission to initiate and improve. This means creating very clear rules of engagement, consequences of misconduct and clarity around the purpose and roles of all participants. Without the accountability frameworks, we are creating unprecedented levels of uncertainty and fear which is driving defensive behaviours and decision-making which is not in the best interests of anyone.

Key Learnings

  • Psychological safety is an organisational imperative, it is LEAD indicator of both future growth and future risk.
  • While industry knowledge and expertise are important, mindsets, propensities and dispositions matter as much if you want to develop a strategically active board.
  • Three of the most significant issues
    • The lack of information and knowledge shared prior to decision-making
    • The lack of accountability reported by boards
    • The continued gap between what leaders believe they are demonstrating and delivering versus what employees are seeing (ie trust levels and responsiveness and psychological safety).
  • A “speak up”, “speak out”, “shine” culture needs to be addressed in every organisation in every setting.
  • From an organisational experience perspective, team meetings are a “moment of truth” for team participants that result in a negative experience and perception of leaders and the organisation.
  • The communication and conversational intelligence level of leaders is poor and creating low levels of trust.
  • Our board recruitment processes create bias and psychologically unsafe environments that go unaddressed by the very processes and systems created to reduce risk.


For interviews or to purchase a copy of the whitepaper contact:
Carolyn Grant of 6peas marketing & engagement –

To purchase our Legay and Leadership e-book, written by Carolyn Grant visit here
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