Psychological safety: What is it and why is it so important?

Psychological safety: What is it and why is it so important?

In this excerpt from Women on Boards new Legacy Leadership e-book, author Carolyn Grant - who also wrote the inaugural People + Science Boardroom Psychological Safety Benchmark 2020 -2021 (Australia) which gauges the level of psychological safety in Australian boardrooms - talks about psychological safety, and how it is a lead indicator and precursor of quality decision making in the boardroom.

Psychological safety is the number one variable in team performance, yet organisations are not measuring, tracking or monitoring it across their organisations.

Psychological safety is a belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, alternate views, questions, concerns or mistakes. Psychological safety is a belief that people feel it is safe to contribute, learn, ask for help and challenge the status quo within their teams, without the fear of punishment. 

Macquarie Business School recently demonstrated that organisations with psychologically safe environments are 33% more likely to achieve superior stock market performance than those that don’t. Organisations enabling psychological safety, diversity and evidence-based leadership are five times more likely to innovate at the right pace than those who don’t. 

It starts with being able to have honest conversations and feel safe to do that... valuing the CEO to the cleaner and having an opportunity for everyone to contribute their best. Co-founder Global Tech company

Psychological safety is about establishing respect for people working in the organisation. The benefit of creating teams of people who are comfortable to challenge the status quo, show curiosity and ask for help was emphasised in WOB’s research.

Psychological safety provides leaders with insight into the potential responses to the proposed strategy from all stakeholder groups, ensuring all steps and possible answers are considered, enabling a ‘no regrets’ course of action. 

Psychologically safe environments require a culture of trust for staff to speak out. It requires leaders to have the courage to recruit for the ability to contribute, challenge and develop new solutions. 

“Great leaders know they are only as good as the people around them. They surround themselves with people who are different from them, embrace the diversity of opinion, and can empower others to be the best they can be.” Legacy Leader

Enhancing Productivity and Creating a Connection 

As a consequence of the changing way teams work, including increased remote working, flexibility, ‘hotdesking’, the need to work quicker, and with more agility, leaders need a clear vision. They need to set clear goals, strategies and expectations for individuals to ensure that they don’t lose sight of what is expected of them. 

Team Care 

When managing in any circumstance, a leader must be conscious of how the team around them is going. Do they need to take a break or need additional support? In a crisis, those with less self-awareness may hit their limits quickly. Team care also extends beyond the immediate team, supporting it and managing any crisis. Crisis and turbulence can cause cumulative reactions. Even those only peripherally involved in an issue or watching from the outside can be affected. 


A lack of clarity around accountability is one of the main contributors to misconduct and reputational harm, particularly where those charged with driving a specific business result (such as revenue or growth) may not have also had formal accountability for related risk or conduct-related outcomes.

Creating High-Performing Teams

Creating the right team to deliver a transformation is a crucial part of the planning process. In order to form high performing teams:

• Add a step to the traditional form / storm / perform process – conduct ‘getting to know you / accountability sessions’ with each team member to agree on their roles and objectives
• Integrate diversity of thought. Look for diversity of personal strengths, not merely skill sets; for example, courage, agility, heart, analytical mindset, curiosity and creativity
• Take the time to know your team intimately, yet also have team members know each other. Knowledge and care create a space for honesty and trust, which allows people to work collaboratively through transformation 
• Trust within the team and in the leader is crucial to successful transformation. 


  1. High-performing teams start with trust. 
  2. Psychological safety also means accountability: ensure that you are making everyone accountable by first setting clear goals and expectations. 
  3. Establish acceptable behaviours and guides for decision-making. ‘Leadership is practised not so much in words as in attitude and in actions’ – Legacy Leader.
  4.  Focus on the strengths of the individuals in the team, and you will drive better collaboration. 

Leadership Challenge: Measure, monitor and respond to psychological safety in your organisation. Encourage cultural ‘add,’ not just cultural ‘fit’, so employees can bring their authentic selves to work.

WOBChat with Carolyn Grant

Carolyn Grant will be joining Women on Boards Executive Director Claire Braund, along with Australian Computer Society’s Director of People and Culture, Helen Storckmeijer, at a special WOBChat event on Psychological Safety in the Boardroom on Wednesday, October 20.  Click HERE for our Events page.

National Safe Work Month

October is National Safe Work Month—a time to commit to building a safe and healthy workplace. During October each year, workers and employers across the country are urged to commit to safe and healthy workplaces for all Australians. Being healthy and safe means being free from physical and psychological harm. No job should be unsafe and no death or injury is acceptable. A safe and healthy workplace benefits everyone. The theme for National Safe Work Month this year is think safe. work safe. be safe.


Board Briefing: Boardroom Psychological Safety Impacts Decision Making