Leadership and Psychological Safety: A Crucial Connection

Mental health at work is a top priority. Find out how leaders can reduce stigma, provide access to care, and support their employees' well-being.

Sofia Von Platen
Sofia Von Platen
6 min read

Leaders play a crucial role in fostering psychological safety within their teams and organizations. In this article, we will explore the leadership skills required to support psychological safety and discuss strategies for promoting mental health in the workplace. If you want to learn what psychological safety is then read this article. 


Leadership Skills for Psychological Safety

Leadership development at all levels of an organization is essential to cultivate the type of leadership behaviours that enhance psychological safety. Here are some key leadership skills that contribute to fostering a psychologically safe environment:


1. Open-Dialogue Skills:

Effective leaders have the ability to facilitate open and honest dialogue. They encourage team members to explore disagreements, talk through tensions, and share their perspectives. This skill creates a safe space for diverse ideas and opinions.


2. Sponsorship:

Leaders who prioritize the success of their team members ahead of their own contribute to psychological safety. This selfless approach helps team members feel supported and valued.


3. Situational Humility:

Leaders with situational humility develop curiosity and a personal-growth mindset. They are open to learning and adapting in various situations. This trait promotes psychological safety by showing that leaders are not infallible and are willing to embrace vulnerability.

Leadership development programs should focus on these skills to ensure that leaders across the organization understand the significance of psychological safety and can actively contribute to its development.


How Can Leadership Development Programs Foster Psychological Safety?

Developing psychological safety within an organization requires more than one-off training programs. It demands a comprehensive strategy:

1. Scaled System of Leadership Development: Behaviour change doesn't typically result from a single training program. Instead, focus on developing a comprehensive strategy for leadership development that centers around capabilities supporting the larger goal.

2. Emotional and Sensory Experiences: Make leadership development engaging and memorable by offering immersive experiences that go beyond traditional training. The focus should be on the experience of learning and self-reflection, encouraging vulnerability and personal introspection.

3. Integration into Daily Work: Trainings and skill development are theoretical; the practice occurs when these skills are incorporated into day-to-day work. Senior leaders should be the first to adopt new skills, publicly modelling their learning processes and demonstrating commitment to fostering psychological safety.

By investing in leadership development with a focus on psychological safety, organizations can create a culture of openness, trust, and continuous improvement.


How Can Leaders Create an Environment of Psychological Safety?

Leaders' actions significantly impact the level of psychological safety in their teams. Here are three leadership styles that can foster a nurturing team climate:

1. Consultative Leadership: Leaders who adopt a consultative leadership style consult their team members, ask for their input, and genuinely consider their views. This approach demonstrates that team members' opinions are valued, contributing to psychological safety.

2. Supportive Leadership: Supportive leaders have an indirect effect on psychological safety by creating a positive team climate. They show concern and support for team members as individuals, not just as employees. This behaviour fosters an environment where team members support one another.

3. Challenging Leadership: In certain situations, a challenging leadership style can further strengthen psychological safety. Challenging leaders encourage team members to re-examine assumptions about their work and how they can exceed expectations. This approach has been linked to increased employee creativity and a desire for improvement.

Leaders should be mindful of these leadership styles and adapt them to create a psychologically safe and nurturing environment in their teams.


How Can Leaders Support Mental Health in Their Employees?

Supporting mental health is critical for organizations, especially in challenging times. Here are six actions employers may consider to address behavioural health challenges in the workforce:

1. Reduce Stigma: Many workplaces have stigma related to mental health. Employers can provide mental-health literacy training, including modules on non-stigmatizing language and expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion programs to include neurodiversity.

2. Implement Workplace Programs: Actively support workplace programs designed to promote mental health. Employers should promote these programs to encourage employee involvement.

3. Ensure Equal Accessibility: Ensure that behavioural- and physical-health services are equally accessible. Employees should have convenient access to the care they need without out-of-pocket expenses.

4. Enable Digital Points of Access: Offer digital and virtual mental-health solutions that allow employees to engage with behavioural healthcare in ways that suit their preferences and needs.

5. Integrate Healthcare Delivery: Integrate physical and mental healthcare by offering telehealth, referrals to community-based or peer-supported crisis services, and better access to evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

6. Use Analytics and Employee Feedback: Identify behavioural health needs and care preferences through analytics and employee feedback. Tailor healthcare offerings to the specific needs of the workforce.

By addressing mental health in the workplace, leaders contribute to a healthier, more productive, and psychologically safe environment for their employees.


What Qualities Do Leaders Need in Challenging Times at Work?

Compassionate leadership is crucial, especially during challenging times. Four qualities can help leaders navigate uncertainty and lead their teams effectively:

1. Awareness: Leaders must acknowledge and accept their reactive tendencies and those of others. Creating time and space for self-connection and self-awareness, fuelled by deep breathing, is a good place to start.

2. Vulnerability: Compassionate leaders should role model vulnerability. By lowering their guard and confronting what is unfolding, leaders can help employees feel that they're not alone.

3. Empathy: Demonstrating empathy allows leaders to tap into what others are feeling and experiencing. It builds trust and connects people emotionally, a significant factor in psychological safety.

4. Listening: Lastly, leaders should sharpen their listening skills. Employees need to be heard and understood to feel psychologically safe, and actively listening to their concerns and feedback is a crucial component of compassionate leadership.


In conclusion, leaders have a significant role in creating and maintaining a psychologically safe workplace. By developing the necessary leadership skills, actively promoting psychological safety, and supporting mental health, leaders can foster a work environment that is both productive and compassionate.

The journey to psychological safety starts with a single step, but it's an ongoing commitment. Leaders who prioritize these values and actively work to implement them will find that they not only strengthen their organizations but also create a more positive and inclusive work environment.