Practical steps to workplace psychological safety


In the context of the recent Australian parliament house debacle – there is much work to be done when the creator of the law fails in its own practice… Given that we all have a duty of care obligation under the Work Health and Safety Act (2011) to  identify and treat psychosocial hazards in the workplace, then why does it continue to rear its ugly head? With the number of psychological injury claims soaring, it is time for companies to get dinkum about this issue and implement practical strategies to change behaviour for safe workplace culture.

Dr Timothy Clark, CEO of The Leader Factor, describes psychological safety as a condition in which human beings feel:
(1) included, (2) safe to learn, (3) safe to contribute, and (4) safe to challenge the status quo – all without fear of being embarrassed, marginalised, or punished in some way.

In building psychological safety into the workplace system, we can learn from organisations and campaigns like Sunsmart, Anti-Cancer Council and Traffic Accident Commission who have achieved successful behaviour change through the following strategies:

    1. Education and awareness on acceptable and not acceptable psychologically safe behaviours. All leadership must be trained on how to create psychologically safe spaces including consequences if this doesn’t occur.  Here is the piece that is often missing. Hold leaders accountable to their behaviour and responsibilities via a key performance indicator in every leader’s performance management plan which has a ‘psychologically safe rating’ for direct reports and the team.  Train all staff regularly on this issue at least once every 18 months.


  1. Engineering structures and systems with clear policies and procedures including consequences for breaching psychologically safe behaviours. This must be upfront in your Code of Conduct. Establish a highly consultative culture to enhance psychological safety.  Keep staff in the loop and involve them in planning and decision making. Measure it. Meetings can be rated for psychological safety for the executive leadership to monitor and set targets for improvement.  Regularly audit staff to monitor psychological safety using a template like the one below:

    Google's Secret to Creating Effective Teams? Psychological Safety

  2. Incentives (positive and negative) to reinforce the change – put simply staff who do the right thing are rewarded through the staff recognition program. The hardest part is dealing with bad behaviour starting from the top… the CEO must ‘walk the talk’ and demonstrate psychological safety or face increased absenteeism, loss of productivity or worst case, penalties under WHS legislation. The CEO must be judged on the company’s overall psychological safety rating in their performance management plan and coached accordingly to improve unsatisfactory ratings. This rating should be published in the Annual Report. Staff must feel safe reporting bad behaviour with confidence that substantiated allegations with be dealt with through the appropriate investigation and disciplinary procedures, with no adverse action.

A psychologically safe culture is rewarding on many levels – thriving staff, more innovation, creativity and continuous improvement. That’s got to be a good thing for businesses and humanity.

Want to improve psychological safety in your business? Contact Belinda Coghlan, OD Consulting Services

M: 0414 642 921



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