Psychological safety in the workplace

Psychological safety is a critical component of effective team dynamics and innovation, particularly within Australian councils where the pressures of public service and community expectations converge. This concept is foundational for creating an environment where employees feel secure to express ideas, take risks, and voice concerns. Drawing on insights from leading experts in the field, this article explores practical steps towards fostering psychological safety, paving the way for enhanced innovation and teamwork.


Creating a culture of psychological safety

In today's workplace, the ability for team members to share ideas, challenge the status quo, and contribute without fear of negative consequences is not just beneficial—it's essential.

We recently heard of a company going through a period of major change, who invited staff to a monthly ‘blue sky’ session where staff were asked to throw around big ideas and chat about creative solutions over a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon.

What was intended as a creative outlet became an awkward room of uneasy glances. The staff sat silently, trying to avoid eye contact, while a formidable manager posed questions nobody felt comfortable enough to answer.

The missing element? Psychological safety.

Without it, employees retract into the shadows, hesitant to share ideas or propose solutions, maintaining outdated processes out of fear rather than conviction.

The power of psychological safety

Timothy R Clark is a former CEO and organisational consultant who’s written extensively about the idea of psychological safety.

In his book, The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, he lays out the processes behind creating a workplace where employees are empowered to make their own decisions, take risks, learn, contribute, and challenge constructively without fear of retribution.

Clark writes that the first stage, ‘inclusion safety’, is about inviting and accepting people into your team without fear of rejection or punishment.

Next comes ‘learner safety’, which involves encouraging team members to take risks and ask questions in exchange for their willingness to learn.

The third stage, ‘contributor safety’, is about feeling safe to contribute as a full team member, and feeling empowered and encouraged.

Finally, ‘challenger safety’ relates to what Clark calls “constructive dissent”: that all-important ability to disagree and provide constructive feedback, where team members are given respect and permission to dissent if something needs to change.

Practical steps towards a safer workplace

Leaders can nurture psychological safety with several key practices:

  • Don't rule with fear: Monitor and adjust behaviours that may cause employees to withdraw or self-censor.
  • Embrace dissent: Show positive responses to challenges or bad news through supportive body language and verbal acknowledgements.
  • Lead by listening: Encourage contributions from all team members and value their input before sharing your perspective.
  • Admit mistakes: Vulnerability from leaders sets a strong example, promoting a culture where learning from failures is valued.

The benefits are clear

Research shows that there are many benefits stemming from a culture that embodies psychological safety. A psychologically safe environment not only boosts innovation but also enhances employee retention, improves the organisation's reputation, and increases profitability.

For Australian local governments, where delivering community impact and service excellence is paramount, psychological safety can be a game-changer, enabling teams to navigate the complexities of governance and community service with creativity and resilience.



By embracing psychological safety, leaders within Australia’s local governments can transform how teams operate, innovate, and serve their communities. It’s about moving beyond the traditional hierarchies and silences, towards a culture where every voice is heard, and every idea is valued.

By taking proactive steps towards fostering psychological safety, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams, driving positive change and achieving outstanding results for their communities.

Let’s commit to making psychological safety a priority, and watch as teams flourish in an environment of trust, respect, and open dialogue.

Date: 2nd February 2024
Category: Psychological Safety
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