Creating psych safety culture (+ supplemental on COVID 19 safety responses)

13 Nov 2020

Creating psych safety culture (+ supplemental on COVID 19 safety responses)

Psychological safety, defined as the willingness to present an authentic self (Kahn, 1990) and undertake an interpersonal risk such as speaking up and voicing a concern or idea, even if controversial (Edmondson, 1999), is notoriously difficult to establish and maintain (Edmondson & Lei, 2014). Psychological safety has been investigated from many angles, with studies showing (separately) the importance of leadership, organisational practices and processes, co-worker support, team demographics like diversity, and relationship networks (Edmondson & Lei, 2014; Newman et al., 2017) in creating, maintaining, and destroying it.

Although psychological safety has been investigated extensively in general organisational environments, little research has been done in the work, health and safety (WHS) space. This is unfortunate, because generation of WHS expertise is likely reliant on psychological safety: learning about WHS requires people to admit mistakes, talk openly about incidents, share intimate details about the way they work, and otherwise be more vulnerable than they would otherwise be in other contexts.

The aim of this research project, conducted with a multinational construction company in Australia, was to discover additional antecedents of psychological safety and determine their net overall effect on performance outcomes. To our knowledge this is the first such study of its kind, where a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods were used to explore psychological safety in a WHS-relevant setting.

In this practice-focussed presentation, I will outline key findings and spend the majority of my time on describing practical ways that psychological safety can be created in safety-critical organisations.