Fostering a culture of trust and psychological safety




The definition of a team goes beyond working together, it requires mutual trust and a culture where team members feel psychologically safe to bring their best selves to work.


The leader’s ability to influence others begins with people’s willingness to be influenced by them - and their willingness begins with their trust in the leader. Trust is a leading indicator of being evaluated positively or negatively, however, creating trust or, re-establishing it isn’t always straightforward.


Establishing leadership trust


Trust is based on the extent to which a leader can create positive relationships with others, how well-informed and knowledgeable they are and their ability to walk their talk and do what they say they will do. Leaders ultimately build trust in their competence through accomplishments over time — the decisions they make, their practical understanding of how work actually gets done, and their ability to get the resources needed to complete the work. And whilst nothing can overcome a deficit of accomplishment, leaders can foster trust in their competence through talking about the why and how of decisions they make and actions they take, involving others and above all, being honest with themselves about what they know and don’t know.


Authenticity is a trait that defines a great leader – it helps employees feel comfortable to be their authentic selves and engage in open discussions, share innovative ideas and not being afraid to fail. Authentic leaders have a deep sense of purpose for their leadership, and they lead with their hearts, not just their heads, yet they have the self-discipline to produce consistently strong results. They monitor their words and behaviours to be attuned to their audiences and to enrol their team, because they understand the impact their words and actions have on others.


The role of psychological safety


The belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation — has been well established as a critical driver of high-quality decision making, healthy group dynamics and interpersonal relationships, greater innovation, and more effective execution in organisations. But creating a psychologically safe workplace requires emotionally intelligent leaders who can model specific behaviours. It takes an unusual degree of commitment and skill, as it is natural for people to hold back ideas, be reluctant to ask questions, and shy away from disagreements.


Studies show that psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, creativity, and sticking our neck out without fear of having it cut off - and leaders can build psychological safety by creating the right climate, mindsets, and behaviours within their teams. Those who do this best act as catalysts, empowering and enabling other leaders on the team—even those with no formal authority—to help cultivate psychological safety by role modelling and reinforcing the behaviours they expect from the rest of the team.


According to McKinsey’s research, a positive team climate is the most important driver of a team’s psychological safety, and by setting the tone for the team climate through their own actions, leaders have the strongest influence on a team’s psychological safety. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at simon@askacumen.com.