Project Management

Recognizing the Importance of Psychological Safety

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at [email protected] Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

I’m guessing that most of you reading this are unfamiliar with the term “psychological safety” (and those of you that have heard of the term aren’t really sure exactly what it means). That’s okay; I had to strengthen my knowledge of it quite a bit to write this article, and I am sure that most of your managers—and the managers and leaders above them—are unfamiliar with the term as well.

Psychological safety isn’t a new term—it’s been around since the 1960s. In the context of work environments, it is the idea that everyone feels free to express opinions, ideas or thoughts without fear of being rejected, mocked, embarrassed or otherwise put down. Think of it as a safe environment for everyone to be free and open in their engagements.

It doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with every idea or suggestion that is made; it means that when there are disagreements, they are handled in an open and non-threatening way that always focuses on the work, not the people.

The cynic in me thinks that in many ways, this is just a new label for something that project managers have always tried to create—a safe environment where people can give of their best without fear of judgement. In truth, there’s a bit more to it than that. The Wikipedia article on the topic (here) gets into a lot of theory, but one thing …

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