Psychological safety: a managerial skill essential when faced with uncertain times

Wellbeing at work is important both for workforce wellbeing and health, as well as for productivity and organizational health. Psychological safety plays an important role in establishing sustainable organizational health. (Di Fabio & Cooper 2024). Psychological safety has been defined as the absence of fear, in other words, feeling safe. Psychological safety allows employees to perform best at work. (Hunt 2024) Enhancing inclusiveness has been seen to enhance psychological safety. (De Largy et al 2024; De Smet & Schaninger 2020).

Leadership skills enhancing psychological safety

There are found qualities which can reduce or even steer clear from the leadership trait of exerting control and giving into fear. The four qualities are awareness, vulnerability, empathy, and compassion. Self-awareness and reflection help leaders to be aware of the factors affecting psychological safety and thus help leaders to become conscious of the tendencies within and in others. Showing vulnerability can help organizations feel less alone during a crisis and empathy in turn shows the ability to understand what others are feeling. Adding to the aforementioned, acting with compassion makes employees feel cared for and enhances inclusivity. Showing vulnerability, compassion and empathy helps leaders build an organizational support network, helping both the employees and the leaders to overcome the rapidly changing external influences. (De Smet et al. 2021).

Image 1. Psychological safety provides a safe harbour in a world of uncertainty? (Kolm-Jany 2019)

The organizational culture promoting psychological safety starts at the top. Senior level leadership can promote and enhance the sense of safety and inclusiveness, which again promote positive leadership behavior throughout the organization. Inclusivity at senior level has been linked to team leaders being more supportive and consultative. Team leaders on the other hand can enhance a positive climate within their team. The team culture, established by the team leaders’ actions and behavior, is seen to be the most important driver of psychological safety. (De Smet et al. 2021).

Leaders can, when faced with uncertain times, create trust, increase honesty and transparency, and also frame uncertainty as opportunity. (Clark 2024). In an era of increased uncertainty, rapidly changing environments and environmental issues leadership skills enhancing psychological safety of their employees become important in maintaining employees and also in obtaining a competitive advantage over their competitors both in the recruitment market and in maintaining as sustainable competitive market position.


Kristiina Brusila-Meltovaara works as a principal lecturer at LAB University of Applied Science.


Clark, T. R. 2024. What Employees Need from Leaders in Uncertain Times. Harvard Business Review. Cited 26 Feb. Available at

de Largy, C., Anderson, D. & Vinnicombe, S. 2024. Understanding practices which foster inclusion: views from the top, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Cited 26 Feb 2024. Available at

De Smet, A., Rubenstein, K., Schrah, G. & Vierow, M. 2021. Psychological safety and the critical role of leadership development. McKinsey. Cited 26 Feb 2024. Available at

De Smet, A. & Schaninger, B. 2020. Psychological safety, emotional intelligence, and leadership in a time of flux, McKinsey Quarterly, July 2.

Di Fabio, A., & Cooper, C. L. (Eds.). 2024. Psychology of sustainability and sustainable development in organizations. Routledge.

Hunt, D. F. 2024 Power of saying ‘I Don’t Know’: psychological safety and participatory strategies for healthcare leaders BMJ Leader. 17.1.2024. Cited 26 Feb 2024. Available at https://doi: 10.1136/leader-2023-000906

Kolm-Jany. 2019. Kolm-Jany, K. Kiel, Schilksee, urheilu, harbour. Pixabay. Cited 26 Feb 2024. Available at

McKinsey & Company. 2023. What is psychological safety? Cited 26 Feb 2024. Available at