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Viewing Psychological Safety In The Workplace: The Unique Lens of the Healthcare Leader

As an organisational leader the concept of psychological safety in the workplace is likely already on your radar. It’s a term that is closely linked to inclusive and high-performing teams, and it’s often deemed a ‘nice-to-have’ in most industries.

The healthcare industry, however, demands it.

Healthcare leaders are uniquely placed to ensure their team members feel valued, heard, and empowered to take risks without fear of judgement – but why is this?

Following our exploration of elevating leadership and addressing compassion fatigue, this third article in our series views psychological safety through the unique lens of the healthcare leader.

The Essence of Psychological Safety

First, a little about psychological safety:

It’s the invisible thread that weaves through teams, enabling them to share ideas, admit mistakes, and challenge norms without the fear of ridicule.

It’s about creating a workplace where vulnerability is not weakness but a strength that drives growth and learning.

However, when we consider the healthcare sector, where the stakes are higher than most, and the margins for error are slimmer, psychological safety becomes essential.

It directly influences client care, team cohesion, and the overall effectiveness of health services.

Teams instilled with psychological safety exhibit higher engagement, creativity, and a proactive approach to reporting and learning from errors, all of which are critical for client safety and care.

Empowering Healthcare Leaders to Foster Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Healthcare leaders, with their innate traits of kindness and empathy, are often drawn to their roles out of a desire to care and heal.

As these leaders usually come from a clinical background, they are also often self-described as high achievers and perfectionists. Perfectionism only becomes an issue when it hinders a leader’s ability to carve out a psychologically safe environment.

If you recognise this trait in yourself, here are some ways to cultivate an even safer environment for your team:

Nurture profound importance of the work: Shift the perspective from a challenging or difficult workplace to one that is important, enriching, and meaningful.

Amy Edmondson calls this ‘framing the work’ which happens when healthcare leaders add real meaning to the work their teams undertake, and importantly, remind them of this. By doing so, leaders are asking their teams to bring their whole selves to work, to commit to the difference that they are making to their clients each and every day.

Activities like discussing case studies openly, modeling fallibility, seeking input, or asking genuine questions, can stimulate growth, enhance trust, and encourage a broader and more creative mindset among teams.

Embrace vulnerability: Lead by example in admitting when you don’t know something. This openness paves the way for others to do the same, fostering an atmosphere where learning from each other becomes the norm, not the exception.

This might sound like a managing director saying: “I don’t know the details around this situation, but I know who might be able to help me. I will get back to you with the information very soon.”

Promote inclusivity and voice: Encourage every team member to speak up and contribute, ensuring they know their opinions are valued. This is crucial in overcoming the silence that perfectionism can bring, where the fear of making mistakes stifles innovation and growth.

When someone does speak up or bring forward a new idea or process, thank them. This closes the loop, because if we’re asking people to be vulnerable, and then they are, we need to also demonstrate the benefit to them.

Transforming Healthcare Leadership with Therapy Pro

Our leadership and coaching programs are designed to enhance technical skills and to deeply embed the principles of psychological safety within healthcare teams.

One of the models our coaches follow to do this work is the DiSC model, which is a tried and tested framework used to understand human behaviour and personality traits.

The model is often used in conjunction with assessments that leaders complete to identify their primary style. These assessments can provide detailed reports that help leaders understand their preferences, stressors, and how they might be perceived by others.

Our coaches go one step further by linking the leaders’ personality style with elements of psychological safety, demonstrating how these can hinder or help teams to feel safer. This creates profound insights for leaders and develops an awareness around how their communication and behaviour patterns can impact team performance.

Next: Undertaking Courageous Conversations

Healthcare leadership is unique. It involves navigating complex, often sensitive situations with a blend of professionalism and empathy.

There is transformative power in holding courageous conversations in high-stakes environments. However, we know that not every leader is comfortable in undertaking difficult conversations.

In our next article in our series, we will delve into the challenges of holding such conversations and offer insights to help you lead more effectively.

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