Psychological Safety | The What, Why, and How

October 15th, 2020 Pat Brannan

As a leader on 14 West’s Accounting team, it’s been a goal of mine to create an environment where my team members feel confident they can share their ideas. I want them to feel inspired and motivated to participate. I want them to feel trusted in the work they bring to the table. If they don’t, I think I’ve failed them as their leader.

During my search to better understand what makes a great leader and a great team, I came across the idea of Psychological Safety.


Psychological Safety is the idea that employees feel safe to offer their opinion and ideas without negative repercussions. Teams with Psychological Safety focus on acceptance and encouragement from peers and management. As Harvard Business Review explains, psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.” (HBR)

According to Amy Edmondson, an advocate for psychological safety, studies show that focusing on creating this type of work environment for your team members is what sets you apart from others.

“Recently, Google did a massive four-year study to discover the differentiator between great teams and not-so-great teams. The biggest differentiator—by far—was psychological safety.”  

I don’t know about you, but I want to have a great team.


It starts with leadership. As a leader, there are a number of things you can do to create and nurture an environment of Psychological Safety on your team.  Below are a few of the ways in which I choose to do it.



Messages are better received when delivered with respect and compassion. Try to relate to your team members, understand their level of ability and ambitions, and never turn away from an outstretched hand. Your employees are more likely to invest in their work if they trust that you’re invested in them.


There is no better way to learn about your team members than to actively listen to them.  I utilize a portion of our weekly one-on-one time to provide space for them to share anything that may be affecting them, personally or professionally.  This time is crucial for building that safe space and opening the lines of communication.


If there’s a problem in your office, a lull in results, or just a lack of participation on the team, blame will only make it worse. According to Harvard Business Review, the solution is curiosity. It’s more beneficial to state the problem, encourage feedback, and ask for solutions. Ask your team what they think and find out what they need from you rather than blaming them for any issues. Work together to brainstorm a solution.

One of the goals I’ve set for my team is a term I coined called “data validation vigilance,” which basically means that if something doesn’t look right, we investigate it. We look under every rock until we have fixed it or confirmed the accuracy.  Asking questions is such an important aspect of finding the root cause of problems.


If you have the sense that someone on your team is bringing an extra dose of negativity to the workspace, go to them directly. Work with them one-on-one to discuss the issue and offer ways to resolve it. Remind them that negativity can be contagious and destructive and make it clear that you can’t afford to turn a blind eye. The more lenient you are with negative behavior, the more likely it is to become a reappearing issue. Most importantly, be willing and ready to help with any issues that may be prompting this behavior.


Be accessible to your team. When they need to talk or have a new idea that they want to bring to you, don’t give them any reason to hesitate. I regularly encourage my team to come to me with ideas. I want them to know that good ideas don’t just come from the top down. In fact, it can be quite the contrary. Even if the person has been on our team for a few weeks or days, I want them to know that I’m interested in hearing from them.


Most importantly, talk to your teammates about what they think of your leadership. What do they need more of? What are you giving too much of? Where can you provide extra support? Where would they rather you step back and give them freedom? This will give you a better understanding of what your team needs to succeed and will help them feel they are playing an active role in shaping the culture of the team.

This one can be a bit frightening, but asking for feedback as a leader shows a vulnerability and a desire to improve, which are both key components in creating an environment that supports the psychological safety of the team.





Pat Brannan

Chief Accounting Officer

"If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? - John Wooden

I spent many years working in Finance and Management positions before finding 14 West, but when I did, it was a perfect fit. As the Chief Accounting Officer, I have been given the opportunity to lead the accounting and finance team in supporting each of our clients and centralized businesses with day-to-day services.

Needless to say, the opportunities at 14 West are endless. They are committed to providing each employee with the freedom to use their skills to do what they love, both in and out of the office. For me, that means coaching my kids' sports teams, leading and mentoring at my Church in Timonium, and staying active in supporting my community.

I have grown up with many examples of both positive and negative leadership styles which have helped shape me as a leader. I try to embody a “lead by example” approach which includes active listening, hard work, asking questions, a positive attitude, and continuous learning. I believe that a team with these qualities can overcome almost any obstacle.

The 14 West Accounting and Finance teams are doing our best to set the bar when it comes to value-added customer service for the businesses we support. We try to provide more than “just the numbers” and take it a step further to help them navigate the operational challenges they face by sharing our intimate knowledge of the underlying data.

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