In a previous article I presented a three step model for building psychological safety within your team. The second step is that you as a project manager, team lead or functional manager need to live it every day.
Simple actions go a long way towards creating safety.
After a meeting, if you noticed that certain team members were quiet during the discussion of key decisions, seek them out and create a safe space for them to have a candid conversation with you to share any concerns they had.
When you make a mistake don’t get defensive about it. Acknowledge it publicly within your team and apologize. When you don’t know something, say you don’t know. If you are making an assumption about something, make it clear to your team members that you are encouraging them to challenge your assumptions.
Don’t be a superhero. Pulling off the occasional miracle is one thing, but if you frequently engage in heroics you may be conditioning your team members to have too much confidence that those in authority can walk on water. To counteract such perceptions, be vulnerable but in an authentic manner. False humility becomes irritating over time, but being aware of your own limitations and sharing those with team members will make them more likely to do the same with you and with each other.
Get outside your comfort zone. Every once in a while, learn something new or try activities which are not your expertise. Not only will this help you grow, it shows your team that it is safe to experiment and if things don’t work out, there’s no social damage done.
Actively listen when communicating with your team members. If you are multitasking or otherwise not fully present when speaking with them, not only won’t you pick up on cues indicating that something may be wrong, you are also showing disrespect towards them.
Be mindful when receiving bad news, not just of how you respond, but of your body language and tone of voice. While it is perfectly natural to be annoyed or concerned when an issue occurs, your reaction to it will determine how likely it is that you will receive such information in the future. If the news is particularly troubling, thank your team member for bringing it to your attention and ask them for a little time for you to process it properly rather than shooting the messenger.
Pay attention to any micro-aggressions or ridiculing comments you might be making. What you feel is an innocent remark in a meeting might make a team member feel unsafe or insecure. Actively solicit feedback from individual team members afterwards if you aren’t sure whether what you said was received the way you intended.
When staff complain about their work environment being toxic, the fault often lies with those managers who at are unwilling to address bad behaviors of their team members or worse, actively encourage or even participate in those. Leaders must model the behavior they expect to see from their team members and this is doubly important when it comes to building a safe working space.