Psychological safety is a critical element to ensuring consumers feel able to speak up and support quality improvement and patient safety. Whether you’re responsible for leading consumer engagement at your healthcare organisation or you’re a consumer giving your time to support improvements in our health system – creating psychological safety needs to be woven into your approach to this work.

We thrive in environments which uphold interpersonal trust and mutual respect.

We want to be comfortable to be ourselves.

We want to feel the environment is safe for risk-taking, where we are able to speak up, and be candid with one another.

This is what being in a psychologically safe environment feels like.

HIC recently facilitated a newly developed training session on Creating psychologically safe environments for consumer engagement. The session was co-designed with consumers and was open to both consumers and health workers.

One training participant said

“Thank you so much for the opportunity to be involved in today’s session. I felt there was a mutually shared belief that creating a safe space is essential, while also acknowledging our humanness, and fallibility. It’s so important to be both a student and a teacher in these experiences, and work to minimise any power imbalances embedded in the health system.”

Another shared

“The ideas need to catch on and spread like wildfire.”

Benefits of psychological safety
  • Psychological safety has been shown to lead to people having
  • More confidence to have a voice
  • Increased creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box
  • Enhanced communication and productivity
  • Elevated inclusion, trust and belonging
  • Longer-term commitment to the role and organisation
  • Reduced self-defence mechanisms, and increased focus on organisational goals

It is the foundation required for consumers to be part of any future cultural changes, longer-term improvement and innovation.

Amy Edmondson, the psychologist who coined the term ‘psychological safety’ talks about the importance of this in healthcare delivery in this clip:

Psychological safety and diversity

There is now widespread commitment to valuing diversity across health organisations. This is evidenced through

  • Organisational websites, statements and policies
  • A strong push to enhance the diversity of people who health services partner with
  • Increased engagement with diverse groups in the community to understand their needs
  • Broad recognition that people’s diverse backgrounds shape their unique perspectives of the world and, therefore, their contributions and insight

But, if we don’t create environments for diverse groups to belong and thrive, we can do more harm than good. A focus on diversity and inclusion must go hand in hand with enhancing psychological safety.

Some points of discussion from the training that highlight the interplay between diversity and psychological safety included:

  • Consumers must be accepted for who they are and valued for the diverse perspective and experiences they bring in order to feel psychologically safe.
  • Teams work effectively if they have a sense of belonging and membership with each other and when they work within an environment that values the diversity of all groups and members of the team.
  • Improving psychological safety has an even greater impact on consumers who are members of socially excluded groups or who are in spaces where hierarchal power structures are entrenched.
  • If someone feels they are being unfairly judged (e.g. based on their identity or power status) blending in may feel safer than standing out. They may feel less inclined to be speak up, to disagree, or to be involved at all.
  • Lack of psychological safety can lead to making biased judgements, assumptions and decisions as we are using up our thinking bandwidth by managing our personal safety.
Want to make a change at your workplace?

Psychological safety is everyone’s responsibility, but it can’t be fostered without buy-in from leadership. There are many approaches that can be taken by both staff leading consumer engagement activities and the consumers that are involved to enable this process.

If you’re interested in understanding how you can develop your skills in enhancing psychological safety and ensure these are woven into your approach to engaging consumers, please reach out to us at