Creating Psychological Safety with Strengths

Have you ever worked in a team where you sense tension in the air? In this context, you might be unsure how to create a ‘Safe Environment’ for open conversations and honest sharing? So this is where ‘Psychological Safety’ comes in.

By exploring the different aspects of Psychological Safety, and how to cultivate it in your setting, you can intentionally generate an atmosphere of improved productivity and performance. It’s not only important in workplace environments. The concepts are also relevant to smaller or voluntary groups and families.

Psychological Safety creating a safe environment

In your team, does it feel risky to speak out or ask for help? Perhaps you’ve worked in an environment where mistakes are not admitted and feedback is seen as criticism? This is a lack of Psychological Safety – and it directly affects the innovation and performance of the team. In this setting, there’s a high chance of people not giving their best or simply leaving because they don’t feel welcomed or safe to experiment and learn.

What is Psychological Safety?

According to Google’s Project Aristotle, Psychological Safety was found to be the No 1 factor influencing team performance and success. They said: “In a team with high Psychological Safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”

Harvard Business School Professor, and the creator of the term “Psychological Safety”, Amy Edmondson describes it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

So Psychological Safety is an environment that encourages learning, welcomes different opinions, and actively promotes open, honest conversations to discuss the things that matter.

4 Stages of Psychological Safety creating a safe environment

The organisation, LeaderFactor, has studied team members’ interactions and created a model setting out the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety. Each stage is a stepping stone to building a safe environment that rewards vulnerability. Teams encourage creativity to increase performance and support each other in trying new things. The outcome is a more cohesive team that can deliver greater productivity.

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety are:

  1. Inclusion Safety – there’s a sense of respect and belonging.
  2. Learner Safety – everyone feels safe to ask questions and give/receive feedback.
  3. Contributor Safety – all members have opportunities to make a difference.
  4. Challenger Safety – everyone can challenge the status quo to suggest improvements.

What happens when a team does not operate in a safe environment

In a setting without Psychological Safety, problems are often not addressed head on and mistakes are covered up. The team leader may not hear the full truth and therefore cannot make the best management decisions.

You might also notice that team members are reticent to ask questions or make suggestions for improvements. They might be reluctant to offer help to one another. While at the same time, side conversations are probably happening away from the whole team as individuals seek out allies and cliques.

It’s therefore not surprising that in this unsafe environment, team members resort to self-preservation mode, rather than working for the benefit of the team. Without Psychological Safety, silence is the default solution. Nobody can play to their strengths nor give their best. Morale is low.

All of this negatively impacts the effectiveness of the team and the productivity of the business.

How can Strengths help develop Psychological Safety?

The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety set out what needs to happen to create the right environment. Your Strengths indicate how you perform at your best, and how you can help to create this environment.

Applying your Strengths appropriately involves two parts:

  1. How can your Strengths help you feel safe in the team, get fully involved and give your best?
  2. How can you use your Strengths to include and encourage others to be full team players?

Each of the 4 Stages will then provide you with an action plan to increase emotional safety. This not only helps you but benefits others in the team and the team’s overall potential.

Some of the CliftonStrengths® themes are naturally geared to support the 4 Stages. The new Cascade Psychological Safety worksheet will help you proactively explore these.

Psychological Safety Worksheet in Cascade

Working with a panel of Gallup Certified Strengths Coaches, all with Certifications in Psychological Safety, we created a new worksheet for Cascade. It helps a person explore how their CliftonStrengths® themes can contribute to each of the 4 Stages. We’re delighted that the worksheet has been approved by LeaderFactor and is now available in the Cascade Strengths Advantage section.

Psychological Safety Strengths Advantage in Cascade

Coaches use the Strengths Advantage worksheets to help clients ‘aim’ their strengths in a given area. So the new Psychological Safety worksheet shows a person’s CliftonStrengths® themes across the top, with questions down the side relating to the 4 Stages.

Each question asks how a person’s Strengths can help them within that stage, and how they might also help other team members. The worksheet can show the top 5, top 10 or top 15 themes on additional pages, so it’s up to you how much detail you drill into. Let’s dive into some examples to help you see how this exercise is useful.

Some examples of how Strengths contribute to Psychological Safety

Working with the CliftonStrengths® themes, here are some examples of how they can contribute to creating Psychological Safety for each of the 4 Stages.

1 Inclusion Safety

How do your Strengths help you feel included in a team with a sense of belonging?

  • Learner®: Use your curiosity to get to know other team members.
  • Belief®: Look for shared values and how the purpose of the team meets your mission and purpose.

How can you make others feel included?

  • Woo®: Reach out to someone joining the team and introduce them to the others.
  • Individualization®: Get to know a newcomer for who they are and share how they are special.

2 Learner Safety

How can your Strengths help you increase your engagement in the team?

  • Responsibility®: Take ownership for a task and deliver it well.
  • Communication® Use your natural verbal processing skills to provide a summary and confirm new learnings at critical points.

How can your Strengths enable team members to learn and grow?

  • Maximizer®: Identify what a person is good at and inspire them to take on a task using their skills.
  • Developer®: Invite and encourage others to try something they might not believe they can do.

3 Contributor Safety

How can your Strengths help you feel safe to contribute?

  • Achiever®: Take on a task and make sure you tell your team when it’s finished.
  • Focus®: Demonstrate accountability by helping the team to stay on track with the important tasks.

How do your Strengths help you facilitate collaboration and invite contributions?

  • Empathy®: Appreciate the team members feelings and give them confidence and step up to take on a task.
  • Connectedness®: Help excite others to contribute by showing them how their work connects to a bigger purpose.

4 Challenger Safety

How do your Strengths give you courage to challenge the status quo?

  • Harmony®: Speak up when there is an imbalance or friction in the team, or when a task creates a conflict with another process.
  • Command®: Use your natural assertiveness to bring forward and articulate unpopular, unspoken, or untried perspectives and suggestions.

How can your Strengths help you value the innovation from others?

  • Positivity®: Appreciate the benefits of the idea before looking at the implications.
  • Intellection®: Discuss the idea deeper to increase its resilience and value.

Putting it into Practice

By sharing these examples, we hope you have a good starting point to build upon as you use the worksheet with your clients to discover how their Strengths can be applied to creating the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety in their setting. We’d love to hear any feedback from you on this new resource, particularly in terms of how you find it works best in an individual versus team coaching setting. Contact us with your comments, or share them in the Cascade Facebook group!

You might also find it helpful to hear the experiences of four coaches who helped create the new Cascade worksheet.

The perfect worksheet to use with your clients

Alicia Santamaria strengths coach

Among models of psychological safety, LeaderFactor’s The Four Stages of Psychological Safety™ is the most concrete and actionable one I have come across. It also provides those of us on the strengths journey with a tool for reflecting on how our strengths contribute to creating psychological safety for ourselves and others. Put the two together via Cascade and you have the perfect worksheet to use with your clients. Thank you Richard for once again providing a timely and invaluable resource for strengths coaches. This will help us all better support leaders and teams in leveraging and aiming their strengths towards creating more inclusive and innovative cultures.
Alicia Santanmaria adelante Coaching + Consulting

Psychological Safety through the lens of Strengths

Tracy Phillips strengths coach

Most people agree that psychological safety is imperative for a team to perform successfully.  As a leader you want to know that you are creating the right environment to support it, and as an individual you want to know that you are contributing towards it.  However, it can be hard to figure out how specifically to make that happen. The Cascade worksheet prompts clients to consider psychological safety through the lens of their top strengths, allowing them to be intentional in utilizing their strengths in each phase.  The result is a team that is stronger, more nimble, and more innovative…able to better identify and respond to changes.
Tracy Philips Resonate International

Helping team members speak up

Marjan Mahoutchian strengths coach

A key element of transforming businesses through people is supporting my clients to create a psychologically safe environment. How they do that is when the magic of Strengths comes into play. Using the two together, the Cascade worksheet helps to put a structure in place. The client thinks about when using their Strengths they can make things happen, how they build relationships to make others feel included, how they can use their Strengths in the context of creating Psychological Safety to speak up and make sure others are heard.
Marjan Mahoutchian Captivate Coaching & Consulting

Utilizing Strengths to create a Psychologically Safe environment

Michelle Horgan Strengths Coach

I’ve found the Cascade worksheet incredibly helpful in prompting me to consider how to utilise my strengths to contribute to promoting a more psychologically safe environment for any group, and I can’t wait to use this resource with my clients.
Michelle Horgan Captivate Coaching & Consulting

There is a dedicated Facebook group for Strengths Coaches using Psychological Safety. You can request to join the group at Strengths + Psychological Safety then join in with the conversations.

More Information


Timothy R. Clark is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor, a global consulting, coaching, and training organization. More information about the 4 stages of Psychological Safety is available at LeaderFactor. They offer a free book to download and a course on the 4 Stages with a certification.


After four decades of research, Gallup developed the StrengthsFinder® assessment to identify innate themes of talent. Investing in talents through coaching builds Strengths. Over 26 million people have taken the StrengthsFinder® assessment which is now called CliftonStrengths®. More information about the 34 themes of talent are available from Gallup®

Cascade Strengths reports

Cascade Professional strengths reports
Gallup Licensed Partner

The Cascade Strengths reports are the creation of Releasing Strengths to enhance the Gallup reports. 1000’s of coaches in over 60 countries benefit from the Cascade tool to deliver Strengths coaching with CliftonStrengths®. Releasing Strengths is based in the UK and was the first Licensed Partner with Gallup for a digital product.

Learn more about how Cascade can help with Team Coaching Conversations

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