SUMMARY: Specific clauses in the Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace require a level of competence and training for leaders. We examine how the Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment supports compliance with these requirements.

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) acknowledges the need for organizations to ensure that those in leadership roles have the training and skills to “prevent psychological harm, promote psychological health of workers, and address problems related to psychological health and safety.” It also states that the organization should establish and sustain processes to assess and address leaders for this competency.

The following section of the Standard focuses specifically on the competence of those in leadership roles:

4.4.6 Competence and training

The organization shall establish and sustain processes to

a) determine expectations and minimum requirements of workers and, in particular, those in leadership roles (e.g., supervisors, managers, worker representatives, union leadership) to prevent psychological harm, promote psychological health of workers, and address problems related to psychological health and safety; and

b) provide orientation and training to meet Item a).

The organization should establish and sustain processes to

a) provide accessible coaching and supports as required, recognizing the potential complexities of psychological health and safety situations, the unique needs of the individuals affected, and the skills needed; and

b) assess and address competence as specified in Clause, Item a) of those in leadership roles.

What is a Psychologically Safe Leader?

Psychologically safe leadership (PSL) is identified by the Standard as leadership that:

  • reinforces the development and sustainability of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace environment based on a foundation of ethics and stated values
  • supports and reinforces all line management in the implementation of a Psychological Health and Safety Management System (PHSMS)
  • establishes key objectives toward continual improvement of psychological health and safety in the workplace
  • leads and influences organizational culture in a positive way (see Annex B of Standard for resources)
  • ensures that psychological health and safety is part of organizational decision-making processes
  • engages employees and, where required, their representatives to
  • be aware of the importance of psychological health and safety
    • be aware of the implications of tolerating psychological health and safety hazards
    • provide feedback to help the organization determine the effectiveness of the PHSMS implementation and operation
    • identify workplace needs regarding psychological health and safety

This resource helps leaders to both assess and improve their competence in terms of psychologically safe leadership.

How is psychologically safe leadership (PSL) different from psychological health and safety (PH&S) in the workplace?

A psychologically safe leader (PSL) is one who does no harm to the psychological well-being of their employees both in and out of the workplace and prioritizes open communication and supportive relationships within their team. Similarly, a psychologically healthy and safe (PH&S) workplace promotes employees’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to employee psychological health including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways. However, while psychologically safe leadership is a core element of an overall PH&S work environment, the two do not always go hand-in-hand. A psychologically safe leader might work in a psychologically unsafe environment, and an otherwise psychologically safe work environment might contain a psychologically unsafe leader.

As per the National Standard, psychological health and safety is embedded in the way people interact with one another on a daily basis and is part of the way working conditions and management practices are structured and the way decisions are made and communicated. While there are many factors external to the workplace that can impact psychological health and safety, the concept of PH&S in the workplace addresses those psychological health and safety aspects within the control, responsibility, or influence of the workplace that can have an impact within, or on, the workforce.

The Standard also describes evidence-based psychosocial factors that comprise a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. The PSLA and PSLA-E capture these psychosocial factors across the following five core assessment domains: 1) Communication & Collaboration 2) Social Intelligence 3) Problem Solving & Conflict Management 4) Security & Safety and 5) Fairness & Integrity.

In the tables below, the primary and secondary psychosocial factors encompassed within each of the PSLA and PSLA-E domains are described. It is important to note that the PSLA/PSLA-E domains are not mutually exclusive and there is overlap across categories. Each link brings you to the team discussion resource, On the Agenda, which provides further explanation and is also free for you to use.

Communication & Collaboration LogoCommunication & Collaboration

Communication & Collaboration involves the clear exchange of information and transparent discussion of what a worker needs to do their job successfully. This involves collaborative efforts to support each worker’s success at work.

Social Intelligence LogoSocial Intelligence

Social Intelligence involves acting as a role model and facilitator of psychologically safe interactions between and among all workplace stakeholders, including those who are marginalized or vulnerable.

Problem Solving Conflict Management LogoProblem Solving & Conflict Management

Problem Solving & Conflict Management involves supporting and requiring consistent, respectful, and effective discussion and resolution of issues. Those who fail to do so are held accountable as needed.

Security & Safety LogoSecurity & Safety

Security & Safety involves supporting a safe environment through proactive, prompt, and effective responses to any threats to psychological or physical safety.

Fairness & Integrity LogoFairness & Integrity

Fairness & Integrity involves leadership that is honest, transparent, and consistent, where there is fairness and equity in decision-making, and a humble understanding of personal limitations and biases.