Effective product leaders will tell you that one of the main reasons we’re successful and build impactful products is that we have great relationships with our diverse, cross-functional teams. We and our partner teams strive to be innovative, creative, and fearless in our pursuit of making our customers’ lives better. We need to be driven by our acclamation, reverence, and veneration for humankind.

These cultures create an impact because product managers lead the charge. Accordingly, we are the architects of a culture of psychological safety. We must preach it daily and also walk the walk, letting our actions back up our words. Creating and fostering such psychological safety takes time, trust, transparency, and a shared vision.  

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What Is Psychological Safety? 

Psychological safety is a fundamental principle that fosters trust and openness among multidisciplinary team members within our organizations, creating a safe space where team members feel comfortable sharing innovative ideas, concepts, and concerns. This principle encourages us to fearlessly challenge assumptions, ask thoughtful questions, and take calculated risks without the constant worry of facing punitive measures or termination. This empowers individuals in the product management space to embrace failure as a stepping stone to growth and improvement, ultimately driving creativity and excellence in our work.


Why Is Psychological Safety Important? 

Product leaders understand that we can foster a culture of psychological safety by bringing our scrum teams, partners, teammates, and leaders with us on the product journey. We recognize that team members must trust our judgment in order to build and launch projects, which is why creating a safe space is paramount. Therefore, product leaders must be the pillar of psychological safety within our teams and organizations. 

Here are my foundations of a psychologically safe product management culture.

10 Steps to Build a Culture of Psychological Safety

  1. Operate with fairness.
  2. Strive for empathy.
  3. Tell good stories.
  4. Collaborate.
  5. Assert influence without authority.
  6. Accentuate the voices of your cross-functional team.
  7. Exhibit grace under pressure.
  8. Listen.
  9. Embrace discord.
  10. Always show gratitude.


1. Operate With Fairness

In my experience, how I treat other teammates is one of the most significant aspects of my influence. Being sincere and straightforward is imperative. A miscalculation in one’s honesty will cost you confidence for a very long time, and no product leader wants to have the reputation of being untrustworthy.


2. Strive for Empathy 

Empathy for our cross-functional partners and their personal lives is critical to building trust. Studies demonstrate that when people know their leaders care, listen to them, and consider their feelings and thoughts, even through criticism, they can effectively empower them in their work to achieve the team’s objectives.


3. Tell Good Stories

Storytelling is one of the most important abilities product leaders have to educate, persuade, and motivate. What makes storytelling a necessity is the fact that it develops connections between our multidisciplinary teams and concepts. Through storytelling, we are able to communicate tedious specifics in an intriguing way.  

Stories have the power to cut through the noise, and narratives can help bring to life our customers’ pain points, which are true and honest. Additionally, people may not remember statistics, but they often recall stories, especially those they find emotionally captivating.


4. Collaborate

Through storytelling and collaboration, I aim to create a safe space where my colleagues and partners can voice their viewpoints and point out issues with my project, even if the feedback is undesirable. I have come to appreciate their willingness to speak up greatly because they feel invested and want to set me up for success.


5. Assert Influence Without Authority

Product leaders must be able to assert influence without authority to build a coalition. I believe getting to know your scrum teams, teammates, cross-functional teams, and stakeholders is important. I invite them for coffee to connect and form more significant relationships.

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6. Accentuate the Voices of Your Cross-Functional Team 

I strive to bring out the best in my colleagues and magnify everyone‘s voices, ensuring they are heard and validated. I recognize that I don’t have all the answers, but I want to work with team members to find the best solutions so we can solve problems for our customers in a definitive manner. 


7. Exhibit Grace Under Pressure

We will come across issues and bad releases that lead to customer calls. We must convey information with urgency but not anxiety. Our tone, choice of words, and diplomatic recognition of challenging circumstances can be the most formidable influence on our interdisciplinary teams, direct reports, and other leaders who are watching and taking notes. 


8. Listen

We must remember that members of our partners’ teams have the best interest of our organization at the forefront, just like we do. We all execute our tasks differently, so we must listen and create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and ideas. Doing so builds trust. 


9. Embrace Discord

Discord and objections are how we polish one another. Conflicts and discussions help us develop essential critical thinking skills and expose us to different perspectives and ideas that we may not have thought about otherwise. Additionally, particularly as a leader, disharmony teaches us to listen and understand each other better.


10. Always Show Gratitude 

Although often underestimated, gratitude is a powerful leadership skill that can transform your team and even the whole organization. Showing gratitude in your everyday actions and life is meaningful, and it becomes even more essential when leading a broad cross-section of teams with many types of personalities. A little appreciation goes a long way.

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Cultivate an Atmosphere of Safety

The best product leaders I know strive to build products that will shape and change society for the better. This is their way of showing respect for humankind. To bring such products to fruition, these leaders recognize their need for ideas, innovation, creativity, and imagination from their collaborators.  For this to happen, these product leaders must champion a culture that embodies psychological safety. 

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