The Flip Side of Psychological Safety

Tony Kern, Ed.D

By Tony Kern, Ed.D
Chief Executive Officer, Convergent Performance

Posted on December 7, 2023
Group of business people climbing a mountain.

From a human factors perspective, we might be evolving towards a partial power situation. In the evolving landscape of workplace dynamics in pursuit of improved safety, the concept of psychological safety has gained significant traction. It’s the bedrock of an organizational culture that fosters open communication, innovation, and growth.

Psychological safety creates an environment where individuals feel secure to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas without fear of ridicule or retribution. But what happens when this ideal environment is not present? And let’s be honest with ourselves: No amount of focus on psychological safety will ever ensure it is present in all situations.

The Flip Side of Psychological Safety: Harnessing Psychosocial Strength in Business Aviation

In the high-stakes world of aviation, where the margin for error is negligible, psychological safety is important. But there’s another, often overlooked side to this: psychosocial strength, defined as the willpower, skills, and tools to express concerns and ideas even where psychologically safe environments don’t exist. This term popped up in ISO 45003 a few years ago but has not received the attention of its glamorous older sister.

The High Altitude of Psychosocial Strength

In the demanding and fast-paced arena of business aviation, relying solely on psychological safety is like flying with only one engine. It’s essential but not sufficient. Psychosocial strength brings in the other engine, powering individuals to voice concerns, innovate and make critical decisions under pressure, irrespective of the surrounding environment.

Good crew resource management (CRM) classes have hinted at this through training on being “willing to speak up” when the need arises. With the generational turnover we are experiencing, this noble goal cannot be assumed; it must be both trained and expected.

Psychosocial strength is more than resilience; it’s a combination of resolve, willpower, social skills and emotional intelligence that enables aviation professionals to act decisively and confidently, even in the absence of a nurturing environment. In the cockpit, during maintenance or in corporate decision-making, psychosocial strength equips individuals to fly through unexpected turbulence, be it literal or metaphorical.

Why Psychosocial Strength Matters in Aviation

The consequences of silence in aviation can be catastrophic. A crew member who hesitates to point out a potential issue due to a lack of psychological safety is a liability. But when empowered with psychosocial strength, they possess the internal fortitude to speak up, challenging decisions, if necessary, to ensure safety and efficiency.

Psychosocial strength is also critical in crisis management. In emergency situations, where standard protocols may not suffice, the ability of crew members to think on their feet, communicate effectively and make swift decisions can make the difference between safety and disaster. It’s critical to point out, once again, that cross-generational cockpits and maintenance teams means that this is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have, requirement.

Cultivating Psychosocial Strength in Business Aviation

Developing this strength involves targeted training and a mindset shift:

  1. Realistic Simulation Training: Beyond technical skills, simulation exercises should include scenarios that create social challenges and train individuals to speak up and make decisions under pressure, mimicking real-world unpredictability.
  2. CRM Training: Effective leadership in aviation isn’t just about managing tasks; it’s about inspiring confidence, encouraging open dialogue and fostering a culture where every voice matters. But it is also about having the strength of will, confidence and skills to overcome hostile environments, both inside and outside the team.
  3. Resolve, Resilience and Stress Management: In a field where stress is constant, teaching crew members and staff how to manage stress and build resilience is crucial. This includes techniques for maintaining composure and clear thinking during crises. This is psychosocial strength at work.
  4. Peer Support and Mentorship: Cultivating a culture where more experienced staff mentor and support newer team members can reinforce psychosocial skills and confidence.

Synergizing Safety and Strength

In the end, the goal is to synergize psychological safety with psychosocial strength, creating an environment in business aviation where safety is not just a policy but a deeply ingrained, fully trained value. This approach ensures that every member of the team, regardless of rank or role, feels empowered to contribute to the safety and efficiency of operations in any environment they find themselves in.


In business aviation, where the stakes are high, the dual engines of psychological safety and psychosocial strength are non-negotiable. While psychological safety creates the right environment, psychosocial strength ensures that individuals can thrive and contribute effectively within that environment, and more importantly, even when it’s lacking.

It’s about building a workforce that is not only skilled and knowledgeable but also resilient, assertive and capable of critical thinking under pressure. This combination is the key to not just surviving but soaring in the dynamic and demanding skies of business aviation. It’s time to bring both engines up to full power.

Convergent Performance Convergent Performance
Convergent Performance is uniquely dedicated to reducing human error in high risk environments.

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